Sunday, February 28, 2016

Refresh Reflections

Refresh just ended.   For the fifth year in a row I walked out of Overtake Christian Church with a full heart amazed at all that God has done.

I love Refresh for several reasons.

1)  I get to hang out with so many people who share my passion.   And I love how passionate they are.   Some of the most amazing presenters, speakers, adoptees, adoptive parents, foster parents, therapists, agency folks, and pastors you will ever meet gather together to talk about the one thing that moves me like nothing else.... taking care of children from hard places.

2)  Worship is phenomenal..  I love singing my heart out with a congregation of people who "get it" and led by a worship team that never draws attention to themselves but truly leads us into God's presence.

3)  I love being able to speak into the lives of people who are earlier in their journey than I am.  Teaching them what not to do has become very important to me.   I want them to learn from my mistakes.  I love answering their questions, publicly and privately, and pouring myself into them, knowing that it might help their children in the future.

4)  God does amazing things here every year.   God moments that can not even be explained away as coincidences.  And I am a part of a group of people who are doing life together -- watching our kids grow up -- and knowing that God is the one who is in charge of it all.

5)  Finally, I love it because it demonstrates what happens when a few people have a dream.

Over five years ago, two young people, one of them pictured above, early on in their journey of adoption, had an idea after leaving the Christian Alliance for Orphans conference.   They recognized how few people were attempting to provide the support needed to adoptive and foster parents who were living life in hard scary places because of the children they had chosen to bring into their homes.   It was there that Refresh was born.

The first year the budget was so low that they brought anyone they could find to be keynote speakers. Yup, you guessed it, they asked me.   So I was able to stand in front of that big crowd of 150 people and share my story.  It was great.   I blogged about it here and here.

Year two I was able to bring Bart and I did a couple of break out sessions.  I already was not important enough to be on the big stage, but they let me be in the back room and share with some folks.    I blogged about that here.     There were about 450 people there that year.

Year three they asked to do stand up for the first time and it was really awesome.   I got to do some break out sessions as well.   I told you about that here.  It was very fun.  The conference that year had about 800 people there and watching the conference grow was amazing.   They let me be on the stage for 3 minutes to promote my comedy.

Year four I got 10 minutes on the stage to promote my comedy night!!!  That was really quite fun.   There were 1100 people in attendance and I had a blast doing stand up that night.  My roommate from college came with me.   It was a great time.  I wasn't blogging much that year, so there is no link, but there were some great memories.

That takes us to today.  I didn't get any time on the stage and frankly, I was ok with that.  Just don't tell Andrew Schneider because then I would not be able to give him crap.  My buddy Dennis was here and I got to hang out with him and sing with him (just int he congregation, but it was still awesome).  .  I did stand up and it wasn't great -- it was good, but not great.   And there were over 1400 people here!!!!

So there is your brief history lesson of the conference and my involvement.   Each year, I ask myself whether or not I'm getting to old, or out of shape, or boring to make the trip here.  Now that I live in Virginia it is REALLY really far....

But each year there is a moment that occurs.... when someone says something that makes me realize that possibly God is using me.   This year it was someone who said, "You don't just make me laugh ... you give me hope."

So once again I conclude that I am blessed to be a part of watching a dream come true.  It started as a tiny little conference where Ms. Nobody (me) is a keynote and this weekend was a major event with a crowd of 1400 strong and Mary Beth Chapman and her daughter were in that spot.

The people who have become the core team over the past five years have become my friends, not just on Facebook, but in real life.   I am blessed to know them.

God has moved among us again.   Lives have been changed.  Love has been expressed.  Tears have been shed.  Laughter has been shared.  Commitments to our children have been renewed.   Hope has been rekindled.   We have been refreshed.

And once again God has proven Himself to be faithful.  The glory goes to Him.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Helping People I Love Love Each Other Better

One of the people I work with just told me "go do your blog."  And she reminded me that I was going to write about something that happened this week.

It's been a beyond crazy week, but I got to do one of my favorite things this past week, and I think that the experience taught me a few things about systems and about people that I want to share with you.

I summed up the meeting I was in as by saying that "I love to help people I love love each other better."

I'm not going to tell you ANY details about the conversation to protect these people that I love but I do want to point out some things I learned.  Some of this is repetition....

1)  Systems can put people in a role that they do not recognize and that they end up feeling comfortable in.

2)  When people are anxious, they go back to the role in which they are most comfortable.

3)  Sometimes one person going to their role triggers something in another person, pushing them to their role.  And that is when the fireworks start.

