Friday, January 22, 2016

Fighting the Enemy with the Shield of Faith

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. 

What is faith?   Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  (Hebrews 11:1)

My husband and I have a constant debate.   I tell him that I believe things are going to get better, and he says, "Show me the data!"   I finally have gotten to the point that I have memorized Romans 8:24 so I can say it back to him:  "Hope that is seen is no hope at all!  Who hopes for what he already has?"   And then I remind him that hope has no data.

Being able to look beyond our current situation and have confidence that God is in control is one of the primary ways to not only fight Satan but to extinguish his darts.      I'd like to highlight three progressive darts that the enemy sends our way.

1)  Darts of Doubt.   Faith is definitely a shield against the times when the enemy wants to convince us that we can't do something.  We aren't good enough.  Maybe we shouldn't have said yes to this next big thing.   Doubting ourselves, doubting Him, doubting others.   Faith is the only thing that can shield us form the darts of doubt.

2)  Darts of Discouragement.  Once we have begun to doubt, we are plagued with discouragement.  These darts say, "Nothing is ever going to get better.  You've got yourself in a real mess you know.   What were you thinking?  The days ahead will certainly be bad ones."  But if we stand and hold that shield of faith, the darts won't be able to destroy us.

3)  Darts of Despair.   Despair is a step further than discouragement.  It is when we start to believe that we are done fighting.  We don't want to move on,.  We would rather give up.  But that substance of things hoped for.... the evidence of things not seen -- faith... keeps us going.  

I find it interesting that the shield is the one piece of armor that we can move.  Ever have a day when you felt like the darts of the enemy were coming from every angle?  That's why that shield of faith can move....

So if you are feeling doubt.... discouragement... or despair remind yourself that we have a shield and that shield is our faith.  Hold tightly to it and extinguish those darts!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Fighting the Enemy with Peace

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. 

If you have been reading my blogs lately or if you know me in person and have talked to me, you already know that I am looking everywhere to find ways to get people to seek peace and pursue it.  (Ps 34:14).  As I have written previously, one of the greatest tactics of the enemy is to cause division among us and keep conflict in an uproar no matter what.  Once I am sucked into contentious relationships, my focus on my mission is buried so deep I can't even remember what it is.

So it makes much sense that the gospel of peace be our shoes, because we have to take it wherever we go.  It is our responsibility, as much as it depends on us, to leave at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18).  For this reason I encourage you to live as though the ball is always in your court.  

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

Fighting the Enemy with Righteousness

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. 

When putting GOd's armor on to fight the enemy, I think it's important to notice how Paul pairs the various traits with the armor.   It seems to me that Paul is indicating that if we don't have righteousness as a breastplate, we're going to straight up die.  The arrow or sword or bullet will come straight to the heart and we will be done.

Sometimes when we look at theological terms we can become convinced that the words are much more complex or esoteric than they really are.  Righteousness is one of those words.

The definition of righteousness according to Google, Siri, and Merriam Webster, righteousness is acting in accord with divine or moral law, free from guilt or sin.  Why is righteousness then, what is protecting our heart?  Because sin and moral failure is what will open us up for the deadly blow.

You've seen it happen countless times with celebrities, pastors, politicians, athletes... a moral flaw can ruin everything for them.   A very gifted preacher embezzles money.  A politician has an affair.  A celebrity gets arrested.  And suddenly things go downhill.   The thing is, it's the same thing for us "normal" people .... it's just that it doesn't happen in the limelight.

So what actually does sin do?

First, it distracts us from our purpose.  Whether it is a big sin, like the ones mentioned above, or a "little sin" (in God's eyes they are all the same, but we have created our own continuum) it is still detecting us from God's purpose for us.  And when that happens, the enemy gains territory.

Sin also affects our relationships with other people.  More of the ten commandments have to do with how we treat each other than our direct relationship with God.  And when our relationships get screwed up, then we get less effective.  If I am spending my time thinking about how angry I am with my sister, or jealous that my best friend has a new friend, or telling everyone I know how much my mother is annoying me, I am doing very little to change the world.

