Sunday, January 31, 2016

Snapshots of the Future


This morning in church I had one of those surreal moments when I thought about the past.... and the future.... and how it sometimes is a good thing that we don't know the future from the beginning.

We were sitting in our new church (isn't it beautiful????) and a small group was singing the words to this song:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
It was the song that we had sung at our wedding.....   And suddenly I thought -- what would we have felt had on our wedding day we had seen a snapshot of the future?  What if at the wedding we had seen a picture of this church and us sitting there.  What if someone would have explained that in less than 20 years we would have 12 children ages 17-29, 7 grandchildren, and would have just moved all the way to the North Carolina/Virginia border to pastor a church and take on a huge job as a Chief Officer of a Family Service agency?

I think I would have said, "Way cool!" But I also would have wondered a great deal about what steps we were going to be taking to get from point A to point B.  Seeing a snapshot of the future might have caused me a great deal of anxiety.

There is a reason why God keeps some things a secret and simply says, "Follow me."  Todays sermon was all about that -- how God leads us through the unknown, the foggy moments when we can't see what is ahead.  He keeps His promises, though, and guides us from one place to the next.

The last three months have been wild ones for us.  We went from having a very sure solid predictable  future on October 1st  (retiring from Bethany, living in Minnesota until death) to living in Virginia having resigned from Bethany and leaving the Minnesota Annual Conference and being settled in a new parsonage on February 1st.

Way back on that day, when Bart and I stood and listened to our dear friends sing the song above, we were committed to those words.  I don't know if we have always followed them, but we have tried.  And we have found them to be great words to live by.

I don't think I want to see a snapshot of 20 years from now.   In fact, I know I don't.  I don't need to either.  All I need to know is that the same God that has brought us this far, will carry us through the next steps, one at a time.  


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old


For the 7th time on this blog (yes, I went back and counted) I am quoting this little ditty my mother used to sing to me as a child:

"Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold."

I see my life as a tapestry and friendships contribute to that tapestry.  Each person whose life is interwoven with mine adds richness, color and depth that would not otherwise be here.

As you can imagine we have met a LOT of people in the past month.  When I applied for this position, I new ONE person who lived in this entire state and I haven't seen her yet because she is 3 hours from here.   Now I can call several Virginians friends and am meeting new people that I find delightful every day.  There is not enough time to get to know all of them as quickly as I would like, but I'm going to work on it.  Because their stories, their perspectives and ideas, make my life fuller, richer and deeper.

So this weekend is going to be a wonderful mix of the old and the new.  Last night, Bart and I met 8 people for the first time.  Four couples from our new church had dinner together with us.   I was able to meet some people who have that dry, quiet, sarcastic sense of humor that delights my soul.  All of them were bright.  Some were readers who could talk to Bart about their shared passion for books. Others had interests not like mine (one is a master gardener and you'll remember if you have been a blog reader of mine for years that my gardening hobby was the worst three hours of my life).    We had great conversation, a delicious meal, and a rousing few games of sequence.  We laughed a lot.  We learned a lot about Danville and about life in Virginia.  We listened, we shared, and I could see the needles threading ... the richness of my tapestry of my life is about to become even more beautiful!

This morning is going to take me back a few months and years, to hang out with Sonia the Office Manager at Bethany who is one of my favorite people on earth.  For some reason we clicked -- she was single and 30 when we met, I was very not single and over 50.   But we took time to get to know each other and I was able to see her heart, her potential, her struggles, and we were able to share on a deep level.   She is going to FaceTime with me this morning -- we have a date for that, and I am so excited!

Then after that I am rewinding to 21 years ago when I lived life daily with my friend Mara.   She was the Secretary to the President at the college where I was Dean of Students.   We shared a special connection during the years we were together and she and I are going to have lunch together and then spend 4 glorious hours catching up on 21 years and reminiscing about those "good old days" when we had energy to stay up past ten.

Finally, tonight one of the three wise men and his wife are coming for dinner -- our first house guests at the new parsonage.  Bart is making hay and straw -- my favorite meal (fettucini alfredo with prosciutto, bacon, and mushrooms)!  

When I first arrived on campus people referred to friendships as "alliances."  I knew there were some system issues when I heard that and started joking with people that I had just joined an episode of Survivor.   The system said that you couldn't really get close to anyone because of what others might think.   Well, screw that.   You all know me well enough that I'm not going to get sucked into that.

I am happy to be friends with anyone who wants me to be their friend.  Situations and circumstances are going to mean that I end up getting closer to some people than others based on our working relationship, family situations, etc.   But that doesn't mean that I can't be professional in my work.

It's odd that most people who work here move across the country to become a part of the staff here.  They know NOBODY else but the people they work with.  And if the system says, "don't be friends with those you work with or people will talk" it isolates people further.   So I immediately decided that I was going to consciously not pay attention to the "rules" that say who I can and can't be friends with.  My life, as you know, is an open book, and I'm not going to start behaving in different ways because of a dysfunctional system.  And I am going to encourage everyone to work on having MORE relationships that are close, not less.

So I'm going to tell you who is coming to dinner and why they are our first house guests.

Tonight Steve and Wynde are coming over.  I am telling you their  names because this is my personal blog so I can write whatever I want here.   If you are looking for my "professional blog" you can click here.  

Ever since before I came for my interview Steve and Wynde have gone out of their way to be kind to us.    Wynde showed Bart all around during my interview.   She introduced him to a United Methodist District Superintendent that led us to getting this awesome interim appointment and huge parsonage to live in.  

Steve is the Chief Operating Officer, so technically my peer, though he would most likely tell you that he is intellectually superior to me. :-)  He and his staff did everything they could to make sure that we settled in well when Dominyk and I came.  They had the house ready.  They made sure we had what we needed.  They secured a company vehicle.    Steve emailed me ideas and suggestions about where Wilson might feel most comfortable in school and hooked me up with others who had opinions as well.  

When Dominyk arrived and knew nobody, Wynde and Steve's son, Caleb, spent the day with him.  Wynde took them out to lunch.   Caleb has hung out with him a few other times since then and Dominyk thinks he is awesome.  We certainly don't mind Dominyk spending time with an Eagle Scout who is enrolled in college.  (A bit different that his friends he was making back in Robbinsdale who were contracting with him to buy him guns).

The week Tony came unexpectedly, I invited myself over to dinner at Steve and Wynde's because I knew I didn't want to wait alone in the office in Lynchburg when Tony was coming because he causes me some anxiety.   Wynde prepared a great meal and we talked and my anxiety leveled out.

There is no end to the list of ways that they have both gone out of their way to be welcoming, both professionally and personally.   They have made it a point to care for us without expecting repayment.