4)  Often times these are people who love each other, personally or professionally, and want the same thing.  But because they are shoving themselves farther and farther into dysfunctional roles, the issue escalates and seems like there is no way through the conflict.

5)  When two people are on the verge of giving up at fixing their relationship, things don't get better, they get worse.  There is a lot of anxiety in the "we are never going to be able to get beyond this" feeling.... and, in case I haven't repeated it enough, anxiety pushes people farther into those roles.

Are you getting the picture?

So what is the answer?  Study the other person and the relationship,  recognize your behaviors and why they are triggering the other person, make an effort not to go back into your anxious role, and commit again to not trigger the other, to forgive and to love well.

I am a firm believer that if you love someone enough, you can figure them out.   Just think about your spouse for example (if you are married) and how many things annoying things you have had to overcome in order to live with them.   But if you love them you figure out how to do the above.

If I am being vague, let me give you a personal example.  I have a tendency to talk loudly when I am excited, angry, frustrated, having fun.... ok, so I just have a tendency to talk loudly pretty much all the time.   And when I talk loudly and use a certain voice, I remind my husband of his mother.   And when I do that, he shuts down and then we both head into ugly corners of dysfunction and anxiety that take a while to come out of.  I wish I could say that we have this figured out, but I can tell you this:

When I make the mistake of talking in a voice that triggers him and we both go to our anxiety corners, or "dark places," and they fuel each other to the point where neither of us are recognizable as rational human beings..... we don't give up.   We go back and remind each other of how we got to that place again.  I promise to try and not do it again.  Sometimes he hugs me :-)   We forgive, we promise to try not to do it again, and we move on to the next time.  And sometimes we make it a month, and some times we only make it seven minutes, but the key is that we DO NOT GIVE UP.

I was reminded as I mediated this work conversation this week, of how powerful it is to be part of helping others to recognize how they have gotten where they are and how they might be able to get beyond it.   And I was grateful that God had given me enough insight to see the issues.   But most of all I was just happy to help people I love who love each other to do it better.

I don't know why I am sharing all this with you except to say that the formula that I figured out this week can work in any situation and any relationship.

Dare I repeat it one more time?

1)  Study the person and there relationship so you can recognize how you are contributing to the conflict.

2)  Recognize where you head when you are anxious and figure out how to stop going there.

3)  Notice words, statements and behaviors that that trigger you or the other person and try not to trigger or be triggered.

4)  Forgive.

5)  Love well.   Love doesn't mean avoiding tough conversations. Love doesn't mean backing away and not pushing through.  In fact, we could all use a reminder of exactly what love is and what it is not from I Corinthians 13

Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love does not envy.
Love does not boast.
Love is not proud.
Love does not dishonor others
Love is not self-seeking.
Love is not easily angered.
Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil.
Love rejoices with the truth.
Love always protects
Love always trusts
Love always hopes
Love always perseveres.
Love never fails.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Definition of a Good Day

My email to my Residential Care Staff turned into a blog entry.  Here it is:

Don’t you love it that God’s mercies are new every morning?  That he gives us a fresh start every single day with the sunrise?   The hymn “Great is They Faithfulness” is one of my top favorites and it comes from these verses...

Lamentations 3:22-23King James Version (KJV)

 It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

Yesterday was a long day… a day that started with it taking 30 minutes to get to the door of my townhouse to Red Hill Road, and ending with a great dinner with the Cruzes… and I didn’t get home until 9.   Wrote some emails… talked to my husband…. fell into bed completely spent.

But right before I went to bed I realized that this is exactly the way I want to live.  I want to give my life for something that matters.  I want to have meaning in every conversation.  I want to be surrounded with people like you who share my passion — I want to be right in the center of God’s will for me.  

Sure, there are a lot of ways that I could have been spending my day yesterday that would have resulted in me not being emotionally spent at the end of the day.  But if that kind of life lacked the things I just mentioned, and I had the choice, I’d choose this life any day.

I love this quote by Marilyn Pay Hinkley:

“Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow what a ride!”

I wrote on my Facebook page last night, for those who didn’t see it, my definition of a good day:

What's the definition of a good day? A good day is when you go to bed knowing that you have done your best... that you have used your gifts and skills to make a difference... that you have taken at least a few steps forward even if there were a couple back...that you have lived life and done your job with people you love and trust ... that you have believed that God is in control and have left the results to Him. I'm heading to bed tonight proud to be part of a team that lived a good day.

I trust that today we will each live a good day.  And all through it I encourage you to commit doing doing what the writer of this song does:

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Anybody Remember This?