Finally, sin separates us from God.  And I don't know about you, but I'm not at all interested in fighting the enemy without Him.

God's not interested in having us be defeated.  He is there to help us to avoid the temptation to sin.  And if our focus is on Him we can avoid the pitfalls above.

I'm thinking if I go into battle, I want my heart protected.   Righteousness is what will do that.   Might be something we should pursue.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Those Stories in My Head

Yesterday I finished reading the book "Crucial Conversations."  There is a lot of good stuff in the book, but one concept is significant enough that I feel it is worth sharing with you.  Not recognizing this has messed up a bunch of my relationships in the past and probably has hurt my parenting.   it's the concept of Stories.

I first heard about this when Brené Brown spoke at the leadership summit this past summer, but having listened to so many people over the past few weeks give me a glimpse into the relationships at my new job, the whole idea is making even more sense.

When we observe another person's behavior we develop a story as to why they are acting that way.  For example, one of my kids comes home from school.  I ask him if he has done his chore, and he glares at me and walks into his room, slamming the door hard.

The following is the story that immediately develops in my head.   "Good grief, I am so done with kids being defiant about their stupid chores and then getting so mad at me when I remind them to do them.  I'm also sick of being disrespected and hated at every turn.  He hasn't done his chore more than three times in the last two weeks because I haven't been home to make him do it.  He is way too old to have me have to tell him to do it over and over and over again.   He is just taking advantage of how busy I am and the fact that I'm not paying attention.   I wonder how he can live with himself being so selfish as to ask for more than anyone else and do less."  (OK, OK, so my stories in my head get kinda lengthy.)

The reality is that I am making a whole lot of assumptions.  It could be that the glare and the stomping off to his room could be because something awful happened at school that he doesn't want to talk about.  It doesn't have to be about me.  Or it could be because he got up early that morning and did the chore and someone has messed it up and now he is getting yelled at for something he shouldn't (highly unlikely, but for the sake of making a point.....)

Or maybe he IS angry with me, but it is about something completely different.  Maybe I was supposed to give him cash that morning for an event at school and I forgot and he had to go without lunch.  Maybe it is because he found out that I made plans that didn't include him.  There could be a million different scenarios here.

The problem is that we don't even try to understand the real story before we react.   We make assumptions and don't ask questions.   And then we respond to the person based on a story we have written that might be completely untrue.

I know this happens in marriages and in the workplace and in churches often.   There is a second part that makes this even more damaging.  It's the "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."  Once the story
we have written about another person is in our head, then we interpret everything that person does based on a story that may or may not be true.

If the story we have written is that someone at work is lazy and avoids their work, we notice every time that happens and it confirms our story.   The times we see them diligently concentrating on a task we dismiss it and consider that to be unusual.  If we have written a story that says that someone disrespects us because we are female, every action is perceived as discriminatory.  You get the picture.

Wouldn't it be great if we could erase parts of our brain like you do sections of a hard drive?  Wouldn't it be awesome to have a completely blank story for each person?  Wouldn't it also be helpful if we didn't have others around us trying to write the story about others before we even get to know them?  But that isn't possible so we have to consciously choose to do things differently.

In some of our more difficult relationships, we may just need to do a refresh to our story web page and see if it has changed.  Maybe sharing your version of the story with the other person could be healing.  Something like, "Hey son.  When you come home and don't talk to me and then slam your door, I think it is because you are mad at me about asking you to do your chores.   It makes me feel bad that me asking you to do something simple causes you to be so angry."   The response in those conversations might surprise us.

Think about the relationships in your life.  Think about the ones where there is conflict or the relationship is strained.  Ask yourself what story you have in your head about that person and tell them the story, asking them if they see things the same way.   Whether your story was mostly wrong or mostly right, the result of the conversation would probably be surprising -- and beneficial -- to both of you.

Because after all, if I respect you, I should at least allow you to participate when I write the story of you in my head.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Fighting the Enemy with TRUTH

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. 

