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.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Got any Stress?

I found this on some random website:

"Stress is actually a normal part of life. At times, it serves a useful purpose. Stress can motivate you to get that promotion at work, or run the last mile of a marathon. But if you don't get a handle on your stress and it becomes long-term, it can seriously interfere with your job, family life, and health. More than half of Americans say they fight with friends and loved ones because of stress, and more than 70% say they experience real physical and emotional symptoms from it."

So the answer is, yes, we all have stress.  Life is full of stressors and it’s going to come and go, ebb and flow, as we journey through life.   When we are stressed we are not sinning and there is no commandment that says “thou shalt not be stressed.”   It just is what it is.

BUT, there are some things we can do when we are stressed that help.

1)  Doing everything we can to stay as healthy as possible is one thing.  Eating right — avoiding processed foods and sugar, sleeping, getting exercise, and staying hydrated are all things that make us stronger.

2)  There’s also a need to do things that we enjoy and find fun.   If we give up all of the things that we enjoy for the sake of the greater good, we end up burned out and can’t do the important things because we are too tired.  So whether it’s reading, or playing candy crush, or going to movies, or doing a craft — take time to do things that you enjoy.

3)  Don’t allow yourself to feel like you are doing something wrong or that you SHOULD be coping better — that just adds more layers of stress.

4)  Spend time with people you truly enjoy who replenish you.

5)  Remember that God does not call us to DO more or better, He just asks us to BE better.   When we are concentrating more on who we are than on how much we get done, we can find ourselves experiencing less stress.  

I don’t recommend watching this whole video, but having it on in the background might lesson your stress.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Got Any Shame?

If you do, you’re unlikely to share it with anyone.   Shame is something that we tend to carry deep inside us and don’t often disclose to anyone.   It’s those feelings we have when we go back and remember something stupid or horrible that we did and  can’t ever fix.   I was thinking about something this morning where a mistake of mine hurt someone and things will never be the same with them.  Even though it was over five years ago and I have reached out many times apologizing and asking for forgiveness, that relationship will never be what it was.  And I still fill twinges of shame for the things that I did that hurt them and changed something good into something uncomfortable.

Shame isn’t a sin.  It’s an emotion, like guilt, that helps us to remember not to do those things again.  It’s healthy…. unless we take it too far and live in the “shame space” constantly.   It isn’t healthy to dwell on past mistakes and it isn’t God’s plan for us.

Consider this:

What if you had a friend who got a speeding ticket?   They felt horrible and were broke and couldn’t pay it.   So you went down to the police station and paid it for them.   They said thank you and appeared grateful, but every day they kept talking about how they were trying to save money to pay that ticket.   Each time you reminded them that it had already been paid.   What if finally, they had the money, and they kept heading down to the police station to attempt and pay that ticket no matter how many times they were told that it had already been taken care of?  How long would you be patient with someone who could not accept the fact that they were free and clear of their wrongdoing?

This maybe how God feels when we continue to carry our guilt and shame when He took care of it long ago.  The price has been paid.  We can move on.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Got Any Burdens?

What is a burden?  I looked it up to see the actual definition.   It simply means “a load, typically a heavy one.”

You’ve heard the phrase “Work load?”   It could easily be referred to as a “work burden” by definition, but that seems a bit negative.  But by definition it's simply true.  We each have a work burden and sometimes it is heavier and sometimes it’s lighter depending on the time of year or the situations around us. 

We also have family loads — and I’m not referring just to laundry (although when we were building our family I probably should have thought through that a little bit more than I did since I hate laundry.  There was a season that we did seven loads every single day. Ick!)   But our family burdens go in cycles as well.  There are times when the load is heavy, and times when it is lighter.

What other loads do you carry?  Do you have responsibilities at church?  Are you a volunteer somewhere?  Do you have responsibilities in your neighborhood?  

When our loads become heavy, we start to see them as burdens.  And while load is a neutral word, burden isn’t so much.

So what happens when our loads get heavy and become burdens in our minds?   From a practical standpoint it may be time to decide that some stuff has to go.  It’s OK to say no and to start lightening your load so that it doesn’t become a burden too heavy to bear.

The answer I offer today, once your load is as light as your life allows it to be,  is to simply find times to rest…. to allow God to renew your spirits and replenish your strength.   In Isaiah we are told that if we will wait upon the Lord our strength will be renewed and we will mount up with wings like eagles.    

Find time for some quiet moments with God to simply be, listen, and receive strength can change our perspective what seem like heavy burdens can become bearable loads once again.