My time hop indicated today that I was getting out of the hospital 6 years ago after surgery for a blood clot in my arm.  I also had one in my heart.   It was a scary time -- it reminded me of my priorities.  It made me much more grateful.

I also remember that I found myself incredibly funny during my week in the hospital.  I felt fine, but any of you who have had blood clotting issues know that you have to be there until your INR number is correct before they will discharge you and it took me a long time.  Thus I was in the hospital with nothing to do for a week, which more than likely made the staff crazy.   I thought I was hilarious.

So, if you were NOT around during that time (or if you were but are needing a reminder of just how hilarious I am, you should check out this blog entry....

Friday, February 12, 2016

Nothing Greater than Grace

I wrote this email to my staff this morning and I thought it was worth sharing here.  Every day I send my staff a YouTube Link to a song.  Today's was suggested to me by our Director of Physical Plant and I had never heard it before.  But I have listened to it several times this morning and it inspired the email, which inspired this blog post.

Grace is something that I didn’t really understand until I was in my 40s.  Until then I had been about as perfect as a person can be.  I had learned at an early age that it was really important for us to strive for holiness.   While I knew that there wasn’t anything that I could do that would make God love me less, I had this strong feeling that I could do plenty that would get him to love me more.   And that is what I was going for.  And since I rarely did anything wrong, I figured God could save His grace for the really bad people.  

In the midst of all of this I was not a gracious person.  I was very judgmental and had lots of conversations with people about what the Bible said about what they should or shouldn’t do.  I was pretty condescending and arrogant.

In my 40s through a series of events I screwed up and I needed grace… big time.   I needed it from other people and I needed it from God desperately.  When I received it,  I was absolutely overwhelmed by the power of grace.   It transformed my life.   And as I understood how much I needed the grace of others and of God, I recognized that I needed to offer that grace to others as well.

The last chapter of my book, “A Glimpse of God’s Heart:  How Trying to Change My Kids Changed Me”  is entitled “Grace Leads to Grace.”  When we truly understand how much grace God offers to us, we can’t help but extend that grace to others.

These have been challenging days at PHFS.  I have asked you to do difficult things.  I have asked you to forgive and extend grace.  Not just during one week, but every day.  And this is hard work.

But as we extend that grace and offer forgiveness to those around us — especially the ones who deserve it the least — God transforms us.  This is the crux of the gospel.  We are the recipients of grace and thus we are givers of grace.

There will be tough days ahead.  It’s inevitable.  But as we move forward, receiving and offering grace, we will indeed beat the system.

There’s nothing greater than grace.    

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Don't Fight or Fault the Person: Part 4 of the 10 Guidelines for Beating Dysfunctional Systems

In every system there are roles.  And when a person is placed into a role, there is sometimes very little they can do to get beyond the role.   Suddenly the person becomes their role and then they are stuck.  Unless the system changes, it is very difficult for the person to change.

Think of these roles in a family system:

Overbearing Father
Permissive Mother
Black Sheep of the Family
Smartest Kid
Most Disobedient Child
The One who is Never Home
Problem Child

And the list goes on.  As a system gets more and more dysfunctional, people become more and more entrenched in their roles.

If the overbearing father comes home at the end of a rough day but is happy to see his family and ready to relax, he may not get the chance.  He may walk in the door and the children stop laughing and having a good time and head to their rooms because they EXPECT him to play his role.

The spoiled child may be planning to do his chores, but gets distracted.  Before he has a chance to remember to complete them, older siblings are yelling at him and their parents for letting him get away with it.   Eventually he doesn't bother to try.

As people sink deeper into the roles of the system we become more and more angry at the person.  We argue with them.  We fight with them.  We blame them.   Each day we are more and more frustrated by THE PERSON when really their role is a part of the system.

So the 4th guideline is to fight and fault the system not the person.   In coming into my position this has been very helpful to me because I can clearly see how well intentioned good people have been sucked into their roles in the system.   I try hard to see them with fresh eyes and to recognize that the fault and blame lie in the system.

Shake up the system by attacking it, instead of people in it.   Change the way YOU respond to the people in the system.   Breaking free of your role attacks the system.   Expecting behaviors different than a role that has been assigned messes with the system.

I have had a pretty rough week because I have been working hard to challenge a system that is being controlled by the enemy.   I was feeling anxious and insecure this weekend about all that happened this week and Bart said something really significant.   He said that sometimes it doesn't matter what you do to change the system -- it just matters that you do SOMETHING to shake it up.

So if you are thinking to yourself today that there is a person at work, or at church, or in your family that is driving you CRAZY.... ask yourself if it is really the person or if it is their role in the system.  Then, attack the system.   You may be surprised as to the difference that can make.