So, if we want to fight the enemy who is attempting to control the system we live in --whether it be our family system, the system in our local church, at our place of employment, or the church universal, we look to Ephesians 6 to tell us how to do that.  Over the next few days let's look at how we are supposed to do that.   
Stand firm with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.
I am in Michigan today getting ready for R3 Coaching where I learned about the graphic above.  I am not stealing it from them because I am giving them free advertising :-)  I'm sure they wouldn't care if I told you about this helpful little box.

I wish you were here in person for me to explain it because that would make it easier, but here's the basic premise.   We all hold certain beliefs -- stories we have written about how we perceive the world around us -- and those are going to guide our actions.   However, those beliefs aren't necessarily true.  But our actions bring about results.  So the best way to make sure that we get good results is if we have beliefs that are in line with the truth.
Let' me give you an example.   Let's say that your belief is that if you work harder God will love you more.   If that is your belief you are going to work really hard.  In fact, you might work too hard and too much.  Your actions (working too hard and much) lead to the results of an unbalanced life, physical problems, strained relationships etc.   
However, that belief is not based on truth.  The truth is that there is nothing that we can do that will make God love us more.  He already loves us infinitely.   Scripture teaches us that we cannot earn his love.
I could give several more examples, but I am sure you get the point.   The apostle Paul wasn't off base when he suggested that we needed to have the belt of truth wrapped around our waist!  
I challenge you, as you fight the enemy who is controlling your system, to base your beliefs on the truth.  Silence the lies that have become part of your belief system -- things like "there is no hope" or "I'm destined to fail" or "I won't ever win."  Get rid of faulty thinking like "this situation will never change" or "I just can't get this right."   
If you want great results -- align your beliefs with truth and wrap it around your waist.

Monday, January 11, 2016

It's New Years Day Again

Fresh starts are awesome.  When a year ends and a new one begins, it's a great opportunity for us to be reminded that we can make a change.  New Year's Resolutions abound at this time of year.  The gyms are busier than ever in January... for about three weeks.   New things get started, plans are made, and we have a renewed vigor for being a different person.   But when the newness of the year wears off then often our resolve does as well.

Today I am going to make a lengthy and very important presentation to my new staff at PHFS.  I entitled it, "This is a Day of New Beginnings" based on a hymn Brian Wren.

This is a day of new beginnings,
time to remember and move on,
time to believe what love is bringing,
laying to rest the pain that's gone.

For by the life and death of Jesus,
love's mighty Spirit, now as then,
can make for us a world of difference,
as faith and hope are born again.

Then let us, with the Spirit's daring,
step from the past and leave behind
our disappointment, guilt, and grieving,
seeking new paths, and sure to find.

Christ is alive, and goes before us
to show and share what love can do.
This is a day of new beginnings;
our God is making all things new.

One of the greatest things about all of us as human beings is that we can choose at any moment, to make a change.  With God's help (scripture says that with God all things are possible) we can turn that corner and move forward.

Today is the beginning of a new year.  In 366 days it will be January 11, 2017.  The beginning of a new year will happen on March 21, and again on June 18.  It will happen on August 17 and September 12 and December 15th.   It will happen every day of this year.   Every day it's new year's day again.

Maybe your January 1 resolutions have already failed, or maybe you didn't even make any. But it doesn't matter.  Today is a day of new beginnings.

Every day can be.  

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Most Effective Tactic of the Enemy

Back when I was in my twenties I knew everything, but now that I'm in my fifties a lot of things are a little bit more vague.  So I'm not sure exactly where I fall on the pendulum between "we are daily involved in intense spiritual warfare where angels are fighting demons with swords" and "angels and demons don't exist, it's just us as people living our lives" but I am going to write this post from a perspective that at least acknowledges that there are forces of evil that battle forces of good in this world.  And, for the sake of explaining it, I am going to use the word enemy in reference to the devil, Satan, or the forces of evil in this world.   That being said, I firmly believe that I understand the enemy's most effective tactic.

