Let's Be Thankful

Anxiety and strife are the norm for our precious girls. There are, very LEGITIMATELY,  so many things in this world to worry about. How much more for a child who is abandoned and alone on the planet! When they come to us, they cry (for some) for days. They are so filled with fear and anxiety.  All we can do is wait. We patiently wait for them to take the risk, and believe that maybe, just maybe, we could be who we say we are. Maybe we really are kind and maybe we do love them with no personal agenda for gain. We long for them to relax a bit and feel the whimsy of childhood. We pray for them to rest in the fact that they are safe, now. We can see it just beyond their grasp, and it pains us when they are so bound by fear that they cannot experience the "felt-safety" of their new home.

 

This is exactly what the Lord is doing for me every single day. Waiting patiently for me to realize that He is GOOD and that all that He does is GOOD. He is for me and He is kindness personified. If only I would rest fully in that, I could finally relax in Him knowing that I am a fully vested child of God. Not an outsider that is tolerated. That I indeed, have a seat at my Father's table. 

 

The antidote to this fear-riddled way of life is THANKFULNESS! . If we come to the Lord with our concerns, and if we remember to keep our hearts grateful, we will be taking the leap of trusting Him, without even realizing it. Before you know it, you'll be learning a new normal way of living. A way of life that refuses to focus on the "what-if's" of sorrow and dread, but instead chooses to perseverate on the goodness of God and the wonderful gifts in our lives! Take your seat at His table today, and be grateful! 

 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

The Call

The cell service was intermittent, only allowing me to hear every other word at best.  A raspy voice was on the other end. The young woman overused the word "like" in her nervousness. I engaged in the back-and-forth of: "can you hear me?...hello?...oh, wait, there! I can hear you, now!" Eventually one of us entered an area where the service was much better. The conversation kept it's awkward cadence, but continued.

The voice on the other end bled with emotion. This sweet girl, that was now on the line and grasping for words, had a love repellent so highly developed and unlike any I had ever experienced. She consistently repelled people and love out of her abandonment and grief. She was not a mean or violent person. She was a child, whose brokenness had left her so desperate and alone that she could not afford herself the luxury of any other emotion besides anger. You see, other emotions leave you vulnerable and open to more pain. But not anger. Anger builds walls of false security. Walls that masquerade as safety. This empty sense of control, in reality, is a lonely place riddled with sorrow. When anger is consistently indulged, you become confined within it's unforgiving fortress and you feel utterly helpless to free yourself. Trapped. When anger is your bully, you enter a cycle that robs you of love and dismantles your hope.

The brave caller simply needed to hear me say the words: "I forgive you." I quickly explained that I loved her, and that forgiveness was not needed. I went on to tell her that I thought of her often and only with fondness. She was unhindered in her quest for the phrase that would be a balm to her weary heart. She was unrelenting. I acquiesced. "Yes. Of course I forgive you" I said.  She exhaled loudly, and seemed quite unaware of it.

I went on to make small talk and ask about her life and goals. She talked about meeting siblings that she never knew she had. She talked about her new apartment. It was lovely to hear her speak with a smile. She aged out of Michigan's foster care system, and her reference to that milestone was revealing. She said with a haunting pride (pride in the fact that she "made it" and the system didn't kill her - not all foster youth are so lucky fortunate) "I'm free now, Miss Maggie!".  I lovingly added (not revealing the lump in my throat), "Yes, I know, honey. I'm proud of you."

As we wrapped up the small talk, she seemed uneasy. Something hung in the air and I waited for it to unfold. She sped up the gate of her conversation and sounded like someone who was very serious about their pending request. She began to talk about the promotional video for the House of Providence that was online. She sputtered a jumble of words that I listened to intently. She begged me not to EVER take the promotional video off of the internet. She explained to me that we were the only family that she had ever really experienced. The video was what "tucked her in" every night. She spent time with us, her family, each night by watching the video and then (and only then) was she able to drift off to sleep. "If you take it down, I won't be able to go on." This was not a dramatization. This was a fact. I promised. She relaxed.

After I hung up the phone, I thought back to the times when, as a young child, I would lay and wait for my mom and dad to come to my room. I fought against that sleep so hard. I didn't want to miss their hug or kiss and the comforting "tuck-in". I think of all of the children who wait tonight, with no parent on their way. I think of the children who lay alone in bed, and alone on this planet. Lord Jesus, tuck them in tight and bathe their minds with Your comfort. Thank you for letting us be Your hands and arms to tuck in those that we can.

Disdain

Sheepish from the abuse (that she believes tells her truth), she looked up at me hoping that I wouldn’t catch her fleeting glance. She was so determined to reject me, but her heart was betraying her. I prayed for breakthrough. It has not yet come, but still I wait.
 