Can't Believe It has Been a Week

I certainly had plans to blog this past week.  I just didn't find the time.  I was rushing from one thing to another and one home to another and one office to another and one town to another and having many conversations that were intense and good and hard and good and difficult and good.   That's kinda what happens when you're trying to move forward in a dysfunctional system.  You just have to have those hard conversations.

Let me back up and tell you that we are having a BALL getting to know the folks at Mt Vernon UMC in Danville where Bart is the new interim pastor.  Last Wednesday we got to tell the story of us .... and we love doing that.   I, of course, go into "Stand Up" mode when handed a mic, and Bart plays the straight man and we just have a blast.   We have met so many people and I am about out of RAM after meeting everyone at my new job, so I'm having more trouble with names than Bart is -- he is the master.   But so many friendly and kind people have welcomed us and we are enjoying it a lot.  (And I'm not just saying that because some of you googled me and found my blog :-)

We are continuing to enjoy the parsonage.   We even had an adult house guest who borrowed our couch Friday night ... and realized this is the first time that this has happened (with the exception of family members) in all of our marriage.  We never had room for others (or when we did they weren't brave enough to stay at our house :-)   It is fun to have people over and be able to practice hospitality without a lot of frightening drama.

My job is full of challenges.... good ones, but some really hard stuff.  Covet your prayers as we continue to work to defeat the enemy and move forward.  I can't help but believe that there are mighty good days in store for us if there is so much spiritual opposition to what we are doing.

Several busy days ahead.... challenging ones ... but I am convinced that God is in control.

If you happen to know any couples who would be interested in being houseparents, I would love for you to have them contact me.  That's our biggest need at the moment.  And even if you don't know anyone if you could pray that God will send some our way I would be most grateful.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Groundhog Day and Dysfunctional Systems

It was very appropriate that yesterday was Groundhog day, because the dysfunctional system reared it's ugly head around here for a couple days.    Details don't matter.   I can sum it up by saying that I broke a couple of my guidelines and it sent people into a tailspin, and several folks headed back to their corners of comfort, scrambling to decrease their own anxiety.  They started asking, "What is best for me and how can I get it... fast."   They talked to each other, they talked to their boss, he talked to me, I talked to my peers..... Dysfunctional System Freakout!   Anxiety was high, trust was low, and I was so discouraged.   I didn't see it as a system issue.... just felt like I was a complete failure.  I didn't sleep well at all on Monday night.

And then I woke up on Tuesday morning, February 2nd, and realized that it was Groundhog Day.  I started thinking about the movie.  You've seen it, right?   If you haven't you HAVE to see this movie!  It is one of my all time favorites.  You can rent it for $2.99 on iTunes or probably buy it for that used on eBay.  But I digress.

In the movie, Bill Murray plays a meteorologist, Phil, who goes to cover a story on Groundhog Day.   When he wakes up the following morning, it is still Groundhog Day.   In fact, he is reliving the day but nobody else is.

If you have seen it, you see the beauty of the second chance.  You see how the main character, when he has a new chance every morning to live the same day, changes.  He starts to focus more on others. He doesn't make the same mistake twice.  He learns each time how to perfect his actions so that they have different outcomes.  Some days go well, others go bad, as he tries to adjust his actions and thoughts to live a "perfect day."

And that is the way it feels in a dysfunctional system that is moving towards health.  Every day you revisit something that you thought you had solved.   One of the wise guys puts it this way:  You put something on your to do list, and you check it off.  And the next day, you come in and erase the check box and you start over.   But the truth of the matter is, eventually, if you just keep doing it, one day at a time, not letting the repetition discourage you, you make progress.  You learn from your mistakes.  You vow not to make the same ones again.  You try new ways to address old issues.   You just keep doing it, day after day after day.

Eventually you recognize that you are not at the center of the universe.  Just like Phil in the movie you start to focus on others and how the system is hurting them.   You find ways during your day to take care of other people instead of scrambling to take care of yourself.   And gradually, the system fades away.

One of the lies of the enemy is to say that "nothing has changed" but in reality a lot has changed,.  There will be days of regression.  It's all part of healing a system.

And for me, it is very helpful to realize that this isn't going to change all at once.  Many days it is going to feel like we are making no progress at all and we want to give up.  It's going to feel like I'm living the same day over and over again.

But the beauty of the gospel and living the Christian life is that God's mercies are new every morning, even if the system hasn't changed overnight.  God is good and gives us the strength to do what we need to do.