I could go on and on and on (you all know I could) about how awesome I think they both are but enough is enough.   Let's just say that they are fine people.  See why we're having them for dinner?

So this post kind of got out of control.... but I am trying to make a few points, like I always do.  Let me summarize:

1)  Relationships are very important to me.   People are what make me who I am.

2)  I am committed to renewing old friendships whenever I can, because I love my old friends.

3)  I am constantly seeking to add people to my list of friends who are willing to "do life with me" -- not just casually acquaintances, but deep meaningful transformative friendships that change me, change them, and together change the world.

4)  I'm not going to let a dysfunctional system having me living in fear.  When we have others over for dinner, I will tell you about that (if i'm in a blogging mood).   I will not allow the system to suggest that I need to hide what I'm doing from anyone else.   I'm just going to be me.

And really, if I can be myself, and show others how to do the same, health is on the way...






Friday, January 29, 2016

Space, Space, God's Space....




Oh wait, Was that supposed to be grace?

I know I haven't blogged this week... not for four or five days I guess.  It may have to do with the fact that i have driven 452 miles between trips to the airport, my two offices, and the parsonage.  Or it may have to do with the fact that my days have been packed.  Or the fact that I'm not sleeping much.  But here I am, back again, not sure that i have much of value to say.

But I am working from home today... home being the parsonage.  Jimmy keeps calling the parsonage "dad's place" and the townhouse "mom's place" on Facebook.  People probably think we split up.

I have mentioned to you how much space is here and you are invited to come check it out.  But you really need to understand our history to know why this space is such a blessed relief.

We bought a small house on purpose the last time.   We figured if there wasn't room for our adult kids to move in they would find another arrangement.   That didn't happen.  Instead we had kids on couches and in the laundry room and grandkids on the floor.

It got to the point that Bart and I never left our bedroom unless it was to cook (him) or eat (both of us with the kids).   We stayed in our bedroom.  His desk was in our bedroom.   I sat on our bed as there was no room for a chair there.   Our dining room table wasn't big enough for everyone many Sundays...

So here we are.   We have a bedroom that is only our bedroom.  We have a guest room.  We have a lovely sitting room and a family room with comfortable furniture.   We have an office where both our desks are.  We have two small kitchens with tables big enough for the four of us who live here.  We have a dining room with a table bit enough to hold 18 with the leaves in -- a HUGE one that with the leaves out seats 10 comfortably.   We have a back porch big enough to put our table in there.  We have four full bathrooms -- we have never had more than 2.

So this morning while Bart and I were quietly working in this office I was just thrilled with the sense of space.  I could work in the office.  Or we could go in the family room together.  We could sit in the sitting room together.  We could sit in Kitchen 1 if we wanted to.  Or kitchen 2.  Or in the dining room.

I think you're getting the picture.  Speaking of pictures, my soul feels like the picture above....

Space at this point in our lives is a very very good thing.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Transitioning


As I mentioned yesterday, this transition is taking a long time.  It's not a bad long time, it's just a long time.  

Today the pod came with our possessions.   We ended up having to give away a lot of stuff because the pod wasn't big enough (my error).  He, Tony and Wilson left my townhouse in Brookneal to head to Danville to unpack.   I worked half a day there and then came up to my Lynchburg office because I need to pick up Jimmy at 7:45.

You should see this house!  It is really big and completely symmetrical.   Two single women had it built so that they could share a dining room but have their own homes.  So it's like a duplex with one entrance and a shared dining room.  You walk in the large foyer and then you can go in one of two directions.  You can head to the right to a formal living room already furnished (the picture above) or to the left to another living room (family room) where we will put the TV.   To the left of the family room is a nice study which Bart is going to love.  To the right of the living room is a sunroom.  When you head back you will find two bedrooms, quite large ones, and two bathrooms on each side, as well as a kitchen on each side that is joined together by a wonderful, formal southern, huge dining room.  Since we love to entertain this will be awesome.  We have already invited new friends for dinner Friday night and I have a friend from my past coming up on Saturday.  Yay!

Each kitchen has it's own small table, and there is a huge screened in porch that faces the backyard.  There will be enough room there for our large dining room table, so in the summer we can eat outside on the porch, facing a nice backyard.

The house is old, kind of dated, and smells a bit musty, but it is HUGE and we are excited about a fresh start there.  It looks like for now I will be there from Thursday night to Monday morning, and then spend three nights in my townhouse on campus.  We will see how that works out.

Tonight I am heading now to grab something to eat alone (a bit bummed about that), and then out to get a TV so that we can get cable and internet hooked up.   Then I'll head to get Jimmy and go and spend the night there.

There are a lot of moving parts to our now "small" family -- the dogs, two places to live, two offices for me, two for Bart (one at home and one at the church) a new school for Wilson, etc., but we all continue to feel good about it.

Meanwhile work is challenging and fulfilling with good things happening by the day.   I remain exciting to be here.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers.  God continues to answer.  

Sunday, January 24, 2016

And it's the Move that Never Ends....


I really hope I got that song stuck in your head.  "It's the song that never ends.... it just goes on and on my friends.... Somebody started singing it...."

HA!  It's stuck in mine, might as well be stuck in yours.

So Jimmy's flight for yesterday was cancelled.  Now his flight for today is cancelled.  The parsonage in Danville has been available for us to see since Bart got here on Thursday night, except that the roads we need to take to get there haven't been plowed.   Jimmy's return ticket is scheduled for less than 24 hours after his new arrival time, so I'm going to have to try and get that changed today.

Cabin fever is a very real thing!   You would think that when a person who is always too busy suddenly has a free day with nothing to do, that I would work on projects I've been putting off, or enjoy time with my husband I haven't seen in weeks  Instead over the past three days I have watched 3.5 fairly disappointing Netflix movies, tried not to eat out of boredom, and had a few somewhat meaningful conversations with Bart that were only interrupted once every 37 seconds.

Family systems theory is certainly applying here at the Fletchers.  Dominyk, who has been as cooperative as he knows how to be, has started to revert back to his old self.  When Tony arrived he started to go downhill, and once Bart and Wilson got here, he stopped all things helpful.   Bart stopped for groceries on Thursday night and Tony and Dominyk have been eating non stop out of boredom.  Almost everything he bought is gone.  And I won't even blog about Tony's instability...

But the sun is up, it stopped snowing by about 3 yesterday afternoon, and it looks as though the roads might be plowed by this afternoon so we can go check out the parsonage in Danville.  Our belongings are supposed to arrive tomorrow, as is Jimmy.   Tony flies back Tuesday.

Some day I will be able to tell you that Bart is settled in the parsonage in Danville.  Unfortunately I may have to tell you at that point that I am changing living quarters here as we may need this townhouse for someone else.