She screamed and scratched while demanding that we pack her things so that she could run away to find her “mother”. After wearing herself out, she snuggled and sobbed. This baby-girl lay sweaty and soul weary - grateful that we had not acquiesced. 
 
Anger rages and abandonment falsely frames every. single. interaction. There they remain, listless and unable to risk the vulnerability brought by the audacity of hope. To live life as someone that is only tolerated is an unbearable burden that crushes foster children. This childhood prison is a thief that relentlessly returns over and over to snuff out hope, intimacy and the ability to bond. 
 
1 disdain 
noun dis·dain \dis-ˈdān\
Definition of disdain
: a feeling of strong dislike or disapproval of someone or something you think does not deserve respect.
 
 
If you’ve ever showed up to a gathering where the host was not expecting you, then you understand the awkwardness of feeling like you don’t belong in a place or at that party. It feels like everyone is rushing around to make room for you, but you weren't expected or initially "wanted" there. Can you imagine with me, the reality for foster children who KNOW this is true about their very existence? Children who KNOW that they are cast aside and only tolerated, NEVER celebrated. And we have the effrontery to wonder why the behaviors they exhibit attempt to shun everyone who comes emotionally near them. Understandably, the suicide rate is much higher in these children. The highly developed antisocial traits have proven to be the only comfort they find in controlling the inevitable rejection. It is far easier to survive a (perceived) controlled rejection, rather than riding each wave of rejection as it swamps them completely.  
 
At the House of Providence, we celebrate the very existence of each of our residents. We understand that we are not the “plan A” of their lives. We talk openly about this! We are not bullied by this fact, and we certainly don’t shy away from broaching the subject. We declare openly that we are going to do whatever we can to be the best “plan B” possible (and that they absolutely deserve)! We have to get pretty creative at HOP when trying to be this bestthat our girls need and deserve. Sometimes that looks like a quiet night in with a movie and healing laughter. Other times, this looks like REFUSING to give up on a child who is beggingyou to give up, with every defiant action that she can muster. Because, for her, loving us is just to dang risky!
 
What Michigan’s foster kids have endured, is not a reflection of who they are, and this is a difficult truth to convince them of. It can be equally as difficult to convince society of this truth. If perspective is reality, then we have a big paradigm to shift! Won’t you join us in our attempt?  

Smile

**Names are often changed in this blog to honor the dignity of our residents.

 

I walked up the shamefully uneven sidewalk toward the unmistakably secure institution. With each step I took, I noticed that the weeds had already begun to fill the cracks and were quietly announcing Spring. Hope can be seen anywhere, if you are searching. I approached the entrance of the emergency shelter for under-aged girls, as I have many times before. As usual, I am on the look-out for hope! Certain environments try to trick us into believing that hope is not here or cannot be found (and this awful shelter is certainly one of those places!). Today, the Lord would generously offer me an enormous helping of hope that would seek me out, and serenade me to a place of humility that would be leveling.

 

I signed in and waited for the young girl (the one that I would be interviewing as a possible resident at HoP) to be escorted in to the room where I was sitting. As I sat, I imagined and prayed. I always ask the Lord for His eyes, and great clarity. I already had a sense that this girl would be a perfect fit for our program. Our program requires a minuscule degree of internal readiness for change.  Did I mention minuscule? I literally mean minuscule! All we need is a teeny, tiny seedling of desire and we can nourish that thing to full bloom with: an ounce of the child's cooperation, all the unfailing love that we can muster (that is the love of God flowing through our frailty)  and immeasurable mounds of Supernatural healing!

 

As the loud turning of the doorknob startled me back to the present, the commercial safety door swung wide. The staff member (whom I have come to know and love) presented the brightest introduction that I had yet seen at this facility! "Hey Maggie! This is Angelina!" This young lady was a sturdy 5'6" and her smile immediately lit the room! Her hot pink, too small glasses were mangled and hanging by a thread lots and lots of scotch tape. It was obvious that her lens was quite strong, and that going without glasses was not an option if she were to manage on her own. Unfortunately, that's exactly where she has, ONCE AGAIN, found herself...alone.

 

She sat with a nervous excitement in the chair adjacent to me and made fleeting eye-contact. She knew why I was there. I could see the wonderings spinning in her mind...would she be "good enough"? Would she be acceptable? Would I want her? Still smiling, although much more sheepishly, she waited for me to engage and set the tone. As soon as we were alone, I began by warmly greeting her and making the room feel as safe as I could. I engaged her fear and addressed it head on. I complimented her from every angle, without patronizing her. She began to open up about her life and the death of her mother (when she was only three years old), and then two years later, the death of her guardian-her grandmother.  How she now, six years later, found herself back in foster care because the adoptive father had been abusing her and using her as "The Help". She had a dimly lit sense of self and it grew dimmer still as she reminisced about her past losses and trauma.

