Tuesday, September 19, 2017

One Life Away

“9:00 AM at the Oklahoma County Juvenile Court House” I read the reminder on my calendar and knew that Tuesday was going to get off to a rough start. As a foster parent it is our responsibility to show up to court appointments for the children in our care. On this day I arrived early and sat in the courtroom for the entire morning docket.

Before the Judge entered the courtroom, an officer led a man wearing a prison jumpsuit and shackles through the side door. The man was a father who would, moments later, stand before the judge and relinquish all rights to his children. An attorney for another biological father is unable to show any measureable progress significant enough to prevent his rights from being terminated.

The gavel fell. Two more fatherless children “in the system” and
still five more cases on the docket where the futures of children were yet to be determined.

As a mother and a minister I can’t help but wonder, “what is going to happen to all of these children?”

At Mission OKC as we work in the midst of those living in poverty, I also see the effects of trauma as it is fleshed out in the behavior of children. Aggression, mistrust, developmental delays and insecurity are challenges we face everyday.

The more I learn, the more hopeful I have become that the work of foster parenting and the ministry we provide at Mission OKC is life changing for these kids. The change that comes in their lives will in turn have a lasting and positive impact on our community.

Recently, I read an article written by Brittney Schaeffer, MS, LMFT, Titled “What You Should Know About Toxic Stress.” 

In the article she defines Toxic Stress or Trauma as “an experience that overwhelms us, sometimes making us feel like we are in serious danger.”

Examples of some of the toxic stresses a child growing up in poverty might face is being a witness to domestic violence, physical or verbal abuse, not having their vital needs met and a life in constant upheaval.

In her article, Ms. Schaeffer states that, “A child that has experienced at least four toxically stressful events was 15 times more likely to attempt suicide, 3 times more likely to suffer from depression, 4 times more likely to become an alcoholic or intravenous drug user.”

Studies have shown that constant exposure to trauma actually changes the structure of the brain and as a result causes an overactive survival instinct. Trauma affected brains and bodies become flooded with stress related chemicals that not only lead to developmental delays, but a greater susceptibility to chronic disease and addiction.

Hope for Healing

The good news. . .” as Ms. Schaeffer explains, “The brain has the potential to make new cells and create new connections—most effectively through safe, compassionate relationships with others.

For this reason, health care professionals, mental health providers, educators, faith-based workers, and peer relationships are critically important to building resiliency to toxic stress.”

At Mission OKC we are on a mission, not only to help the children in our poverty areas make healthy connections to caring members of our community who serve as volunteers, but at the core of our ministry is the desire for them to know the Great Healer, Jesus; To know that they can trust Him with their lives as He promises to make all things new.

What will happen to all these children? They are one caring adult, one kind friend away, from healing and learning to walk with the Lord.

If you are interested in becoming a part of Mission OKC as a prayer warrior, financial supporter, or volunteer, please visit our website www.missionokc.com or contact us at MissionOKC@outlook.com.

For more helpful resources like the article sited in this post like Instilling Hope & Wellness on Facebook. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fostering Faithfulness

It has been a year now since we opened our home to become a foster family. I still remember answering the call, an actual phone call, that changed our lives forever. That night the question was asked, if we would be willing to accept a two year old little boy into our home and love him as if he were our own. By faith, we stepped out into the unknown and said, “Yes.”

The next day Chad and I drove to the Department of Human Services where we were lead to an office to take a seat. After making introductions, the caseworker asked if we would like to meet the child. Moments later she rounded the corner with a little boy who looked scared and confused. We sat with “J” and played with a toy truck while answering questions and completing paperwork.

As we finished up the work they had for us to do, they asked if we had any questions. We were so new to the whole process I wasn’t sure what questions to ask. The main question burning in my mind was, “How long?”

“How long?” was the one question the social workers weren’t prepared to answer. They gave us a general idea, but their answer was qualified by saying, “We don’t like to give timelines because so much of the progress is out of our control.”

As it turns out, not having a timeline is the hardest part of foster parenting. Now that we see that a commitment to foster for three months can turn into years, I have changed, or truly God has changed my view on parenting and what my priorities should be.

As parents, we take for granted that we have years, not months to instill values in our children. We spend so much of our time just trying to get our children to stay out of the way of traffic and behave in public that there seems to be little time for anything else. With some kids, it’s a full time job just to keep them alive until their 18th Birthday.