This truly may be the move that never ends....


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Forgiveness and the Amygdala: Part 3 of the 10 Guidelines for Beating Dysfunctional Systems



The way that human beings are designed makes it very difficult to forgive and nearly impossible to forget a past hurt.  The anatomical culprit is the amygdala.  This is the part of the brain that is our "emotional memory."

Within the last year I have learned a lot about the amygdala and I realized just how much it was coming into play when I was in the throws of parenting teenagers.   It was getting hijacked daily back then, and I had no idea how to control it.

Let me back up and explain what this part of the brain does.   The amygdala is what protects us and warns us from repeating past mistakes.  So, for example, if when you were a small child you were bit by a German Shepherd and it was a terrifying traumatic experience, there may still be, 30 years later, a physical response to seeing a german shepherd.  Your heart rate increases.  Your palms get sweaty.   You feel like you need to run away.  You find ourself in a high anxiety state of "fight, flight or fright."   And no matter how many times your rational brain repeats the phrase, "He's a nice dog" your body is not responding to those calming sentences.    

A personal example from my parenting of teens is in regards to the ring tone I had for our three toughest years.   It was the ring tone I assigned to everyone who didn't get their own -- you know, the generic one.  During those years the generic ring tone almost always brought some kind of stressor.  It was the school.  It was the police department.  It was the probation officer.    The ring tone was appropriately assigned:   "We live, we love, we forgive and we never give up...." but after three years, I had to change that ring tone.  Why?  Because when I heard the song on the radio my blood pressure went up and my palms got sweaty and I started feeling like I was going to puke any moment.

Thankfully those years are gone now and our kids are a bit more stable, but even today when I hear that chorus my body reacts.


According to Daniel Goleman, who is a world renowned emotional intelligence expert,  this reaction is an "amygdala hijack." The amygdala is the center of the brain that controls this response, and also controls empathy; when it feels threatened, it can respond not just irrationally, but destructively. This is as an amgdyala hijack."  Here are three signs of an amgdyala hijack: strong emotional reaction, sudden onset, and "when you reflect later, you realize it was inappropriate". 
The opposite of an amgdyala hijack is emotional intelligence: "the integration of the emotional center and the executive center. Interestingly, boredom also correlates poorly with emotional intelligence. "When your amgdyala is hijacked, or when you're bored, your performance is very poor, despite your abilities." The emotionally intelligent person is engaged, focused, motivated and attentive, and matches these skills to the situation.

So as time goes by amygdala hijacks can control our relationships.   If you have enough negative interactions with an individual your emotional memory kicks in and you start to feel the feelings you have previously had.  Anxiety is heightened, your body starts to respond and you find yourself back into that panic zone.  And suddenly rational thought isn't coming into the picture.

I hope you are getting the picture because I feel like I'm getting wordy.  So what in the world does this have to do with beating a dysfunctional system and forgiveness?

All of us have a history of situations and people who have brought us pain, made us anxious, and threatened our positive sense of self.   We may go weeks or even months without thinking about that particular time in our lives, but within a second our amygdala can get hijacked and we are heading down a very negative road.

We cannot stop the amygdala from responding the way that it does.  But we can calm ourselves down when it does and choose a different response.  Another example.

For three years you have worked with a person who has done everything they can to make you feel like an idiot.  They take advantage of meetings and personal interactions to diminish you in front of your boss and coworkers.  That person always starts their barrage of negative comments with, "If you don't mind, I'd like to point out something."

You quit the job and you move on and are sitting in a meeting and a person who actually kind of reminds you of your nemesis in the last place says, "If you don't mind, I'd like to point out something."   You guessed it.... you're back in that place of shame and anger and resentment that you were at at your old job.

But this time you are not going to let the amygdala hijack control you.  You tell yourself what is happening and you refrain from reacting to them for several minutes.  You let rational thoughts talk you down from the ledge.

There are many many examples of how this happens with our children or spouses in a family situation.   And the key is to wait, talk ourselves down, and respond to each reminder of past hurt with a rational mind.

We can't stop the emotions from coming back.... that is what we are wired to do.  But we can stop our mouths from speaking until we talk ourselves through the emotions.  We can remind ourselves that the past hurts have been forgotten and that we have forgiven.  It isn't easy, but it is possible.  And just knowing this and practicing rational thought, combined with God's power and strength, anything can be overcome.

Since I learned about the amygdala I am to the point that I can catch myself about 50% of the time from going down a very bad road.  It takes practice.  But slowly I'm making progress.

Next time you are overcome with negative emotion, watch for it.   Call it what it is -- an amygdala hijack.  Respond with emotional intelligence.  And then ask God to bathe you in the other person in his forgiving grace.

If everyone in a dysfunctional system can learn this one thing, it will make a ton of difference.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Answering Simple Questions is Never Simple with the Fletchers.


In case you are following the ever changing "How many Fletchers are in Virginia" saga, we are now at 5.  I am thrilled to report that Bart and Wilson are now here and safe before the big storm.   And it is a big storm.   In Minnesota we have a lot of big storms, but we also have a lot of snow removal equipment and we live in the City.  Here we are literally getting dumped on and the roads around us will not get plowed.  So people have run to the grocery store and grabbed everything... there was literally no milk in town by yesterday morning.   And I am now in the house with Tony, Wilson, Dominyk, and Bart.

Jimmy and John were supposed to arrive tomorrow afternoon.   One of my new scary smart friends, who just happens to be the PHFS CEO, and the leader of the three wise men (which they have named themselves), has agreed to go in his four wheel drive to get them at the airport.  So by tomorrow there were supposed to be 7.  Until John's birth grandfather passed away and he flew to New Mexico instead, taking it down to 6.

And of course, Tony can't handle being here, so he had his fiancĂ© buy him a ticket.  He hadn't been off the plane more than 3 minutes before he started begging to be with her.  It's been kinda exhausting.  But anyway, he has a ticket and will return on the same flight with Jimmy on Tuesday.  If Jimmy gets here in the first place....

So just like always, the answer to a simple question with the Fletchers is not easy to answer.  Something as simply as "how many Fletchers will be in Virginia on January 23rd at 4 pm" has changed from 2 to 4 to 3 to 7 to 5 to 6.    And that is dependent on the weather.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

And then there were 3, maybe, I guess we'll see this evening....

One of the things that Dominyk and Wilson were so excited about when we decided to move is that we were all going to move away from the drama of their older siblings.   We had found housing for everyone, and they were on a continuum of stability, but we really felt good that things were going to stay stable.

I am not sure why we entertain that fantasy.

