Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Feel like things are taking too long?

Have you ever found yourself getting really impatient about how slow things seem to go?  Wish that the stage that you are in, or the stage that one of your children are in, or the stage of a project you’re working on would be over so you can move on to the next one?   I think is part of the human condition.  We often believe that things simply take too long.   Whether it’s the potty training stage, a stage in the healing process after surgery, or the editing stage of a presentation or document, we look forward to the next stage.

Yesterday I was listening to Numbers 33 and it begins like this:  “Here are the stages in the journey of the Israelites” and it goes on to list every single time they started and stopped.   Now, grant it, this was an 11 day journey that they managed to turn into forty years because of all kinds of stupidity on their part.   But when I think about what it must have been like to lead those people for forty years, stopping FIFTY times, it makes my head hurt.

After doing a bit of research, it appears that there were over 2 million people who went on this journey.   Can you imagine making camp and breaking camp 50 times with 2 million people?  The stress of it all is mind boggling.   Moses had to lead these people, with God’s instruction, and I’m sure there were many times (possibly daily) when Moses was asking “Why????”   Why me?  Why them?  Why here?  Why now?  and once again, Why me?”

But they got there.   Eventually,  After all those stops and starts they got to the promised land after going through each stage of the journey.

And so will we.   The secret to the peace God has for us is to enjoy each stage as it happens and not fixate on the destination.   Because the joy is in the journey.   

Monday, February 26, 2018

I learned this from my Mom today....

This morning I called my Mom, like I do every Monday morning (and a couple other times during the week).  She's been having a particular hard season in her life right now.  She's almost 89 so it is to be expected that there will be challenges.  But she hasn't been able to be more than a few feet away from the bathroom for very long for almost a month, meaning she has missed four Sundays in a row for the first time in her whole life.

I knew she had some doctors appointments this week so when she started the conversation with “I have some very serious, very bad news to tell you.”   My mind went straight to some kind of cancer with weeks to live.   But she said, “My lift chair broke and I don’t think it can be fixed.”   She went on to tell me that it was the only place she can sit comfortably with her back pain and that she had no idea what to do.    She says, "I walk all hunched over like an old lady!"   I said, "News Flash.  You're almost 89.  You ARE an old lady.  We both laughed.

She was going to have the maintenance guy look at it.  I told her that if they couldn’t fix it she should call me and I’d talk to Bart.   She warned me that it was going to be very expensive.

Later in the conversation she said, “I had to pray this one through and I prayed and sang hymns until I realized this.   Jesus is always with me, through all of this.  I don’t know what He wants me to learn from this, but I’m sure it’s something because He always has a plan.  And no matter what happens, Jesus is with me through it all.

An hour later she called me and told me that they couldn’t fix it but that the maintenance guy said he thought he might be able to find her one that would be used and cheap.   I told her that she should call me and leave a message to let me know.   She left an abrupt voicemail saying, “Nothing can can be done here.   Talk to your husband.” 

To make a long story short, she called me at 12:30 to tell me that she needed me to figure out what to do about the chair.   I reminded God that He was going to take care of my mom, looked on Craig’s list, found one that looked too good to be true, and by 2 had made plans for our sons Jimmy and Rand to meet the guy to check it out.   By 6 pm they had purchased it — almost brand new and less than half the price of a new one.   My mom is thrilled that she was the recipient of a miracle.  The picture above is of her tonight still in shock but sitting in her miracle chair.

Is there a bunch of stuff that you are going through that you don’t understand?  If so, my mom would tell you that Jesus is with you.  You may not know what he is going to teach you through all this, but He has a plan.  

And apparently Jesus was with me too -- because he basically put a lift chair into my hands with very little effort on my part and I got to be part of a miracle.  

Not bad for a Monday.

Friday, February 23, 2018

A Chance Encounter

Today I have a really cool story to tell you about something that happened to me very recently.   And you might even tear up ….. because I did, and I hardly ever do.