You may recall a book called "The Screwtape Letters" by C. S. Lewis.  The book is a series of letters to a demon instructing him on how to best defeat Christians.   I am pretty sure I got the idea for this blogpost from the book, but I can't find the exact quote.  Wanted to say that so that it does not appear that I am plagiarizing an idea.

So, what is the most effective tactic of the enemy?  Get em fighting about.... well.... pretty much anything.  If Christians are busy fighting each other, then they will not have time to fight the enemy -- nor will they have time or energy to do what they've been called to do.

The movie War Room made this pretty clear in the family setting.   The main character was taught by a wonderful older woman how to pray.  And she made it very clear that the enemy was not the woman's husband, but the devil himself.   Many families are so busy fighting with one another, that they aren't joining together to fight the enemy -- or to deal with the bigger things outside of their family that together they could tackle -- helping others, being involved in their churches, doing good in the world.

If you go to church you know for sure that this is the enemy's best and greatest tactic is used daily in the local church.   I have been a pastor's wife for nearly 20 years, and it happens in most churches.  People joke about it even, but the color of the carpet can take up thousands of hours of people's time and cause church splits.  If I can spend twenty hours a week and meetings at church arguing about how to best use the resources God has given us, I can ignore the poverty, pain, and crisis outside the doors of my church.  Because really, I'm way too busy with church stuff to meet the needs of a dying world.

If you are part of an organization that is making a difference in the world, you are going to be immediately attacked by the enemy.  Whether you are a volunteer or a paid employee, if you are not careful you will get caught into a system that is under threat of being controlled by an enemy.  If conversations in the soup kitchen are about how so and so never where's her hairnet and how disgusting that is, it has already begun.   Instead of focusing on the homeless they serve and how to best minister to them, suddenly people have their attention consumed by whether or not kitchen standards are being met.

And dare I take this one step further?   What about the church as a whole?  Jesus, in John 17 when he was praying for his disciples, prayed for us.  Yup, you, and me.  He said, "My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray 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." 

Some days I wonder whether or not we could be farther away from that than we are right now.  Choose an issue in society, any issue, and see the diversity of opinions on that issue.  And diversity isn't a bad thing.  But if you look at the way that Christians are fighting (don't even look at your Facebook feed unless all your friends agree on everything) you will see why the church universal has become so ineffective.    The opposite of Jesus' prayer has come true.   We are NOT one and the world does NOT believe that God sent Jesus.   Again, it isn't the diversity of opinions that is killing us -- it's the WAY we treat each other when we disagree.

So what's the first step in fighting back?  Recognizing what is happening.  Ephesians six gives us a clear blueprint.   First of all it recognizes that fighting each other is not the struggle. (vs. 12:  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rules, against the authorities, against the powers of the dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.)   

Then Ephesians 6 tells us how to fight back.   With truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the word of God and prayer.  The armor of God.  

Over the next several days I hope to blog about each of those and how they can help us in our fight against this one tactic of our enemies in our families, our local churches, the places we work or volunteer, and the church world wide.

You may be facing a situation in one of those areas that seems impossible, but we are on the side of the one who has overcome the world.  We have God on our side and so, if we work together, there is no way we can lose.  Decide which area of the ones above you want to tackle first and join me!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What Does it Mean to Be Child Focused?

In social work, one of the buzz phrases is "Client-focused" or "Child Focused."   It sounds great doesn't it?  But it requires one of the most difficult disciplines that anyone must master in any avenue of life.   As professionals and as parents we have to recognize that it's not about us.  If we are child-focused, we have to put the needs of the child before our own.

As parents, this is easy when children enter our lives as helpless babies who can't give back.  And even though there are times when we put ourselves first because if we don't we will be too exhausted to continue to care form them, for the most part those little human beings run the show.

But as kids get older the temptation is to put our needs before theirs.  I've been guilty of it more times than I can count, so I'm certainly not attempting to sound condemning.  And we certainly don't want to err on the side of giving our kids everything they want.   But the key, I believe, is trying to figure out what they are thinking.