Tony has been in a relationship for two years that ranges from kinda healthy and stable to toxic and dysfunctional with a capital D.   We saw them at Thanksgiving and Christmas.  They had gotten engaged over Christmas and we thought they were doing fairly well.

But Tony is getting on a plane to come here today because it got so bad I started to fear for his future. I certainly am not going to go into details, but her family even got involved calling and telling me that they needed to be away from each other.   Of course, the truth is somewhere out there as to what really happened, but as of Sunday night she was never getting back together with him because of several heinous things that he has supposedly done.  They were done for good and forever.... until we purchased the ticket last night.  Then suddenly she was calling him telling him not to go.

So possibly tonight I will be picking him up -- if he gets on the plane and wasn't convinced to stay after all.

Our family is made up of people with attachment issues and high anxiety so I am not surprised that people are freaking out.  I just figured that Bart would get here before the stream of kids began to arrive.

But we will be just fine....

So many things worse than this have happened to us that this barely makes the charts....

Monday, January 18, 2016

10 Guidelines for Beating Dysfunctional Systems Part 2

How many of us live a life that is similar to a tennis match?   I ask you out for lunch.  We have a great time.   The ball has now been hit into your court and I wait and wait and wait for you to ask me to lunch.   But I want to have lunch again.. so what can I do?

I'll tell you what I do.... I ask a person to lunch two times in a row.  Or three sometimes.  I trust people to say no if they don't want to do it, but some people just don't initiate things and if I didn't, nothing would happen.

That's a simple example, but in other areas we think the same way.   We are in a conflict.  I go to you and explain my side and then think to myself, "OK, the ball is in your court."  And I wait and I wait and I wait for you to come back to me and apologize or share your side.   But I want to resolve the conflict, so what can I do?

I'll tell you what I do..... I keep going back to the person and trying again.   Sometimes I take breaks in between to restore my emotional energy, but I head back to try to resolve things.   I'm no hero, but I try to live as though the ball is always in my court.

So in the midst of a dysfunctional system, after there has been mistrust and triangulation as the norm, this principle definitely applies.  If you don't trust me, the ball is in my court.  It's time for me to go to you and ask you what the issue is.  If I don't trust you, the ball is in my court.  It's time for me to go to you and ask what the issue is.  If I have heard that you don't like me, or if I don't like you, the ball is in my court.  If someone told me something about you that may or may not be true, the ball is in my court.  If I know someone has told you something about me that isn't true, the ball is in my court.

Waiting for someone else to take the initiative to resolve a past hurt may never result in healing and it it is a waste of time.  Because only when these things are cleared up do we have the emotional energy to do beat the system.

If we stop viewing relationships as a tennis game, we are on our way to beating the dysfunctional system.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Personal Update

Wow.   I went in to see the CEO for the end of my orientation process (2 weeks), and asked him if it were time for my 90 day review.  It feels like I have worked here a long time.

I spent three days in Michigan this week and was happy to see and spend some time with Bethany friends in addition to my day of R3 Coaching.  It was weird to be away from here, though.... it already seems very much like home.

I managed to really screw up the Pod container move -- and so that made Bart's life miserable for a few days.  He ended up having only a couple of days to pack the pod and fortunately several of our kids rallied around to help. But that left me here feeling horrible and not even having time to talk to him so we could make up.  That was not enjoyable and I was kinda of an internal basket case.

But things are better -- we had a chance to catch up last night and the pod is on it's way to wherever to be delivered here on the 25th.  That means Bart might be here last early as Thursday night!!!  John and Jimmy are flying here on Saturday and staying until Tuesday to unload the furniture with us.   Bart reports that they have been incredibly helpful over the past couple weeks.

Dominyk loves it here.  He says he thinks he fits here better than he did in Minnesota and I kind of agree.  It's hard to explain, but in Virginia ... well.... it's too hard to explain.  But it is a good fit.  He loves the culture and the people here have been very very good to him.  Living on campus with me he has been able to get to know some folks and feels very good about being here.  He has big dreams of buying a truck so he is kind of obsessing about that.  Just a little bit.  Like mentioning it only 37-56 times a day.

Bart reports that Wilson feels very very good about moving here as well.  He has such an adventurous spirit and we are happy to create this adventure for him.  He has even used words like "I think God is calling me to move because I feel right about it inside."  He usually doesn't talk that way so it's so cool to see him like that.  I pray that he is going to thrive.

Bart has been able to Skype with his new staff and is excited to find out what ministry looks like here in Virginia.   It will really be great to have this transition over with.

And because of my crazy personality, I'm having the time of my life diving into the issues here and trying to figure out ways to make things better.  I'm loving the people I've met ... and still very excited about working with "scary smart guys" who now, one of them who will remain unnamed, is self-titling them the "three wise men."  My friend Bernie in MN pointed out that they must be scary smart .... they hired me :-).

I miss people in Minnesota.  I miss my team at Bethany a lot.  I miss my church friends.  I miss other adoptive parents I have known through the years.  But there is something about being exactly where God wants you that makes even that pain lessen.

Today it's elementary school basketball, lunch with the teenage boys in their cottage, and dinner out with an amazing couple.  Well, at least she's amazing :-).

But before that, several work projects.... I know, I know, I've given myself permission to be a complete workaholic until Bart gets here.....

And in case you haven't been keeping up, I have been adding entries to my new blog and forgetting to tell you.




Tuesday, January 12, 2016

10 Guidelines for Beating Dysfunctional Systems Part 1

The first Guideline is "I will acknowledge that I am ________."

Fill in the blank.  It could be the name of an organization like I put in my powerpoint yesterday.

 "I am PHFS."

Or it could be a  church.  "I am Mouth Vernon United Methodist Church."

Or it could be a family.  "I am a Fletcher."

The idea behind this guideline is that we need to stop using language that leads us and others to believe that a certain place or organization or family is doing something to us.  "I can't trust PHFS."  Or "you wouldn't believe what my church did to me."  

This "us-them" mentality within an organization can kill it.   It is always we.  If I am a part of something it is my responsibility to do all I can to make it successful.  When there is a problem, it is my job to help fix it.  A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and I want to make sure that I am not that link.

When we were living in Luverne at the elementary school after announcements they would announce, "It's a great day to be a Cardinal."  (I'm leaving out several sarcastic comments about the choice of a small red powerless bird as a school mascot here).  

But my kids picked up on that any for some reason Jimmy in particular used to say it all the time.  And so when we moved to Mankato I incorporated something similar into my routine.  I had to drop off many kids at school and I would always say when I dropped each one off, "I love you.  Have a great day.  Make good choices.  Don't miss me too much!  It's a great day to be a Fletcher!

I did that because I wanted them to remember that we were unified family and that they were representing something bigger than themselves.  (I also wanted to create a sense of belonging as well).