God has shown me it is by His divine will that children are placed in our care, even children who are born to us; and no parent is given a definite timeline. We are not afforded the knowledge of how many days we will have to demonstrate the love of God to this child, to foster a love for His word, to teach them how to pray or why we worship.

Jochebed, the mother of Moses, had only the early years of his life to teach him about the one true God. Her opportunity to do so came at a high cost. She risked her life to save Moses and God gave her an opportunity to shape his character in those formative years. I imagine Jochebed didn’t let a single bath or meal-time pass that she didn’t whisper truth to Moses about the character and nature of His creator.  As she laid him down each night, knowing her time with him was short, I imagine she told him the story again of how she floated him in a basket down the river to be found safe among the reeds. As his eyes would get heavy and he would begin to fall asleep she would remind her precious son, “God saved you for a purpose and if you follow Him you’ll find it!”

Hannah, the mother of Samuel had promised her son to God. After he was born, she  weaned him then brought him to the temple of the Lord with a blessing, “For as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” In 1 Samuel 1:19 it says that every year, as Samuel grew, his mother would make a new linen ephod or robe which was a priestly garment. When Hannah and Elkanah came to worship, she would bring Samuel this new robe. As Samuel grew in his purpose, his mother made sure he was covered in a reminder of his place in service to the Lord.

Are you a parent? Has God entrusted a piece of the future to your household? How much time do you have to lead them to Salvation?

None of us can answer this question, and once we realize the gift we have in each moment we will find new meaning in our role as parents. Whether God gives us years, months or minutes with our children may we be faithful to use this precious time to lead them into the way of Life.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Yokes, Burdens and Blessings

I was at an awkward age, fourteen years old, and struggling to survive what seemed like an earth shattering let down. Just about the time that I was old enough to be able to “officially” participate in the youth group at our church, my father resigned as pastor.

Up until that time I’d only been included as, well . . . the pastor’s kid. Always present, but not accounted for and certainly not included in the awesome stuff like break dance battles on Wednesday night or discipleship weekends.

Instead, one day I found myself sitting in the break room of a Christian counselors office while my parents sought help to understand the aftermath of my father’s resignation. My dad, who was always best at finding colorful expressions to describe complex emotions, called his current state of being, “church residue: what’s left under the wheels when the big church machine rolls by.” When people asked him where he’d go next, what he planned to do he’d reply, “Well . . . I’ll let you know as soon as I lose the license plate mark on my forehead from where the truck hit me.”

He was hurting, our whole family was hurting and we were experiencing all the emotions that accompany loss: Rejection, sadness, anger, grief, confusion, frustration etc.

I’m sure when my parents sought counseling they expected to have a light bulb moment. Especially since these counselors specialized in helping ministers families. I don’t know what all was said, but I asked my mom when we got back in the car. I too was hoping for answers, some word of wisdom to cut through the cloud hanging over our family.

Dad was quiet, but Mom turned around from the front seat and said, “They read a verse to us from the Bible, out of Matthew.” Then she looked it up, because she’s a pastors wife and had a NKJV Bible at the ready.

She read to me, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Mt. 11:28-29)

Then she explained, “The counselor read this verse and explained that it just might be that we’re carrying a burden that God never intended for us to carry. When we are obeying God in the work He’s created for us to do, and the work He’s created us for, the yoke is easy and the burden is light.”

Four years later I was standing on the second floor of an old building in downtown Amarillo, Texas. Our whole family was present and wearing dirty work clothes, the sun was shining through newly uncovered art deco style arch windows from 1927 that had been covered over with plaster in the ‘70’s. It was my job to pick up the debris and carry it out to the dumpster while my brothers and dad tore away at the rock. Every time we tore pieces away, we discovered new treasure.

While the old building was being restored, so was my father’s health. He had a new liver after years of near death experiences with his old one. With his new lease on life, my father lead our family into a new season of ministry. We moved downtown, started renovating an old building, and preaching the Gospel to the poor from the heart of the city.

He was free. Every one of us, for the first time in the ministry, felt what it means to bear a light burden, one designed for us by the God who created and purposed us. We were yoked up and empowered by the Holy Spirit who sent blessing after blessing through the doors of that old building. The license plate mark on Dad’s forehead was replaced by a goofy, unrelenting smile. He had faced death and new life. We were all ready to truly walk by faith.

As a young adult, I had learned an invaluable lesson. There is freedom in following Jesus, there is joy in living out your calling. And even though the work is difficult and you’re getting your hands dirty, it’s easy to bear. A life lived in true obedience to the God who made you is the most fruitful and satisfying life you can live!