 

I sprinkled our undeniably formal chat with questions that would make her feel like the sweet, normal 14-year-old girl that she is. We talked about: favorite colors, boys, subjects in school that are a total drag, television shows, what makes her sad, her favorite food (ice cream!) and what three foods she would love to live without (broccoli, broccoli and broccoli)!  When children come from really hard places, and extreme neglect, food is a very. big. issue!

 

As our time together began  to wind down, I asked her if there was anything that she was really good at. She seemed to sit up a little straighter, and with a confidence that she had not yet revealed, she asked: "want me to show you?"  Of course I nearly jumped out of the chair at the offer.  She closed her eyes and solemnly cleared her throat.  She began to sing. I knew immediately that this was a MOMENT that I would not soon forget! She sang "I Smile", by Kirk Franklin.

 

 She started  her solo midway through the song with these lyrics:

 

Today's a new day, but there is no sunshine

Nothing but clouds, and it's dark in my heart

And it feels like a cold night

Today's a new day, where are my blue skies

Where is the love and the joy that you promised me

Tell me it's alright

I almost gave up, but a power that I can't explain

Fell from heaven like a shower

She proceeded to close it  out with: "I smile...See, I smile...Smile."  It was all I could do to maintain my composure in the sacred moment. I dared not burst into the ugly cry and recklessly bleed my selfish emotions all over her. This dear child, with her lap full of loss and  life full of trauma, was singing to me about why she smiles and her reason for hope.  I was disgusted with myself and the simplicity with which I become distracted by disappointment. Lord, please forgive me. I will try much harder to keep my holy "smile"! 

 

Audacity to Hope

Some days are filled with obvious and miraculous reasons for hope. Some days our girls are making therapeutic progress and embracing the love that we offer, with open arms. Some days the pre-teen girls sit together on the suite floor playing Barbie's and laughing with a heart that believes there is "better" ahead for them. Some days our teen girls actually get along, giggle about cute boys and beg to watch some ridiculous, mind-numbing reality show about dance moms. Some days feel hopeful and normal.

Other days don't offer much of anything in the way of reasons for hope. There are days when anger gets the best of a thirteen year old. She is so angry that she does not know how to gain control over all of the triggers from her abuse and memories of rape. When her anger bullies her, she ends up throwing a few punches and destroying several rooms, all while firing up the fear brain in our other girls, who thought domestic violence scenes were in their past.

Yet, on the darkest days, if you look close enough, you can see glimpses of hope. I have the audacity to hope. I hope, because I look into the prettiest, darkest eyes of a ten-year-old girl who is eager to move in to HOP because the Easter Bunny DOES show up here. She has all of her earthly possessions packed up shoved in this garbage bag and nervously picks at a hangnail trying to avoid eyecontact. Most of her things are torn and small. She loves these things and we treat them with the respect that a couture gown would receive. All of her items are washed, dried and neatly folded. They are then placed into her beautiful new dresser with crimson lined drawers. She is unsure and reactionary with reflexes that would outwit a feral cat. She is posturing mean and angry. That is ok with us. We WILL win her heart and help her heal. We believe in the "slow work of God" (Teilhard de Chardin), so we show up, day after day and love her well, because we have the audacity to hope for her future.

  

 

 

I receive court rulings, recommendations from foster care workers and reports about all of the "deficits that will be permanent" as a result of trauma, and they try to leave me breathless and angry. Hope often feels eclipsed, and it is not always readily discoverable. BUT, hope is there-just waiting for me to grab ahold and with all of the tenacity that I can muster, CHOOSE to remain hopeful. 

 

This is not the end. This present trouble is not the bitter end or the finale! I know WHO has the LAST WORD! I choose to walk around spreading Light to dispell darkness. I find it is MUCH more effective and productive than just making sure that everyone is "aware" of the darkness by announcing all of the hideous forms that it takes on. 

Overcomers

The room was dimly lit and smelled of lavender. The silence was soothing. We lay on our mats while Ms. Sarah read Isaiah 40. She read of hope and soaring like eagles. I soaked it in. Grateful.

It was our first yoga class at Living Waters. These young ladies who seem to have boundless energy (ONLY AFTER the "I will NOT get out of this bed" argument has been sufficiently waged). These young ladies who are always poised for a fight (physical or verbal) because that's what they have had to do. These young ladies who struggle to regulate reactions and emotions. These young ladies who just want to be "normal", whatever that is (they believe it is everything that they are not). These young ladies who are (albeit slowly) learning to be others-focussed and socially appropriate. These young ladies who walked trepidatiously into that Grosse Pointe yoga studio, stressed out about the possibility of doing it "wrong".  So unsure. So self-conscious.