One of the ways that the enemy can destroy people is to make their system dysfunctional (my other blog is talking about how to fight back).  And one of the ways he does that is by convincing each person in the system that they are not REALLY part of the problem.  They are a victim of the organization -- or whatever spin they put on it.

But you are the organization you are a part of.  You are your church (I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.....)

I have been up for a very long time and am kind but your'e getting the picture.... right?

Saturday, January 09, 2016

First Rough Spot


Last night I hit my first real rough spot... the low point of my journey here so far.   There were a bunch of things that led up to it... first of all I woke up at 3:30 am and couldn't go back to sleep, which meant the by mid afternoon yesterday I was completely shot.  Dominyk had been obsessing about getting his permit switched over and his driver's license (possibly on the same day, according to him) at an office 45 minutes away.  So he was driving my vehicle for the first time on winding roads in the rain and I knew better than to increase his anxiety by commenting so you can imagine how THAT went :-).    After all that he decided not to take the test after all, which was frustrating.  And then he and I had an argument/discussion that was a very difficult one resulting in lots of tears on both our parts.

Everyone else that I work with was heading off to have a fun weekend with their families... or maybe just to have a weekend with their families.  I was heading to a nearly empty town home to spend time with the dogs.   Dominyk has plans for today, so he won't be home most of the day.    I am fairly good company for other people, but I do not enjoy being with me.  I think to much when I'm alone and I'm missing my kids, grandkids, and especially Bart.

And then I got a picture from Bart of him holding Hattie and Hazel and not while I knew I wouldn't be there for that, not being there bothered me way more than I thought it would, especially when I found out Hattie had my middle name.  I won't ever be able to tell her or Hazel,  like I have the other 5 grandchildren, "I was at the hospital when you were born.  See, here's the picture."  I will have to say, "I saw a picture of you guys with grandpa.  Here it is."

So I cried some more.  Right at some mediocre Mexican restaurant in South Boston, Virginia, of all places.  I'm not much of a crier (although the past few months nobody would believe that) but when I am emotionally exhausted it does happen.  And I have had an extremely emotionally exhausting week.  I had been given the opportunity to have introductory meetings with a bunch of people who I concluded were pretty awesome folks.  I felt like in those 30 minutes spots I had gotten a pretty good glimpse of who they were.  But their views of each other floored me.   I may write another blog post about trust because I've been thinking a lot about it, but for now I'll leave it at that.  I don't want to go into too much detail in case it makes the organization look bad because in the midst of a system that isn't functioning well, some good things are happening for kids and there is so much potential here.

But you know me, so you know I'm going to process here and say more than I should.... hopefully not too much more.    But I think that if you are part of a family system or if you are part of a team at work, especially if it is a Christian non-profit, some of the stuff below will make sense.

Systems theory says that there are roles for people to fill in a system.  Take the example of a large family.  In that system there is a "worst behaved child."  In fact THAT child is the one that is causing all the trouble at the house and messing up the family (according to the family system).  The funny thing is that when that child moves out, the family is functioning the same way because another person fills the role of "worst child."

The other thing that is interesting about a system, family or otherwise, is that people may not even know their role, but they start to respond as the role dictates.  For example, in a family system, you might have a "best kid."  So in our family, we sometimes call him "Somebody."  Everyone who knows my family can probably guess who it is.  It's Leon.   We started calling him somebody because whenever Bart would say, "Hey can somebody set the table?" everyone else looked at each other while he jumped up.  Or if I said, "Hey can somebody take Grandma home?" all the other drivers would look at their Sunday dinner plates and Leon would say, "Sure."  Or if one of my grandkids parents called the house and said can "somebody" watch so and so, sure enough, Leon could.  The more that this was reinforced the more he acted that way and so when people are angry they accuse us of having Leon as a "favorite."  But it's really hard not to appreciate somebody who always fulfills the role of "somebody".

I think you're understanding systems theory well enough to understand now some of what I'm going to say and to recognize why I hit bottom.   I mentioned a few blog posts away that the leadership team that I am now a part of is made up of three scary smart guys (they liked that by the way.  I forgot they might be reading this when I wrote it or I sure wouldn't have said that. :-)   And I have been able to develop trust with them very quickly.   They had given me a heads up on that the system in one of my departments was dysfunctional, but I had no idea how dysfunctional.

After my appointments with all these great people who are part of a broken system, I recognized that the system that exists here is very similar to a dysfunctional family system.  There are roles that each person fills and some of them are assigned to them almost immediately because of their arrival into a position.  Others are assigned over time, but once they get assigned, that is how they are expected to act.   Examples include "best house parent" "most entitled employee" "the one who shows favoritism" "weakest link on the staff" "voice of the group" "uncaring and unconnected case manager"... you get the idea.  And just like in a family system, people start to act according to their role, often without realizing it.

Whew.  Hang in there with me.

When I started to hear about how people were treating one another, I talked to my mom.  She's 86, super sharp and very wise, and has lived in "communal living" situations for much of her adult life -- before and after raising kids.  So when I talked about drama, gossiping, back-biting, rumors, mistrust, etc, she said, "Oh, that's communal living" to which I responded, "not on my watch."  And here is why.

We are in a situation where we cannot afford to let that kind of environment take us over.  The kids who are coming to us are traumatized, often abused, very hurt children and unless we can get our act together as a team to serve them well, we will retraumatize them.  And I don't want to part of that.  So far I think the kids are being served well, but we need to do better with our relationships with each other.

I also believe that while I'm not going to get into detail about spiritual warfare, that the very best way for the enemy to keep us from doing incredibly positive things is to keep our attention off the mission and have it focus on each other.  And perpetuating a dysfunctional system here has been his tactic for a long time.

So all that to say this.  As the story was unfolding, I was able to see how the system had pegged people and victimized them.  People who are good people.  People who I am already beginning to love.  And it happened so sneakily that they didn't even realize it had happened.  Some of them don't even know what their own role is -- but they have been assigned it.  And I believe that all of them came here with good intentions and are good people that have been victimized by a system and have become the role they have been assigned.

I was explaining this to Bart and he asked me what my role was.  And I had actually had a person pretty clearly define it for me from her perspective (without knowing that was what she was doing).   My role is "the person who comes here and is not completely supported by anyone so they stop trusting everyone and eventually leave or get fired."  I can't let that happen.

I am by nature a very very trusting person.  I have belief in the basic good intentions of Christian people.   I believe there is always always hope.   And I believe that I can trust my gut.  I also do not believe that any of the people here are the person that the system has decided they are.