Recently, I found myself at the feet of Jesus, in a weary place. I was heavy laden and broken hearted at the fact that despite all my best efforts, what I was trying to accomplish was just not happening. The weight of it all felt unbearable.

So I came out from under the yoke and laid the burden down. Fully trusting Jesus with all the questions in my heart about what would happen next. When I came to the feet of Jesus I didn’t find scorn or disappointment, I found compassion. I found gentleness, wisdom and on the other side – freedom. Freedom to continue walking in His purpose for my life and to hopefully continue to bear good fruit.

If you are weary today, I pray you will come to Jesus. You may need to lay a burden down, He may fit you with a new one. Either way, I promise, that after meeting with Jesus “. . . you will go out with joy and be lead forth with peace.”

Thursday, June 23, 2016

"The Fierce 9"

It was the last night of camp and I had run out of coping techniques. The group of girls who had set their cabin on edge all week were out of control. It’s always on the last night of camp; the kids with the greatest fears act out the most. They act out because they don’t want to go back to the way things are back home. After chapel we isolated the group of girls now known as “The Fierce 9” straight to their cabin to settle down away from the rest of the campers. Emotions were broiling; they didn’t know who to take their anger out on. I stood my ground by the door explaining that they would have to calm down if they were going to enjoy the rest of the evening. They shouted in protest, they called me names. Then a punch was thrown into the wall, leaving a fist shaped hole in the sheetrock.

I had spent the last three nights after chapel with these girls. I shared the hidden stash of Gatorades and crackers. In our group time they had the freedom to speak their minds and be rambuxious, but the conversation would always end on a serious note. No matter how tough these girls tried to act and how loud they were, the truth was that they were all wounded, scared and hurting.

Just listening to the way they described their life and the people in it who had hurt them broke my heart. Any one of the experiences they shared would be enough to harden the softest of hearts. The saddest thing I heard was the confession from many of the girls that they feel out of control emotionally most of the time and are afraid of the way their anger is destroying their life.

They needed to hear that despite their circumstances and what has been done to them; they can have peace with God through Jesus. As they grow in Him they will see the life giving fruit of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self Control. They heard this truth all week long as they participated in the camp activities and they heard it again from me. We could all see that a very real spiritual battle was raging in their hearts as they wrestled with the decision to turn their lives over to God.

To be honest, when the angry girl threw a punch into the wall, narrowly missing my face, it took an extra measure of the Holy Spirit to keep from losing control myself. Pastor Chad and Mrs. Tonya came to my rescue.  

Together, Chad and I loaded up the girls in the van and took them to buy the supplies needed to patch the hole in the wall of their cabin. Instead of the radio, for entertainment on the hour-long country drive to Guymon we called mom, after mom, after grandma to explain how their daughters were behaving. By the time we got back to camp all the “tough girls” had disappeared. There was a new air of humility and meekness.

Everyday for the last two weeks since we’ve been back from camp, the same girls have been up and ready at 8:00 A.M. for the church bus. They have been serving on mission with us  delivering lunches. On Thursday I got a text from the mother of the girl who threw the punch. She said, “Miss Anna, my daughter will not be able to volunteer tomorrow. She came home from camp and asked for help with her anger. I am taking her to her first counseling appointment in the morning. God Bless!!”

         We thank God for His Word, and the power it has to transform hearts for those receive it. Thank you for praying and supporting the work at Mission OKC. May we continue to see these young people set free.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

When God Resets The Stage

Last Friday night Mimi and Papa took our family to the CIRCUS! I know I’ve been  before, but it was long enough ago for me to have forgotten the bright and lively circus atmosphere. Of course, there were three rings, and we were sitting at the end of the auditorium. Between each act, the roving spotlights would go out and all we would hear was the dramatic voice of the ring master say, “Now, everyone! Turn your attention up high!”

He wanted us to look up because down below the circus roadies were moving out all the pieces of the last act. The Tigers, their trainers and their cages, the chairs and stools- all vanishing  while, at the same time, the stage was being set for the next act. 

Ofcourse, for our girls sitting next to me the darkness and emptiness in between acts made them think the show was over. 

From my seat, I could see over the railing to the entrance ramp. While the stage was being cleared and reset for the next act out front, I had the best vantage. I could see the next performers preparing for their grand entrance!

The fire jugglers were warming up, the animals were rehearsing their cues. The acrobats were ruffling their feathers. 