I try to be very obvious about modeling how to do something that I know is brand new to them. I talk my way through the simplest of why's and what's as an attempt at empowerment. This takes the edge off and allows them to follow my lead. It also takes off the pressure of figuring it out. They begin to follow my lead and take their shoes off and place them on the shoe rack, as if this were old-hat! When I am sensitive to their deficits in experiences, and model with oversimplified clarity, they feel more at ease and more confident. When I see our girls try on confidence, it profoundly affects me EVERY TIME! Not taking one. single. thing. for granted, I mention as we walk into the small front office: "Oh, that's the delicious infused water for after our session, that I can't wait to drink once we are finished." Every girl responds in a way, as if to say: "yeah, of course...I was totally gonna wait until after our session to tie into that amazing-looking iced water!!!"  Feeble as I feel, it is my way of teaching them without making their extreme lack of experiential knowledge painfully obvious.

Our girls WANT to be well. They simply have no skills or ego strength to draw from. When our girls arrive, we first stabilize and build trust and then we work on developing a more robust sense of self (this is an amazingly arduous process that is altogether beautiful to witness!). Without this, they simply cannot withstand the restructuring and healing process. Frailty and fragility are the most paralyzing when you are trying to heal or process trauma! We believe in the development of STURDY girls at HOP!

As we concluded our yoga session with Ms. Sarah, she again read Isaiah 40 in a soft, sweet voice while the instrumental music lulled us to relaxation. I was laying in a room of survivors. Survivors who never give up...girls so full of depth and value that I am not even worthy to roll up their yoga mats. I laid there, sprawled out on my slate blue mat with aromatherapy spritzing over me. The tears were defiantly sneaking down my temples as I looked at the ceiling.  I could hardly take it all in. These girls who come to us in desperate need of emotional ICU, full of self-harming behaviors and suicidal ideations and couldn't make it through a single day without a massive meltdown...they were laying beside me in a completely relaxed pose after being silent for an hour of yoga...what fresh miracle was this? Hope is alive and change is in the air. I suddenly realized that they are not just survivors, they are overcomers!

We'd Love To Have Her

"She's a thirteen year old permanent state ward.", they said, factually. "She's had quite a few failed placements.", they said. "She can be a sweet kid, but she is pretty tough to manage.", they said. "If you don't want her, she will probably stay in lockdown because that's all we have." they said. "We'd love to have her!", I said!

"She's a 17 year old girl, who is currently staying at a shelter.", they said. "Her mom doesn't want her and will likely relinquish her rights to her next week.", they said. "We don't have anywhere to place her.", they said. "Our only option is lockdown.", they said."We'd love to have her!" I said.

"She's 16 and she's being kicked out of her foster home today." they said. "Her adoptive mother died last year and she's really struggling with some pretty serious anger." they said. "Her behaviors are pretty intense at times." they said. "We really have exhausted all of our options and we have no place for her." they said. "We'd love to have her!" I said.

"She is 14, almost 15, with no place to go and no family to speak of." they said. "She's a permanent  ward of the state." they said. "She is very depressed and won't participate in school." they said. "There is no real plan for her, and she doesn't have any hope of finding a family." they said. "We'd love to have her!" I said.

These are just a few of the introductions that are attached to the girls we GET TO do life with, here at HOP.  Move-in day at HOP always seems bleak and terrifying in the eyes of our girls at every. single. intake. We hold our secret hope (of what we know is possible for them) close to our chest so as not to FREAK them out when they first meet us. Every "first day" is filled with uncontrollable trembling and tears. We try to do a LOT more listening than "telling". Not one new girl comes in unscathed by the terrifying realization that she is at our mercy. Who are these new people? Will they abuse me, too? Will they feed me enough? Will they be mean?  Young girls, alone on the planet and desperate for a safe place to live. Desperate, because safety is something that has long eluded them. As we welcome them, we can hardly contain our hope for their future!  We hold it like a soda pop that has been shaken beyond the limit of its containers ability to hold it in.  We are probably much more obvious than we'd like to think!

All of the girls who live here and who have come to trust us, always greet the newcomers with cheer and expectation for what they now know "can be".  Hope is what we must infuse their shriveling souls with. It is the only antidote to this internal wasting away that is powerfully visible to the naked eye.  Hope is, however, not a luxury that these girls have been able to afford. They are too busy surviving and that takes just about every ounce of their will that they can muster.