Last night we had a dessert gathering for the table captains for our upcoming Patrick Henry Family Services gala in April.  We were at the Neighbors Place, a local restaurant, and we had a side room that was packed with people.  It was my job to describe to them what they could expect at the gala and what their responsibilities were as table captains.  I was gearing everything I said to middle and upper class church people.

I explained that they would be hearing three stories of people who had been helped by our various programs.  I was explaining to them that one of the stories would be from a Safe Family host family and the mom of the baby they had hosted.   I then said something like this:  

“One of our goals at PHFS is to connect the church with people who are marginalized so that they can rid themselves of generalizations.  If you develop a meaningful relationship with a recovering addict, for example, you can no longer say ‘All addicts are bad people’ because you have met one who wasn’t.  Or if a felon becomes your friend, you can’t fear all felons, because now you know one who isn’t frightening at all.  And somehow the people that we have a church work to avoid — the people that Jesus actually hung out with when he was on earth — become a part of our lives and everything changes.”

I continued on with my speech, getting a few laughs and seeing lots of enthusiasm, and Mr. Day closed the night in prayer.  Then I talked to a few people in the room and I started to walk out to the car for my 90 minute drive home.   A young woman approached me and I realized that she was one of the two servers that had been assigned to our room.

She came up to me and said just a few short sentences.   “I just wanted to thank you for all that you guys are doing.   I work three jobs and I didn’t want to come in tonight.  But I am a recovering addict and I am a felon, so I know now that God wanted me here tonight.”  And then she reached up and gave me a big hug.   I hugged her back and thanked her for taking time to share that with me.

I walked away from that experience so grateful that God uses us, used me even, in the most unlikely of situations.  I had no idea this girl was still in the room when I was speaking and obviously knew nothing of her history.  But God used a Gala Table Captain Instruction Speech, of all things, to remind a young tired struggling girl that He loves her.

Yesterday morning a coworker of mine sent out an amazing email that ended, in part, with these words.   "It is not how much we do, but how small we can do, to touch a life and make a difference,”  I had no idea she was being prophetic about my life that very night.

After reading that email, another coworker sent me this song that I never heard that so applies to this story and to all of as we seek do do what God is asking us to do each day.  

Here are the lyrics.

"For The One

Let me be filled
With kindness, and compassion for the One
The One for whom You loved, and gave Your Son
For humanity; increase my love

Help me to love with open arms, like You do
A love that erases all the lines, and sees the truth
Oh, that when they look in my eyes, they would see You
Even in just a smile; they would feel the Father's love

Oh, how He loves us
From the homeless, to the famous, and in between
You formed us, You made us carefully
'Cause in the end; we're all Your children

So help me to love with open arms, like You do
A love that erases all the lines, and sees the truth
Oh, that when they look in my eyes, they would see You
Even in just a smile; they would feel the Father's love

So let all my life, tell of who You are
And the wonder of, Your never-ending love
Oh, let all my life, tell of who You are
That You're wonderful, and such a good Father
Oh, let all my life, tell of who You are
And the wonder of, Your never-ending love
Oh, let all my life, tell of who You are
That You're wonderful, and such a good Father
You're wonderful, and such a good Father

So help me to love with open arms, like You do
A love that erases all the lines, and sees the truth
Oh, that when they look in my eyes, they would see You
Even in just a smile; they would feel the Father's love
Even in just a smile; they would feel the Father's love

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Don't Feel Like You Have it In You?

Ever wake up in the middle of the night with something troubling you so you can’t go back to sleep?   Or have you ever been going about your day when suddenly a thought pops in your head and you immediately find yourself anxious or depressed?   

I like to think that I am a very resilient, very strong person.   And most of the time, I can do a pretty good job of keeping my head above water just by strong determination and a lot of will power.  I also have a strong faith and a prevailing sense of hope.

But I still have sleepless hours, moments of self-doubt and anxiety, and times when I wonder if maybe this is the time that I’m not going to make I through.   

It’s in those times that I have to recognize that it all doesn’t come from within me… that my only hope is in Jesus and that He will carry me through … even if … and especially when … I don’t  have it in me to carry on.