After concluding all of my meetings, I realized that I would never know the truth.  I would never know what REALLY happened.  People's perception is there reality.  But I knew that I needed to rally the troops to give each other a fresh start, to forgive and move on from the past, and to attach with vehemence the system which was created and has been perpetuated by the one who has come to "steal, kill and destroy."

Note:  If you happen to be part of my staff and for some reason found this blog, you are just getting a preview to Monday's meeting. :-)

So I developed ten guidelines which basically are the way we are taught in Scripture to treat each other.  And I'm going to ask people to commit to those principles.   If we can do this, we can kill the old system.   And then there is no limit to what this place can do for children.   If there is already so much good being done that if we can get this part right, the place is going to be unstoppable.  

So if you are still with me you should probably get a major award, but all that background is necessary for you to understand why I hit bottom last night.  I put together all this information in my head and I had a plan of attack.  And I explained it to a few people yesterday in some very honest, direct and respectful conversations.   And I felt really good about my conclusions and where I was headed.

And then, suddenly, after everyone left for the weekend, I started to have a panic attack.   What if I shouldn't have said that?  What if so and so talks to so and so?  What if I have misplaced my trust?  Crap, what was I thinking!  I was too open.  This is going to come back and bite me.

 I had to have a long conversation with myself not to freak out.

And then it hit me.   I had already been sucked in.  I had already, in one week, become the person that my role had defined me to be.  I had let the enemy grab ahold of me and start to lie to me in just five short days. Whatever has a hold on this system was messing with my head. I had come in, I had clearly seen the issue, nailed it even, and yet I was already being consumed by it.    I was so angry with myself ... I did NOT just leave everything that I loved to follow God to a place where some dysfunctional system was going to control me.

Those of you who know me know that my low point didn't last very long.  We had dinner, I insisted on Christian music instead of country on the way home (sorry, Dom), and turned on the radio to hear Chris Tomlin sing, "where you go I'll go, where you stay, I'll stay, when you move, I'll move, I will follow you.  Who you love, I'll love, , how you serve, I'll serve, if this life I lose, I will follow you, I will follow you."   And then Jeremy Camp gave me my rally cry that I will conclude this post with.  

Some of my blog posts are for others.  Some are for me.  I guess after spending almost 2 hours writing this, that this one is for me more than for you.  But maybe there is someone out there reading this that is involved in a system that is being controlled by the evil one, and God is calling you to make a difference.

So my low spot last night has led to me to the morning after with more determination that ever before.  

I will be the person that I am.  I will live with integrity.  I will be trusting.  I will be hopeful.   I will not live in fear.  (Fighting the urge not to worry if I will get in trouble for writing this blog post).

I will love deeply.  I will believe in people and develop them.  For the sake of the kids, I will confront in love again and again and again no matter how many times it takes.  I will prove daily that I can be trusted and I will give folks a fresh start.  I will hold nothing back and give everything I have.   I will do what God has called me here to do.

Because there is nothing I am more certain of than the fact that God wants me here.  You've heard the stories, you've read of the miracles.  You know I am here for a reason.  And even though this may be the hardest thing I've ever done, I am going to lead this group of people forward.

I reminded myself last night of how clear my instructions were from God and the phrase in the picture above entered my mind.  "Never doubt in the dark what God showed you in the light."    He has been so clear during the "daytime" that I must trust him during the dark moments like last night.

I am not going to get sucked in.   And these amazing people who are here because they love and want to serve kids are going to do just that better than ever before.  Because once and for all this system is going to be defeated.  I can feel it at the core of who I am.

Believe it?

Same Power by Jeremy Camp

I can see
Waters raging at my feet
I can feel
The breath of those surrounding me
I can hear
The sound of nations rising up
We will not be overtaken
We will not be overcome
I can walk
Down this dark and painful road
I can face
Every fear of the unknown
I can hear
All God’s children singing out
We will not be overtaken
We will not be overcome
The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea
Lives in us, lives in us
He lives in us, lives in us
We have hope
That His promises are true
In His strength
There is nothing we can’t do
Yes, we know
There are greater things in store
We will not be overtaken
We will not be overcome
The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea
Lives in us, lives in us
He lives in us, lives in us
Greater is He that is living in me
He’s conquered our enemy
No power of darkness
No weapon prevails
We stand here in victory
The same power that rose Jesus from the grave
The same power that commands the dead to wake
Lives in us, lives in us
The same power that moves mountains when He speaks
The same power that can calm a raging sea
Lives in us, lives in us
He lives in us, lives in us
Two final notes.  !)  This may be the longest blog post I have ever written.  And 2)  As I was writing the end of this post, the song below was playing in background... not a coincidence).  






Friday, January 08, 2016

What's in a Name?


We didn't have the opportunity to name our children.  In fact, even our dogs came named.  We changed some middle names, but basically our kids go by the name that was given to them by their birthparents.  And I'm really OK with that.  Except that I do I tease my daughter.  She is gorgeous and trendy and knows how to do makeup and pick her clothes and stuff, so the fact that she is named after an expensive classy car (Mercedes) makes sense.  However, since I am not gorgeous, or trendy, and I know nothing about makeup and clothes and stuff, the fact that I have a daughter who is named after an expensive classy car makes no sense.

But I digress.

Right around midnight on Wednesday night, two beautiful identical twin girls were born to our oldest son and his wife.   Their oldest son was given Bart's middle name which was a very big deal to Bart and I didn't quite get it.   Until one of the twins was given my middle name.  So Hazel Elyse (her other grandma's name) and Hattie Mae (my middle name) are here and doing well.   And I already know that because of her middle name, I am going to have a relationship that is just a little bit different than my other grandchildren, even though I will treat them all the same.

Because there is something in a name.  I was honored by that act.  And having my mother's middle name has always been special to me (so you can imagine my mother's delight that another generation had our middle name).  I am motivated to be a good example to Hattie Mae because I want her to be proud to carry my name.   I want to be an especially good grandmother to her in particular so that it isn't an embarrassment to be named after me.  I want to see that as something positive and good.

When I was a teenager I heard John Ott speak at a Wesleyan convention (was anyone there?) and he told this story that I have never forgotten.  My husband, the skeptic, says that it is just folklore, that it never really happened, but I've never let his need to remind me of that ruin the concept of a great illustration.

Story is told that Alexander the Great, one of the greatest warriors of all time, was holding court one day when some military officials escorted before him a young soldier. This young soldier was caught running away from battle. Alexander the Great said, “Soldier, tell me your name.” The soldier replied “Alexander.” Alexander the Great said again, “Soldier what is your name?” The Soldier replied “Alexander.” Once again Alexander the Great asked, “Soldier, what is your name!?” The soldier replied “Alexander.” Alexander the Great then said, “Either change your conduct or change your name.” 