We'd love to have her! That's the easy part. Intake does not even scratch the surface of the beginnings of what we do here at HOP. We have to be purposeful in maintaining the attitude that we really do  love having her. Every day. Good days. Bad days. Hard days. Messy days. Exhausting days. These are the days where we must continue to convey that we LOVE having her! The daily minutia is so important. It is how the Lord designed our lives to be played out; what our legacy will be. After all, our lives are the sum total of our moments. Our true purpose is not found in what we say is important to us, but what we prove is a priority for us. Michigan's suffering foster youth IS OUR PRIORITY!

Love Never Fails

I am not the healer. I am not responsible for healing. I am not required to forcibly bring another person to a version of wholeness, that I (in my own brokenness) "need" from for them. I choose to believe this as I repeat these thoughts as my mantra. I have had to learn to relinquish my false sense of achievement and control. There is freedom here - freedom for ME! I didn't realize how bound up (with a need to see the desired outcomes) that I had become in my own journey, while trying to help others walk towards healing! 
 
So much seems to be left unfinished  from my view. It takes a very conscious effort to trust that things are still happening when it is far beyond my line of sight. The stone-faced young lady tasted safety and it repelled her. Another young girl received love and chose to retreat back to the pimp's abuse instead. Still another baby girl found her "solace" in chaos and aloneness. A young woman twice her chronological-age, because she had needed to be, walked away on a frigid morning. She could not resist the beckoning of the streets for one. more. minute. 
 
I was plagued by so many questions and sleep evaded me. Why are there SO many girls who cannot "make it" in healthy environments? I am driven to my knees in complete desperation. Why do they, in their own way, say a giant "no thank you", to safety and relief? I beg the Lord for a balm to accept this. 
 
As I look to His Word, I'm drawn to I Corinthians 13:8. I read it searchingly...Love NEVER fails. "Ok."-I feel calmed by the newness in these words. "Ok. Ok...Love NEVER fails!" I meditate. Slowly, I repeat this aloud as though it is the first time I have heard it. "Love never fails!" It literally blossoms to life on the page in front of me in real time! I was looking searching for some deep algorithm from the Lord...a laborious and difficult solution that I was ABSOLUTELY willing to walk out for the good of these soul-weary, bound children; young women that I love with the depth of my own soul! But, instead He gently said: "Love never fails." It felt so airy and simple. Nothing like this struggle and striving that I had been chained by. I paused in deep thought: "if I love them well...with a pure love, it will not fail!" He promises this in His word! I will hold to this with all of the strength that is in me!
 
His yoke is easy! His burden is light! He gently taught me that none of the business of "making whole" is my responsibility - in fact, even if I wanted to, I couldn't accomplish this! Everything that needed to be done, was DONE on the cross those many years ago! I knew this, but I didn't REALIZE this! You see, it's not that I was bound to this works related burden because of some messianic complex. Rather, this daily trudging in my own strength came from knowing a joyous freedom that I so desperately want for these sweet girls! It came from becoming so myopic in my daily grind in the trenches with tormented children, that I had lost my way for a bit. I was focused on the chains and had stopped looking at the One who breaks EVERY chain! 
 
"Love NEVER fails", He said. He freed me from outcome-driven timelines with those three words! Love them well & it WILL NOT FAIL! I can do that! I can love these girls! That's the easy part! That is my sweet spot!  I constantly look for creative ways to lift their spirits and lavish them with words of life! I LOVE to surprise them with anything from a Starbucks in bed on a cold Saturday morning, to a piercing that they've begged for (relentlessly) for months! Just "love them"??? I can do that!! I can find ways to (as Dr. Purvis says) give them as many "yeses" as possible!
 
Those three words revolutionized my days! Love never fails! 

Asked and Answered

We quietly shuffled into the back row as the worship team was already belting out their praise. I fumbled as I laid my umbrella down and settled in. She sat at first. She doesn't easily trust people or environments. She always takes several minutes of (socially awkward) silence to evaluate each new experience to decide what her next move will be. As she watched, she relaxed. She observed the other thousands standing and she did the same. Suddenly came a familiar song and she grinned. Music knows no barriers. She enjoyed the rhythm and the energy in the room.

A child who, months earlier, had zero will to live. Her soul was weary and she had declared full surrender. She had given up. As I sat with her on the floor those many months ago, she lay in my arms damp from the emotionally draining mixture of sweat, vomit and tears. She let out sobs for hours that felt like minutes. When you TRULYstand on the brink with someone, all time and the demands of real-life cease to exist. She had given up, but she knew that I had not, and would not! She could't go on, but I could. I could carry her. I MUST carry her.

At the House of Providence, this is the business that we are in. This is what we've signed up for. We gladly walk into the paralyzing, awful, soul-stealing trauma that has arrested every part of these sweet children, and when they give up, we say: "that's ok, I've got it from here!" We BOLDLY walk inch-by-inch toward the finish line marked by healing, freedom and wholeness.