Maybe you are finding yourself at that point this week… if so, this song is for you!

Monday, February 19, 2018

Is Jesus Sad?

You probably know it by now, but Bart and I have weird conversations almost every day.  Yesterday on our way to church we saw a lady in a dress walking a dog and we were talking about whether or not she was going to church.   I said, “you know, it doesn’t even seem to matter any more if people go to church.  It doesn’t seem to change their behavior much” (ok, so I confess to having a moment of cynicism and being a bit judgmental.”

“I think Jesus is sad,” I said.   I explained to him that in a recent devotional a coworker had shared that the last prayer Jesus prayed in John 17 before heading of to his death was for us.   He said, “
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
I said to Bart, “That sure hasn’t happened.  How many denominations are there?  He of course knew the number off the top of his head.  “Last time I checked 14,328 in the United States alone.”

We have managed to divide ourselves that many times.  Unbelievable.  We are farther away from unified than ever before.

The Church universal has become a church of disagreement about almost everything.  But…. and this is the point of this rant — can you imagine the power we would have if we were united?  If we were, as Jesus said, one just like the Father and Son are one."? There would truly be no way to stop us.

This song is just as powerful today as it was when it was written in 1983.  (don’t judge the hair).

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Story of One of My Sons (Shared with Permission)

An adorable toddler with blonde hair and blue eyes walked into our lives on October 7, 1996. He turned 23 a couple of weeks ago. He was the first child to be parented by Bart and I, and the first child that changed my title to Mom. 
He came as a foster child and we were told we might be able to adopt him some day. We met his birth-mom and couldn’t help but have compassion for her. She was spunky … raised in foster care herself — but she had all kinds of things to work through. Her list that she needed to complete to get him back was long and hard. She had to visit him — fifteen miles away — and didn’t have reliable transportation. Finding housing was tough. She was battling generations of poverty. She finally gave up and moved out of state.
While he was in foster care with us, I would rock him to sleep and sing him this song that I wrote for him.
Lullaby and goodnight.
have sweet dreams precious tony
oh we love you and we are thankful
that you’re living here with us. 
Close your eyes, little boy,
go to sleep stop your weeping,
Jesus loves you little boy
and he’ll watch you while you’re sleeping.
And I would cry. I would sing “You are my sunshine” and sob at the end as I sang “please don’t take my sunshine away.” And yet, I knew that our role was supposed to be temporary.   (The picture of him below is when he was about three -- while we were still fostering both of these little guys.  This is one of my favorite pictures.   Weren't they the CUTEST EVER?

It turned out that we were allowed to adopt this little boy and raised him and loved him (and still do) through some pretty tough times. It wasn’t easy to watch him struggle with his identity. He sobbed in the counselor’s office in 8th grade trying to decide who he should research as his “ancestors.” He dreamed of what his birth family might be like. He was always trying to figure out where he fit in. He reunited with some of his birth dads family a few years ago and is living with some of his cousins now. 
For my sake, I’m so grateful that I had the privilege of being this kid’s mom. But for his sake, I wonder what life would have been like if his first mom could have had the support of a place called Homes of Hope, a program we are raising money for with this fundraiser. In the home, women who have infants and toddlers in foster care can move in until they are stable enough to get their kids back. Then they can live with them in the home until they are ready to make it on their own. 
I don’t know if his life would have been better or worse, but I do know that he would not have grown up wondering who he was. That struggle would have been removed and he could have focused on other things.
Tonight in Lynchburg four moms are living with their kids who are no longer in foster care. They are getting support and people are loving them and helping them to make good choices. It’s my hope that those families will remain in tact and those babies will not have to experience what our son did.
if you would like to support this program, we welcome your donations. My son Tony asked specifically that I go ahead and tag him in this post, because he has the most tender heart and wants people to hear his story. 
And now my little boy who toddled into my life at age 20 months is now a semi-pro beast of a lineman who wants his story told.   