Here's an example in the parenting world.  A 14 year old boy doesn't want to go to his aunt's house  He is playing a video game and he won't hurry up and get in the car.   Immediately his mom, assuming defiance and wrong priorities jumps into a defensive state.  This is her family and they are important to her and besides he spends way to much time on video games.   She is caught up in the immediacy  getting him out of the door without asking why he doesn't want to go.  She forces him to come and hang out with his cousins and on the way home he is sullen and angry.  When she finally gets around to asking the question that could have been asked at the beginning of the day, she finds out that his oldest cousin has been tormenting him and bullying him over the last three visits. The entire day could have been different if the focus had been on finding out the why's behind the behaviors at the beginning of the day.

It's a simple example, but there are so many times as parents that we make assumptions without asking, and that we are more consumed with our own wants and needs that we ignore theirs.

In social work the same things happen all the time.  Whether it is something as simple as scheduling a meeting without even knowing that you are taking a child out of their favorite class or something huge like making a major decision about their future without finding out their feelings about it, all of us serving children can do a better job with this.

So to summarize, how can we be child focused in our parenting and as professionals?

1)  Get to know the child.   As much as they will tell you.  Ask questions.   Find out what makes them tick, what is at the core of who they are.  

2)  Try to think like they think.  Put yourself in their position as you make decisions.

3)  Check yourself often.  Ask if the decisions you are making are based on what is best for you or what is best for the child.

It's a lot easier not to worry about being child focused.   It sure is more comfortable and certainly less challenging to just do what feels right to us.  But as parents and professionals we have been given a gift -- the opportunity to change the life of a child.   And the power and the depth of that privilege should never be forgotten.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Lord, If it's You, Tell me to Come to You on the Water

I shared this in in our first meeting together as a Residence Life Staff today at PHFS.  I hope that it resonates with whoever heard me this morning and whoever might read this as much as it did with me.

From Matthew 14:22-33 — Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.   
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
"Come,” he said. 
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Even though I had heard this story  many many times in my life, a few things stuck out to me today.

In the midst of the winds, Jesus identifies Himself and says, “hey, It’s me, chill out!”  Many times we are very anxious in the midst of change.  But sometimes it is Jesus that is heading the change.. and when we fail to see this, He has to let us know that it isn't some random ghost -- but that it is Him.  The one at the center of the winds of change,

Peter said, “OK, Jesus, if it’s really you, ask me to come to you.  Ask me to do the impossible and walk on water.   Peter was up for the challenge.  He was ready for the unknown.   He wanted to see God do cool stuff and so he asked him to call him to do something amazing.  It wasn't even Jesus' idea.   How many of us have sung the song "Oceans" asking God to call us deeper?  Do we really mean it?  If so we might be up for a real adventure.

Jesus did what Peter asked..  He invited Peter to do the impossible.  Jesus is always looking for folks who are up for the challenge of living life as a great adventure.  When we ask Him to take us deeper, He does.

Peter did it.  He took those first few steps.  He kept his eyes on Jesus and it worked.  He was doing the impossible.

Until he took his eyes of of Jesus and the mission that He had called him to.  When he did that, he sunk.

It is my goal to be like Peter and for others to join me in that adventure.   How do we do that?

We recognize Jesus in the winds of change.

We ask Jesus to call us into those scary waters.

We take those steps of faith…. but as the winds of change blow around us, we are going to keep our eyes on Jesu   s and on the mission He is calling us to.   If we keep our eyes on Him, we can continue to walk in the miraculous path where God does cool things.

I quoted the song Way Beyond Me today, which I have already put in my blog.  And then, for those feeling a little bit stressed by the idea of jumping onto the water, I quoted a much older song.

Be Still My Soul  Kathrina von Schlegel; Translator: Jane L. Borthwick (1855)

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heav’nly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

2 Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

The Most Important Thing I've 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.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Being a "Both-And" Kind of Person

I grew up in a very black and white world.   I have a mind that tends to think that way and a personality that lends itself to that kind of thinking.  I love to have things compartmentalized into nice little boxes in my head.