As the worship service drew to a close, the team of well-groomed singers and musicians gently transitioned into the old, and well-loved chorus, "Nothing But The Blood". I could hardly stand upright as I (only through my peripheral vision, so as not to distract her with my voyerism) watch her clumsily hold her hands high with tears streaking her soft cheeks. All I can make out is her loudly declaring in her best falsetto "What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!" Asked and answered, dear one! Asked and answered! 

 

Reactions

There is so much to be learned, everyday, from every interaction and situation. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about reactions - mine specifically. I have been asking the Lord to show me what I can do differently with respect to my reactions. I have reactions to people, situations, words, emotions and even TRAFFIC!!! I am asking the Lord to stretch me in this area and make me more like Him.

He brought me to John 8, where the bible tells the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. I have read this story many times and have heard countless preachers give their "angles" on it. The Lord brought me some new revelation from it today. He brought me to the point of HIS reaction.

When the accusers brought the woman before Jesus, they were, by all accounts of the law, "correct". They were correct about the woman, about her actions and about the punishment that was called for in that day...stoning. But Jesus paused. He did not react right away. He stooped down and (for all we know) doodled in the sand. It could be that Jesus was buying some time while He sought the heart of the Father. If Jesus had the heart of the Father, He would have God's wisdom to react like Him. Because, although the accusers were "correct", they were not "right"! Jesus did not simply react to what the crowd of accusers demanded, or even what the law demanded. He sought the heart of God and then reacted with the heart of God toward the woman.

I am challenged by this! I am challenged to stop reacting with a righteous piety that demands fulfillment of lawful consequences. I am challenged to take a holy side-bar with Jesus and gain His perspective on what is RIGHT in each situation. What is God's best? And that is not always what is owed to us! Thank God for that!

One of my sons had been particularly RIDICULOUS on a rainy Monday morning and I did the proper "natural consequences" thing that we as parents (who will never be accused of being an enabler) do!!!  As I gave him the verbal "what for" and dropped him at the school door to sort it for himself, I pulled away and attempted to change gears and mentally prepare for all of the drama that awaits me at the office. The Lord would not allow the gears to shift. He was so clear with me that while I was "correct", I was not "right"! The Lord showed me that HE was trying to develop something in my son and that morning I had hijacked HIS lessons of GRACE and MERCY. Because of my sons early years, these are not concepts that settle easily into his sweet heart. Further, his security in where he stands with those who love him is shaky at best. I wept. I, in my obnoxious type-A way, had sorted it logically (much like the accusers from John 8). I was "correct", but I was not "right"! I should've taken the proverbial stoop into the sand, pausing long enough to hear what God's purposes were for that situation. Instead, in my haughty, self-sufficiency, I handled this child that the Lord wanted to soothe.

People around us can be correct and not be right. I love how Ann Voskamp says "life is not an emergency." I try to remember those words each day as I go about my routine, but I am learning they are even more important when I am under pressure. S L O W I N G down is very helpful, and equally as difficult. It is, however, much easier than walking around constantly repairing what I have damaged in my hurried state.

 

Wounds That Skew

When I am interacting with people, I often have "out of body" experiences. Now before you JUDGE extrapolate some deep meaning from this regarding my psyche, let me explain. I am not CrAzY, but I am often in very, VERY intense interactions with our sweet girls at the House of Providence and I am mentally "outside" of the interaction in real-time. I find myself listening to them, responding to them and even consequencing them, and all the while I am dissecting the interactions (both mine and theirs).

Oftentimes, I think (while we are conversing): If this child grows up to be a prolific writer and in their memoirs they included their time at House of Providence, how would it be portrayed? What is their perspective regarding their time here? You see, it is easy to project our intentions without really understanding the lens through which others interpret our actions. My intentions are very important, but they are not the most important. I know what I mean, but what I call "misunderstandings" are reality for those who interpret the situation in their own hearts. I must steward my words well,  and take responsibility for my delivery. This is especially true when I am dealing with children and teens who are so wounded that they can barely get out of bed each morning!

How a situation or conversation is interpreted is always quite biased and depends largely upon our past experiences. Most ALL of our residents here at HOP interpret each interaction through a lens that is blurred by rejection, skewed by abuse and foggy with mistrust. As I step outside of each interaction and attempt to interpret their receptivity of my presentation, I must keep all of these things in mind! I do not have the luxury of ignoring this at all. ever. at HOP.