And this is his favorite picture of himself, that he wanted me to share with you.  I know he would encourage you to donate to the fundraiser.... and would thank those of you who already have.  

You can do so here.  

Friday, February 16, 2018

Wait for it!

Part of the song below says this:

I feel the waves crashin on my feet 
It’s like I know where I need to be
But I can’t figure it out
Just how much air will I need to breathe
when your tide rushes over me
there’s only one way to figure it out…
will you let me drown?

That does not sound good.   Is it really the way it works?

Unfortunately, life is that way.   Things happen to us and the only way we can learn that God is there and won’t let us drown is if we stand in the ocean of adversity.  It’s during those times that we learn truth.  It’s there that we see beautiful things.

Is today a day for you where you are feeling great — on top of the world?  Or is this a day when you are standing in the ocean of adversity wondering if God is going to let you drown?

If so, hang in there.  Wait for it.  Wait for it.   Something beautiful is coming!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Test to see if you are good hearted

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about families in poverty because a great deal of the folks we serve where I work are deeply engrained in a culture of poverty.  

Tucked away in Proverbs 29, is this verse (7):

The good-hearted understand what it’s like to be poor;
    the hardhearted haven’t the faintest idea.

When I first read this verse it almost sounds like the writer of Proverbs is suggesting that only the poor are good-hearted.   But I think it is much different than that.   The good hearted if they are not poor work hard to learn what it means to be poor.  They seek understanding and work towards it.      Having good and open hearts means WANTING to understand how a person could end up homeless without saying “they get what they get” or “why doesn’t he just get a job.”

It seems to me that as Christians we need to take it one step further — we need to be able to get close enough to understand.   Staying as far away from the poor as we can does not lead to understanding them.   Being around them, being with them, talking to them, even entering into relationships with them is what leads to understanding.

Some of you have the opportunity through your work to do this every day.  Others of us have to make the effort.  But it seems that the call to taking risks is a call to get close to those we don’t understand, in order to gain that understanding — the understanding that Proverbs suggests is what the good-hearted have obtained.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Not sure?

Attending a Christian college meant that I heard a lot about “finding God’s will for my life.”   It’s what we were all doing.  Mission, Mate, and Master was one of the talks I remember.  All those decisions that needed to be made and we were all desperate to stay in the “center of God’s perfect will” in order to have the best life possible.

By the time I was a senior I had concluded that God cared much more about WHO we were than all those other specifics…. That It was more about our character than the course we were on… more about the journey than the destination.  In fact, my very first public speaking engagement was at the ripe old age of 21 when I spoke in our college’s chapel service about that very topic.

God gives us a pretty clear idea of His will for us in the example of how Jesus lived and in Scripture.   Love people, love God, no matter what.  If you err, err on the side of grace.  Forgive.   Live at peace with others.  Pray, give, be selfless.   In most of our decisions it’s obvious what the answer is.

But sometimes we just don’t know for sure, when both options would be morally and biblically OK.   I’m sure that some people felt like our move to Virginia was on a whim, but it was far from that.  A lot of prayer and discernment went into the decision (not as much compared to some people, i’m sure, but a lot for my personality!  

Today’s song is about those times when we just aren’t sure.   If you’re facing a decision and needing direction, this song may be for you today.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Seventy Times Seven

Yesterday I prayed the words that I have prayed nearly every Sunday for decades.    “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”   In some churches we have said “debts” and in others “sins” but the concept is still the same.

Either Jesus was teaching us to pray that as God keeps forgiving us we should keep forgiving others as in the same time or a continuous process.  Or maybe He was suggesting that we ask God to forgive us in the same manner that we forgive others.  I hope it’s not the latter.   

Regardless of which of those interpretations you choose to believe Jesus intended, the principle is the same.   We are expected to forgive and Jesus wanted us, whenever we prayed, to remember God’s example of forgiveness.  I don’t think that He was suggesting that God was only going to be as good of a forgiver as we are to others, but he wanted us to tie those two things together.  