That works really well if you live a neat, tidy life.  But if you veer off of the road called "normal," whatever that looks like, suddenly life gets messy and things don't fit any more.

One of the ideas I had in my mind growing up is that good parenting equals good kids.  If parents do things right, kids automatically grow up to make good choices.  It made logical sense.  But when my parents, who I know were awesome parents, had two of their three children choose to NOT follow Jesus, to lead a completely different life regardless of their upbringing and my parents prayers, I was forced to recon with the fact that my thinking was incorrect.  God doesn't take away free will from children who have good parents.

So, I had to change my either-or thinking.   No longer could it be "Either kids have good parents and make good choices, or they have bad parents and make bad choices."  I had to change it to both-and thinking.  "Kids can both have good parents and make bad choices."

I also spent my early twenties in theological debates.  I won't go into detail here about the various arguments I had, but I was definitely an "either-or" thinker.  I have come to realize that God is a both-and kind of God and that I need to think that way too.  God is both just AND merciful.  He both expects us to be holy and offers us grace when we aren't.  He both loves us and corrects us.  And so those debates have faded into the background and I've landed in a place where I can understand the that God lives in the tension between the extremes.

In my professional life I have learned there is one mistake that we all often make  We head into a situation where conflict is possible with an "either or" mentality.  Either this conversation is going to end up the way I want it to or it is I am going to lose and the other person is going to get their way.

Within the last year I have learned something that has transformed the way that I lead.  If two parties can be honest, direct, and respectful,  the conclusion is better than what either of them had thought was best.   Not either his way or her way, but both his way and her way can result in a better way that neither thought of before.

As I begin my new journey as a leader at a new organization, I am committed like never before to be a both-and kind of person.  To look outside the box, to communicate clearly, and to listen better than I have ever listened before.

And as I continue my journey as a parent of adult children from afar, I hope to incorporate those same principles into my interactions with my children.

Maybe during 2016 you can join me in efforts to be a  both-and kind of person, rather than either-or.  I would love to hear other examples of this concept that my thoughts have spurred on in your mind as we all learn and grow together!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Heredity or Environment?

Since my educational background is in psychology, sociology and counseling, I have been learning about this debate for decades.   And as adoptive parents it has always been something Bart and I have discussed.  We began our journey believing strongly that environment shaped kids -- in fact, this theory is one of the reasons we began to be foster parents.  We were going to bring in children who may not have great heredity and were in a bad environment, and suddenly we were going to "fix" them.  That didn't work out quite as planned.  :-)

We have been quite interested though, now that are children are adults and some have reconnected with birth family, to see the characteristics they share in common with their biological relatives.  Whether it is sharing physical traits or a connected belief that guns and mudding would be fun (when Bart and I never have thought either of those things are attractive), there are definite connections that heredity produces.  So is it entirely heredity that shapes us?  Or entirely environment?  Or a bit of both?  The answer for me changes on a case by case basis.

Today the question I am asking is with my own situation in mind.  Is it heredity or environment that has led me towards this bold decision to leave everything I know and love to come to a place where I know NOBODY.

Bart and I are unique in our family because we are the only ones who only have one set of parents.  When one of my sons was about five he asked me who my birthmom was.  He was quite shocked when I explained to him that most people only had one mom.   So those of us with only one set of parents who gave birth to us and who raised us have real difficulty in determining if something is heredity or environment.

Let me tell you about my parents (both pictured above with my husband about 6 months before my dad passed away and my mom with a couple of my grandkids).

When my mom was 13 and my dad was 20, he came to work for her father. My mom was lying in bed, as it was fairly late in the evening, but she could see my dad and his buddy through a crack in the door. Two thoughts crossed her mind, ”That man needs a haircut“ and ”I’m going to marry him someday.“   

It was also during those teenage years she first felt that God was calling her to work with the Navajo Indians. She dreamed of being a teacher. But each day she did what she believed God was calling her to do, even though getting married and being a missionary seemed to be more her dream than God's plan.