My love and correction does not usually translate for our girls at HOP. Their level of understanding cannot be assumed, and a conversation that SHOULD take five minutes, will likely need thirty to sixty minutes. These conversations are frought with questions like: "ok sweetie, what did you hear me say?" or "could you explain to me what you think I mean by that?". We have learned (the hard way) to review again and again so that we are sure that everyone is truly heard and that clarity is achieved. Until a level of healing happens, the sweet girls are constantly being wounded by benign interactions.

During our therapeutic groups, I try to help the girls gain framework for their hyper-sensitivity by likening this kind of emotional wounding to a physical wound. For example, if I have a gaping wound on my arm and a well-meaning friend comes and taps my arm during a hug, I am going to recoil in GREAT pain. Though there was no pain intended with the hug, because I am so wounded already, I could not withstand the interaction without walking away even more wounded. That is not the fault of my friend who gave the hug! If that same friend has the very same interaction with me when I am whole and healed (scars don't hurt anymore, they are proof of a healing) I would not recoil and the lens through which I view the interaction would be altogether different. Prior woundings cause our interpretations to be incredibly skewed, and while we are not responsible for someone elses reactions, we MUST learn to take great care (not enable) with how we interact with the wounded!

We are told in Romans to prefer one another, and a large part of that is giving room for others to interpret what we are saying or doing. We WILL be misunderstood because we all have different lenses through which we interpret every interaction. I've learned this (THE HARD WAY) and I try to make sure that what I am saying is laced with love and understood by the receiver.  A large part of that is my delivery and message palatability, but even more importantly, I need to understand the lens of the hearer!

Let's decide to be healthy and believe the best about others!! Let's learn to assume the best about their intentions, and LET. SOME. JUNK. GO!!!! If we do this, we will have so much more time to devote to meaningful things!

Too Difficult For Words

I strain to smile and keep the tears from brimming over as I cup her soft cheek in my hand. I don't want her to see my tears, I want her to see my hope. I am trying to tell her, more with my eyes than anything else, that I am still here. I want her to know that she should not be celebrating her 14th birthday in a mental hospital.  I sit in a white brick room with a steel door that shouts "institution" at me while invading all of my senses. I sit overstimulated with grief. I try to keep my composure. I am searching desperately for the positive spin as she stares at me through a drug-induced fog, and it evades me altogether.

She is thinking of trusting. This is not something that can be taken for granted. She hopes that she is wanted as she looks fleetingly into my face. She is beginning to THINK about bonding. There is so much weight because this contemplative level of trust must be stewarded well. The day that she was welcomed into the doors at the House of Providence she was completely unreachable. This was a new level of trauma that I had not yet been acquainted with. She just wants to sleep. She says that when she sleeps her heart doesn't hurt. Her heart hurts for the brother that was smothered to death. Her heart hurts from the rejection as she begged family members to take her in, and one-by-one they said "no" in their own ways. Her heart hurts because she misses her other two brothers desperately. Her heart hurts from the unconscionable abuse that she has suffered at the hands of foster parents. Her heart hurts because she is furious with herself for forgetting her real mother's name. Her heart hurts because she is the broken and "rejectable" child. Her heart hurts because she is dead tired and her soul is weary.

She is not the problem. She is already filed by the professionals. She is known and described with many words ranging from trauma to "unadoptable". None of the words used EVER speak power or truth. I will not use these labels.

As she slowly allows us to see glimpses of her true self, we are altogether captivated. She is witty and has a comedic timing that is uncanny. She always dresses beautifully and adds a detail (with a scarf or  pop of color) that is uniquely her own. She thrives in structure. She loves babies and she is magical with toddlers. She reads with a graceful fluidity that is beautiful. She prays with a raw furor that convicts me to the core. Her simplicity is precious and longs to be nurtured. Fiercely loyal and hilarious are words more apropos and fitting.

The protection that she deserves has long forgotten her. We reintroduce her to this concept and she is skeptical. This sweet girl's story is not rare and it is not isolated. The plight of children in Michigan's foster care system is horrifying and the problems are systemic. The overwhelming struggles are paralyzing, so instead of complaints, we come with a solution. We do not join this fight with judgment, but rather with a vigor that can be oxygen for those with whom we are aligned. If we love well, it will not fail! The children deserve nothing less than our excellence, strength, integrity, wisdom, boldness and courage. We dare not require anything of them that we are not ourselves exercising daily on their behalf.

Power In Consistency

There is a power held in simple, mundane consistency. That power can permeate our lives in every arena. We are gaining ground when we consistently move forward with no reward, and no evidence of victory. It is by faith that we trudge on. When we wield what is in our hands for the glory of God and the good of others, the Lord not only makes something beautiful come of it, but He also brings miracles through it.