In the parable of the two debtors in Luke seven Jesus drives this point home.  After telling Peter that he was to forgive someone 490 times (70 times 7, but really meaning infinity), he told the story of a guy who owed his master millions of dollars.  (for a cute story about one of my kids and a conversation we had in 2012 click here)   The master forgives his debt and he walks away and walked directly to find a dude who owed him a thousand and had him thrown in prison.   When the master found out, he had the servant thrown into prison saying, “Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?”

The implications of the parable are clear.  God forgives us so we forgive our fellow servants.  Period.   God is merciful, we need to be merciful as well.

Who do you need to forgive today?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

An Intensely Personal Story about Our Family

Back in 2004, we had 10 children.   Two of our sons were becoming very difficult to handle and we encountered the worst nightmare of our lives to this point:  We were unable to keep them and the rest of the children safe in our own home.   It was a horrible feeling.  We did not adopt these guys to put them back
into the system.  But at that point in time that was our only choice.   In order to get them help, we had to give volunteer custody to our county.

It would take a whole book to tell you about the journey of having our children in the system.   We could talk about how embarrassing it was to have to attend an admit/deny hearing, or how humiliating it was to watch a video about child abuse, or the absolute horror of a just-out-of-college social worker suggesting she could find a home for our 17 year old that "really loved him."  Just writing those words makes my stomach churn.

The outcomes for these boys has not been good.  .  While manipulating everyone they came into contact with, they became "institutionalized" going back and forth from one group home to another.   Our relationship deteriorated and they have both spent a large percentage of time in jail or prison as adults.   One of them blames us for everything.

I cannot guarantee that the outcomes would have been different had there been a place for us to go where we could place our child without count involvement.  But I do know that our lives would have been much less stressful, humiliating, and difficult.   And had all of the people and placements they had been focusing on family preservation, we might have a better relationship with them today.

Moving 1000 miles away from most of our family and friends to a place where we didn't know anyone would only have happened if it was something big.  I am extremely passionate about what we do because  Patrick Henry Boys and Girls Homes is the place we needed in 2004.  

Parents can bring their children here (about 60% of the kids are adopted) and without court involvement place them in a safe place.  There are scholarships available for those who can't afford our services.  We do not take state funds, so the government doesn't dictate what we do.  We focus on family preservation, using TBRI principles, so that relationships can remain intact.

You may know that I have been part of over 600 adoptions in my life -- either as a social worker, a branch director, or as an Adopt America matching specialist.   Many of these children have had challenging behaviors.   It is now my primary mission to find a compassionate and gentle solution to out-of-home care for these kids and kids like them.

This is the first time I am mentioning this online, but we have big plans for the future at PHFS -- plans to develop a model that can be replicated nationally.   We are developing an alternative to traditional state based foster care.   We are working hard at preserving families.   We are passionately invested in what we do.

The fundraiser you may have heard about really isn't about my weight loss (though I am losing weight) or me strengthening my back (which is also happening).  It's about real kids and real families like ours having choices that are humane, respectful, and family-centered.

Maybe you couldn't care less about how much I weigh, and that's perfectly fine.   But if this post resonates with you, I hope that you will make a donation to this campaign to help families like ours... or families like yours ... and the children they love.

If you can't donate at this time, but would like to be part of a think tank about these issues, please comment on this blog entry and let's connect on Facebook.  I'd love to begin a lengthy discussion amongst  of out-of-the-box thinkers about how to best meet the needs of children and families

Friday, February 09, 2018

Who is it going to be?

Some verses from Luke 9 in the Message:
Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. 
Ouch.  This seems to be a common theme in my life right now — God showing up in unexpected places to remind me that He’s driving and that I need to stop grabbing the wheel.

In my parenting experience, I actually was driving one of my children somewhere she didn’t want to go, and she reached over and grabbed the wheel of the van.   It was in the middle of an intense argument and it was very scary.   But it has always been a healthy reminder to me that if God’s driving, I need to let Him drive.

Are you trying to grab the wheel while God is driving?  Not a good plan.