She went to a Bible school after high school that did not give degrees. She then served God through her church for years, working and living in a “deaconess” home as a single woman believing God had called her to be single. But by the time she was 33, she got God's green light and she was able to marry him.  She then gave birth to three kids and began a day care so she could stay home with us where she (and we) loved an extra 6 kids a day (with only 2 under 2). When we were all school age she got a job as a paraprofessional in our elementary school where she stayed for many years.  My dad pastored a church during that time as well until he retired.  
In 1992 she and my father went with their church in Denver to Sun Valley Indian School on a “Work and Witness Team.” They fell in love with the place and six weeks later moved (at the ages of 70 and 63) to volunteer their time. My mom did the laundry for 150 kids for 40 hours a week. They ended up selling their home in Denver and buying a double wide trailer so that they could work at the school as long as possible. After about three years of laundry, and at the age of 66, my mom told the administration that her back was getting too bad to hang out and fold clothes. She asked if there was something else she might be able to do.

At that time she was asked if she might like to teach. Since the school does not require a college degree, she would be able to do so there. A pre-first position was open, and she accepted it. So, at the age of 66 she began to work as a teacher to the Navajo (and other Native American) children. Her goal was to teach until she was 80 but she didn't quite make it because the year she was 79 they didn't have any kids that age at the school so she retired.   She began to live her dream at the age of 66.

My life is what it is today because my parents chose to do what God called them to do every day and leave the results with Him. If they would have done things differently or gotten in a hurry, life could be very different for me. For one thing, had they married out of high school, I would be over 70. No thank you. Also, had my mom decided that she needed to go to college instead of be home with us, the attention we received may not have been enough to give me the strong base I have. Or had she not done Day Care, I wouldn’t know it was possible for so many kids to be under the same roof peacefully for hours at a time.  

Fast forward a few years and my dear dad has gone to be with Jesus.  He entered heaven in May of 2013 and my mom joined us in Minnesota.  She is a constant inspiration to me.  I have loved seeing her at least weekly for the past two and a half years.

So when the email came in October out of the blue asking me to apply for a position at a place I had never heard of in Virginia, it didn't take my mom long to get on board.  At first she was worried I would ask her to move with us and she is very happy, at 86, in her assisted living facility.  But once she knew she could stay she was all for it.   "We settled this at your dedication when you were a baby" she said.

She really couldn't say much though -- because she knows that this is her fault.... she raised me to be a believer in a big God who calls us to do things people don't understand.   She sold my childhood home at the age of 63 after all and moved across the country.

Many people do not understand my choice to leave a job I loved dearly or to leave my grandkids or children or to leave my mom.   Some see it as selfish.  Others see it as me having gone completely nuts.  And others simply don't get it.   But the few who knew my parents well completely understand.  I was taught that when an opportunity comes my way I should walk through open doors until they shut.  And as my mom has said often the past two months, "the doors God has in front of you must be automatic they are opening so quickly!"

So the answer to my question about heredity or environment today my answer is "I don't know."  I do know that I have inherited genes that allow me to see possibility and to love change and to not fear the future.  I have been taught to have a faith that breaks the rules of society.  I have grown up in a home where following Jesus wherever He leads is the only thing that makes sense.

It is my current prayer that all of us can teach these concepts to our children whether or not they are our children by birth, by adoption, or even on a temporary basis as we care for them.   Because grasping that truth transforms lives and makes life a great adventure.

My theme song for this journey of decision the past three months has been "Beyond Me" by Toby Mac.  I leave you with these words in closing this quite lengthy post:

Anything that I got the strength to doIn over my head keeps me countin' on YouI'm leaving the sweet spot, sure shotTradin' it all for the plans You gotIs it so crazy to believe... 
That You gave me the stars put them out of my reachCalled me to waters a little too deepOh, I've never been so aware of my needYou keep on making me seeIt's way beyond me

You take me to the place where I know I need YouStraight to the depths that I can't handle on my ownAnd the Lord I know, I know I need YouSo take me to Your great …Take me to Your great unknown