I can still see in my mind's eye John Ott in front of hundreds of teenagers  in his big booming voice and a finger point at us all saying, "God is standing before you having this conversation.   
'Child, What is your name?'
'Christian.'  
'Child, What is your name?'
'Christian.'
'CHILD, WHAT IS YOUR NAME?'
'Christian.  
'Child, Either change your conduct or change your name."


Remembering the impact of that moment still gives me the chills and it is embedded deeply into who I am.

The last two days I have had the privilege of meeting with some great people whose hearts are in the right place  Because of the prayers and support of so many people, they are blessing the lives of children every day, despite some challenges. Communal living is very difficult and I have heard some stories of misunderstandings and pain.   Through all this I realized something pretty significant. 

There are times when we can be drawn into a system that changes our behavior and cause us to be less than who God wants us to be.   I have been fighting hard the past two days not to become sucked in to a system that has become dysfunctional.   I want more than anything to be able to carry the name Christian with pride and to have Jesus not be ashamed of me for the ways that I treat people.  And I am going to do my best to pull these folks together to destroy the old system so that we can all carry the name proudly.  

During a break between a couple of the 18 meetings I've had the last two days involving personal conversations with 25 people (some of them I met with as couples) I heard this song.  It's my theme song over the next several weeks as I invite people into a journey to change a system that has had the under it's hold for years.  The song is called Pushing Back the Dark and it's by Josh Wilson.

One million reasons why, you shouldn’t even try
After all you’re just one heart, a single candle in the dark
And there are shadows here, feeding on your fears
That you don’t have what it takes
Who are you to make a change

But oh, oh, don’t underestimate the God you follow
Whatever you do, just don’t look back
Somebody needs the light you have
Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart
Keep on pushing back the dark
Keep on pushing back the dark

The city on a hill, it should be shining still
Every sinner saved by grace, has a purpose, has a place
Inside the bigger plan, we might not understand
But if we just keep walking on, we will see the Kingdom come, yeah

Whatever you do, just don’t look back
Oh somebody needs the light you have
Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart
Keep on pushing back the dark
Keep on pushing back the dark

(Let your lights so shine…)
Oh, oh, don’t underestimate the God you follow
He is the light that burns inside your soul
So keep on shining ’til the whole world knows

Whatever you do, just don’t look back
Somebody needs the light you have
Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart
Keep on pushing back the dark
Just keep on pushing back the dark, dark

Whatever you do, just don’t look back
Cause somebody needs the light you have
Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart
Keep on pushing back the dark
Keep on pushing back the dark, yeah

When you feel like you’re too small
To do any good at all
Like a sunrise through the window
Like a symphony crescendo

We are waking up again, we are rising from the dead
We are shining like the stars, we are pushing back the dark
Yeah, we are pushing back, pushing back the dark.

You can listen to it here:



Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Child Focused

On my other blog an entry called, "What Does it Mean to be Child Focused?"

Drinking from a Fire Hose


Have you ever started a job that you were really passionate about where the task was huge and information came at you super fast?  And have you ever been so excited that you can't sleep or awakened in the night with a zillion brilliant answers to the dilemmas you face that don't seem quite as brilliant the next morning as they were at 2 a.m.?    If you have, then welcome to my world.  My coworkers call this season "Drinking from a Fire Hose."

There are so many big things that need to be tackled in my role.  Some of it is historical, some of it is the timing of my arrival (everyone has been waiting for me to come to make any major decisions), and some of it is my perspective as both a parent and a professional that is making my head spin.  My history of kids in residential care is certainly having an impact on every situation I am hearing about here. 

But in the midst of all this there are some VERY good things I want to share about my new job.

1)  The Senior Executive Team is made up of three great men.  They are passionate about serving these children and they are scary smart and gifted at what they do.   They also have great hearts for the kids we serve.    They know how to communicate with one another and they don't avoid conflict.  They are, to quote the ever-so-wise Jeff Carlson who will never read this, always "Honest, Direct and Respectful" in their communications with one another.  They encouraged me immediately to jump into the conversation and offer my ideas and even though is is only day three I solidly feel like I'm part of the team.    I also am very aware of the fact that this is my honeymoon stage, but they have all been so good to Dominyk and I since our arrival.   

2)  The people who all report to someone who reports to someone who reports to me or somewhere in the middle (I suppose i could use the words "people in my down line)" all appear to be eager to be led and to move things forward.   Of course, there will be some who may not agree with my philosophy and we will have to iron that out, but I can already see great potential in the members of my team.

3)  I am still very convinced this is where I am supposed to be.   Each step makes it clearer.   We saw a lay out of the parsonage this week and I laughed out loud.  We finally will have enough space for lots of people (six rooms could be used for bedrooms, two huge living rooms, a porch, two kitchens, etc.) and we will only have 4 of us there -- me only part of the week.  God has a great sense of humor.  

So for those of you who are praying for me -- my Facebook and blog post are real -- as they always have been and always will be -- but please don't interpret them to be negative.  I'm having the time of my life.

This is my sweet spot, even if it's hard to get a good long drink and it's pretty messy when you're drinking from the fire hose.  

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

How Was My First Day?

Yesterday was my first day on the new job.  Even though I had spent about 10 hours with the CEO last week in one-on-one training, that had been  my idea so that I could hit the ground running.  So yesterday, it all began.

It started with me arriving at the office before anyone else and not having keys to my office, but that was soon resolved.  I then got settled, checked email, and got ready for a 9:30 Residential Care Staff  Meeting.

To provide a bit of clarity, my title is Chief Program Officer.  Someone suggested I should figure out a way to put a 3 in there so I could be C3PO instead of CPO.   Maybe it should be because I oversee the three main programming components of the organization.

The first is Patrick Henry Boys and Girls Home, which I will be blogging much more about in the future because it has some really cool implications for the adoption world.  But first I have to get grounded and really understand my job and what is happening there.  But basically this is a Group Home on the beautiful final planation that Patrick Henry owned.  It has room for 40 children in 5 cottages and at this time we are not at capacity. About 60 percent of the kids are adopted.

The second program is Hope for Tomorrow Counseling.  This is a group of Christian counseling centers that not only serves our population but the surrounding communities.

The third program, which should be up and running in 6-8 weeks, after the state passes the bill, is Safe Families for Children.  If you aren't familiar with this program you should check it out.  If the bill passes, Patrick Henry Family Services (my new employer) will be the only organization in the state with permission to offer the program.  We will pilot it in 5 counties for two years and if it is successful, move it throughout the state.

As I begin my duties, I have a dual role.  I will be serving as the Director of Residential Care as well as the Chief Program Officer as we determine next steps.  So back to answering the question about my first day.  At 9:30 I was able to stand before the Residential Care Staff... people who live, work, and interact with kids every day.   There was plenty of anxiety in the room.  People wondering how the changes I would certainly bring might effect them, because really, that is how we all first respond to change.   