How about letting go and letting Him be in control?

Thursday, February 08, 2018

The Good and The Bad

Romans 8 is an incredible chapter of Scripture, full of all kinds of great truths.   From the very beginning where we are reminded that there is no condemnation for those who love God to the very end where we are promised that nothing can separate us from God's love, there are all kinds of good promises in there.

Tucked in the middle, in verses 16-17, it says:   The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Ugh.  I like the children, heirs, co-heirs stuff.  That sounds pretty good to me.  But verse 17, not so much.

Nobody welcomes suffering, but anyone who has gone through it with an open heart knows that the our relationship with God is strengthened most in the hard times.  When we ask God to draw us closer to Himself …. when we give Him permission to mold us and shape us …. sometimes that is opening up the possibility of suffering.

Regardless of what you are going through today … .whether you are in a phase of life where you are sharing in Christ’s glory — or a time when you are sharing in his suffering — know this:    God will use this time in your life to bring you closer to Him.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Low Hanging Hope

While listening to the radio the other day, I heard a man describing the difference between his life and the life of his wife.  His wife had grown up in an intact family with wonderful parents and had an idyllic childhood.  He said that she was surrounded by "low hanging hope."

His life was different, he explained.  The complete opposite.  Every bit of hope that he was able to encounter in life he has to climb for.  

This pretty much describes the difference between me and everyone else who is part of my family.   I was the only one who had low hanging fruit in their lives.  All of my children, and my husband, came from situations where hope was something you had to work hard to find.

I don't know which of those describes you -- whether you were a person who had hope right there near to you, or if you had to search high and low for it -- but I do know this:  As people of faith we need to be those who hold out hope for others.  We need to share with the people around us who do not have hope that it does exist and we need to teach them how to climb for it.

You know that I'm not in a place, personally, where hope abounds at the moment, but I do, based on past experience, know that it exists.  I know that it comes at the end of, and in the midst of, our suffering, even when we least expect it.

My prayer for you today is that hope will show up... .that God will reveal to you a promising glimpse of the future -- and that you will share that with others.  

Monday, February 05, 2018

Are you trying to run the parade?

The Message has a way of putting things that always makes me pay close attention.  In Roman’s 3 it says:
What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.
I have spent my entire life going back and forth between letting God set the pace and feeling that peace and joy that comes with that kind of living and the opposite:   Proudly and sometimes anxiously trying to run the parade.  That never goes well.

My mom is going to be 89 this year and her favorite word is “relinquish.”  For literally decades I have heard her talk about giving control to God in regards to one challenge or another.   When she was younger it was things like my brothers’ rebelliousness or financial matters.   This past week the people at her assisted living facility did her laundry and didn’t get it back to her apartment.   She told me on the phone, “I was all upset for a while, But then relinquished that to the Lord, made a couple phone calls, and just waited for them to return the laundry.  And sure enough, they did.”  

What is it that you are trying so hard to control?  What kind of parade are you trying to run?    Maybe it’s time to get it step with God and everyone else respond to what He does and letting him set the pace!

Friday, February 02, 2018

God Will Get You Out of the Mess You are In

You know the story of Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Agednego.  The king threatened to throw them into a furnace.  In Daniel 3, Daniel says with confidence, If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us.”

Do you have that kind of confidence?  Do you know that whatever might happen to you, God can get you out of it if your trust is in Him?

There are so many examples in Scripture of people waiting in faith for God to rescue them.   Daniel was not only rescued from a burning furnace, but he was in a den of lions.   Jonah was in the belly of a large fish.   Paul was in prison.   Over and over again we see that God gets people out of tough situations.

What’s your tough situation today?  I’m guessing that though it feels like you’re in a den of lions or burning up in a furnace, that it really pales in comparison to some of the stuff God’s rescued others from — and possibly even rescued you from in the past.

One of my favorite passages of Scripture is found in Isaiah 43:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

And even though I have shared this song with you before, I need to hear it today so maybe you do to.

Sing it with me:   You split the sea so I could walk right through it......