The race that we are running requires endurance. The bible tells us specifically to cast off every weight that is holding us back, And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  God has a specific plan for each of us and taking daily steps to position ourselves for obedience is critical in walking that out. Instead of looking for a grand event where that  plan comes to life, I have learned am learning to see it as a lifestyle of obedience where I walk out my worship in all that I do...even in the difficulties of my monotonous, often taxing, daily routine. 

Choose To See

She slowly climbed into the backseat of my truck with all of her possessions piled beside her in two plastic plaid bags that were zipped up tight.  She did her best to appear untouched by her present circumstances, but her fear and sorrow were both equally evident. We did our best to not "let on" that we were feeling just as sorrowful. She and I began a back-and -forth of awkward small talk. As we pulled in to the McDonalds drive-thru, we found a common language! Happy Meals! She began to loosen as she dipped her McNuggets into the sweet and sour sauce. Her chocolate milk shake was fighting her every inch of the way up the red and yellow striped straw.

 

I hope that I never get used to picking up a child from a juvenile detention facility-a child who has done NOTHING wrong. A child who had nowhere else to go! A child who has been the recipient of extreme abuse and neglect that has left them so traumatized that they are unable to assimilate into a familial structure and therefore need to be placed into a residential living situation. I hope that that never gets "easy". I hope that I always feel the sting of loneliness for them as I trepidatiously converse, doing my best to not make things any more difficult for them than they already are!

I also hope that the healing and daily miracles I get to see don't become common either. I hope that I never take for granted when we hear a "new laughter" in the building from one of our girls who hadn't even had a reason to smile when she arrived, but is now laughing with raw honesty. I hope that I never loose the wonder of watching the stabilizing power of the unconditional love of Christ demonstrated through the medium of human love. Miracles are happening all around us, every day! Choose to see!

Perspective is Reality...or is it?

Our perspective is our reality.  The experiences that we have been through have a great deal to do with how we perceive our present circumstances. "Our truth" is not necessarily THE Truth. So much of who we are is shaped by what we've experienced and how we absorb those experiences into our heart and mind. We have to make very conscious choices to know our own sensitivities and skewed filters. Without this awareness, we will always blame others for everything that goes on in our lives (especially that which we feel is unjust or negative). Further, we will continue to label ourselves "the victim" (whether outrightly, or simply in the way we comport ourselves), and this is never profitable. We are MORE than conquerors through Christ (Romans 8:37)! We are overcomers (John 16:33) with plans and purposes (Eph 1:4)! We are mighty through God (2 Cor 10)!

Until we grab ahold of the labels that Christ has put on us, and choose to attach those labels to ourselves, we will not have the perspective of Christ. Our truth will not be His Truth. Our reality will not be in line with REALITY. I have found, in my own life, that if I don't INTENTIONALLY align my thoughts and reactions to the reality of Christ and His Truth, every other thing is off. I cannot just trust my own heart and perceptions (Jeremiah 17:9). If I do, every single area of my life is affected by this. Every relationship and every interpretation that I form will be askew.

It takes a conscious willingness to know ourselves in light of Christ and what Truth is and says about us. It takes courage, but the profit margin is well in our favor if we choose to live this way!

True to Myself

How can a girl, who desires to be light with laughter, fulfill her "calling" to advocate for justice in a world so heavy with injustice? Balancing my absolute need for the "present-tense joy" of this life, and the converse heaviness found in the extreme sorrow and regret that so many, that I choose to walk with, are crushed beneath.  The Lord tells us in Matthew 11:30 NLT that His yoke is easy to bear.  So then, what is this load that I am buried under?  What am I trying to "manage" or "handle" if it is not the yoke that my God intended to walk out with me? It seems that I am not taking up "HIS yoke", but rather some form of working and striving that I have prescribed for myself. 

If I am traversing through difficulty, does it have to be heavy? Does the burden have to crush me under the weight of sleeplessness or heavyhearted afternoons? How much of the worry that I entertain and pull in close to my heart is energy that is wasted? Energy that could be recycled into intercession and (moment-by-moment) choosing to trust Him.

I realize that I must constantly fill my mind and heart with the greatness of God so that the struggles that I face daily are seen in proper perspective. Do I view God as smaller than a mental illness? Do I view my God as frail beside an orphan crying out for relief from their hearts pain? My God is the God of the universe; the creator of heaven and earth! My God IS the Redeemer! He IS the Healer! There is nothing that I face (or stand with another as they face) that God does not already have a redemptive solution for!

Thank you, Dr. Tony Evans for teaching me that I am fighting FROM victory in the spiritual realm, and not FOR victory! Jesus has already completed everything necessary for us to walk through ANY situation that He allows us to be in, with COMPLETE victory! Let me just adjust what my definition of victory is (day-to-day) to match what my Father is doing and accomplishing...because, you can be sure that He IS accomplishing great things every single day through His people!!!!