I was able to share this devotional which hopefully helped people to see the kind of adventure I want to lead them on.

The rest of my time at work was spent getting "oriented" in HR and learning of many of the staffing challenges in the organization.  After work Dominyk made us Brats for dinner and then he whined about how board he was until I put down everything I was doing to spend time with him so that I could watch him instantly fall asleep.  He had a very boring day yesterday.  Fortunately today there are some folks who have volunteered to entertain him up in Lynchburg while I'm meeting with the Chief Officers today in that office.

So it was a good first day.  There is much to do here.  There is culture change needed.  There are paradigms that need to be shifted.  There are perceptions that need to be realigned.  There are gifted people who need direction.  Trust needs to be rebuilt.  I have enough to do to keep me busy for a decade.

So that's how my first day was.  Instead of being overwhelmed, I just keep reminding myself of one of my life's mottos:  "The Bigger the Mountain the Better the Climb."


Monday, January 04, 2016

Worshipping without My People


Yesterday Dominyk and I went to church in Lynchburg -- to Heritage Baptist church.  Our next door neighbors who have a teenage son go there and he had gotten Dominyk all excited to try it.  So we went and it was enjoyable enough.

There were lots of people there -- in fact there were about 35-40 people on stage leading worship.  The music was good, the songs were ones I knew and liked, and they didn't even make me stand up for 30 minutes like they do in the "thigh gap" churches.  (Sorry, that's my mental name for churches without any old people who all look the same -- sane race all young, healthy, shop the same place, get their hair cut at the same place, etc.   I like worshipping at those churches as well, but sometimes the 30 minutes standing makes me think more about my back than Jesus).

but I digress.

We worshipped and it was fine, good even.  The sermon made sense though it was twice as long as what I am accustomed to, and I was sitting with our new neighbors so I wasn't completely alone.  But I realized something while I was there.... church really is about community.  It's about people living life together, knowing one another, on an intimate level.  And with that corporate worship has so much more meaning than with strangers.

Bart will be here in three weeks and we will begin to build new relationships with another congregation.  And soon those people will be my people.  And today I get to meet with my whole new staff, and soon they will be my people.  

But in this interim  stretch I will really miss those with whom I most recently worshipped at Brunswick, especially when we sing. Yesterday we sang "Open Up the Heavens" and "Our God" and "Stronger"... all songs that our praise band, Testify, did in Minnesota.  And I missed those folks a great deal while I sang.

That's all.  Not a brilliant blog entry.   Not well written.

Might be because distracted because I'm heading off to start my first day!!!

The beginning of an era....

Sunday, January 03, 2016

The Most Important Thing I Learned



If you have ever heard me speak this blog post is not going to be new to you.  I share this piece of wisdom often -- whether I'm speaking at a church or a conference or even when I do stand-up because it is the single most important thing that I have learned since becoming a parent.

There were a few years where I contemplated being a full time speaker.  I was doing a lot of key notes at state conferences and getting sizable honorariums.  But when I realized that there are only fifty states and seldom does a keynote return to a state conference, I decided to keep my day job.

There was one other important part of that decision... and that is that people don't always want to hear the message that I come to share.  If you are a fellow adoptive parent, or the parent of a child with special needs, you go to conferences, especially early on, to find answers on how to fix those kids.  There are some people who have come up with paradigm shifting models who can charge $10K - $15K to do a speaking engagement because folks have heard of them and believe they might have the answer to how to make a kid change.

My problem:  I don't know how to fix kids.  I don't know how to change the IQ of a child or to repair a brain that has been exposed to early trauma or alcohol or drugs in the womb.  I don't know how to undo attachment issues or how to force a child with oppositional behaviors to see things my way.  In fact, I spent he first three years of parenting older children attempting to do those things and it simply did not go well.  Actually, it was a train wreck. 

Grant it, in the past 20 years a lot of progress has been made in understanding why children behave the way they do.  And there are new parenting techniques that we now know about that can assist children in their healing process.   But even with all those things, no human being can control another.

So I realized, back when I was contemplating full time speaking and writing career, is that my main  message isn't something that anyone wants to pay a lot of money to hear.  Parents come to conferences to learn how to fix, change, and control their children (even if they would never put it that way).   My message is simple:  The only person I can change is me. I cannot fix my children, nor can I control them.  What is within my control is how I respond to my children.

Trust me.  I'm right about this.   I spent years trying to change 8-11 year olds who are now in their mid twenties.  Their issues still aren't fixed.  I pray that my response and approach to them is better, but some stuff just can't be altered by discovering the right parenting technique.

One final thought ... as parents, us being able to change ourselves cannot fix kids but it CAN change the environment in our home.  It can bring about more peace and less strife.  It can be a more calm  place, a happier place, a healthier place when we change ourselves.

Maybe you are one of those people who is still looking for that secret answer so that you can fix a child ... or any other person for that matter (of course none of us would EVER try to change our spouse ... and I'm using the sarcasm font right now).   If that's been your goal there is a lot of freedom in the following revised serenity prayer which has an anonymous author.

Lord grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change
the courage to change the person I can
and the wisdom to know it's me.

Stories....



I love people.  Always have.  An extrovert for sure, I just love diving into the lives of other people and living life with them.   I can be a bit intense so I have to work hard not to overwhelm or scare people when I first meet them because I am so anxious to get to to know them.

Now there is a downside to all this, which I blogged about a couple weeks ago, and that's the pain when you say goodbye.  If I let myself thing about a few of my favorite people back in Minnesota I would be overcome with grief again. .. because I LOVE those people.   In fact, knowing that people will be worshipping without me today is a bit painful.   But it is my choice to make those people a part of my life now in different ways because I was the one who moved away.  So instead of crying because it's over I'm smiling because it happened and grateful that those people who were part of my daily life are now part of my current left from afar and make up the tapestry of who I am.

But one of the best parts of being in a new place is that there are now new people to meet with new stories to hear.  I just love hearing someones story.   There are so many things that make us who we are -- so many different parts of our story that contribute to the person we have become.   

So last night when we were invited over to dinner by our next door neighbors (relief house parents here) I was relishing again hearing the pieces of their lives that make them who they are.  Gradually a story is revealed that gives insight into who they are.  I so enjoy putting the pieces together.  And they, too, are hearing me talk and piecing together my story.

Recently Big Daddy Weave came out with a song and the first few lines sum up what I hope everyone  hears as I gradually unfold my story to them.

If I told you my story
You would hear hope that wouldn't let go
If I told you my story
You would hear love that never gave up.