For me, It was more exciting to see what was about to happen next!  Every time our girls got anxious I would tell them, “Girls! just hang on! You’re going to LOVE what’s coming! The next act is even better than the one we just saw! 

Just hang on! It may be dark now, but what’s coming next is going to be so great! 

You may be in between acts right now and you think the show is over. Let me encourage you, it may just be that God is clearing the way and making ready the next great plans He has for your life! 

On Thursday mornings, I’m teaching through the book of Ruth. This morning I taught about the homecoming of Naomi. While she never lost faith in The One whom she called, "Almighty God" Naomi surely had reason to believe that God was through with her. She had lost her husband and sons and was grieving the life she once had. “I left full and came back empty” was how she described her current situation to the women of the town who were stirred by her arrival back home. 

But if you look in Ruth 1:22, you can see God setting the stage for His glory to shine. At the end of the verse it says that Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem, “. . . at the beginning of the Barley harvest.”

Imagine with me, a stage, set with all the players. Naomi and Ruth surrounded by the women of Bethlehem, all bearing witness to the brokenness of Naomi’s condition; Their shocked whispers testify to the grief and bitterness that has so dramatically altered her countenance. 

Then the lights go out on that scene. The stage is cleared. Just when you think the show is over, the lights come back up to illuminate a new season. A golden field. There stands a kind redeemer. The next act begins. Salvation is near.

Friends, open up God’s word with me and look over the rail. Look at what’s being prepared. It may be dark now, but what’s coming next is going to be so great! 

"But as it is written:
'Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.'”
1 Corinthians 2:9

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Lord Help Us!

I so wanted to give up. This time last week, I was wondering what we had gotten ourselves into and was ready to throw in the towel. Over the last few months our family has been in a horrible rut of loud, chaotic mornings ending with everyone late to everywhere. So when Tuesday morning ended up with everyone in tears, I told the kids, “Tomorrow is going to be different!” I stayed home from my class Tuesday night to instead clean out closets and organize everyone’s room. We made sure homework was done, clothes were laid out and everyone was in bed on time. We all needed a good night’s sleep in order to carry out our new mission: “Operation: Morning of Excellence!”

Well, morning rolled around and everything was beautiful. I even had time for a cup of coffee with Chad. Our goal was to be in the car by 8:30. At 8:25 I was marching the troops out the door. We were all hype and giving ourselves a pat on the back until I realized that my keys were locked in the car. 

The day before, Tiny Human had dumped out my purse in the floorboard while I was trying to clean out the car. That night, before bed, when Chad went out to make sure my car was locked it gave him the “you’re locking your keys in your car” warning honk. He came back to bed and said, “You need to go make sure you have your key”. Did I? Nope. I just took his spare key and locked the car again.

So now, here we are, locked out with all the kids ready to load up in the car. Tiny Human was trying to run down the driveway and everyone was discarding their coats and backpacks in the yard. School starts in five minutes.

Chad was on his way back to rescue us, but had already made it fifteen minutes across town. I looked over and our next-door neighbor was backing out of their driveway. They have a child in the same school as our kids. Without even thinking, I started waving our neighbor down. “Can you please give my kids a ride this morning?” I was basically shoving my kids in her car while the words were coming out of my mouth. She looked hesitant and said, “Uh, my car is kind of messy.” I laughed a nervous hysterical laugh of dismissal because I couldn’t care less at any moment about the cleanliness of her car as I did right then.

Basically, I flashed my “mom in distress badge” at this woman and commandeered her vehicle. David was looking upon me with disdain the whole time as only an 11-year-old boy can. He later told me that he sat in something wet, but knew it would be impolite to say anything; so I count that as a parenting win.

After getting the little one off to day care, I came back to my office, sat down at my desk and surveyed the diapers, toys, books and humidifier. Honestly, I got a little angry. “How am I supposed to get any work done today? How am I supposed to accomplish anything EVER AGAIN?!?”

And then I spoke the most honest words I’ve spoken to God in a long time. I spoke them loud and spoke them clear to make sure He heard me. “I CAN’T DO THIS GOD! I Can’t do any of this!”

I am confident the new challenges we’re facing are from God, but boy have they thrown our life into a tailspin. That’s why I was praying so hard, but the throne room of the most-high God is the wrong place to go if you’re looking for an “out.” Instead of permission to give up on the task He's given, you’re more likely to start seeing things from His eternal perspective. So after a long stretch of silence, there at my sticker covered desk, I tried my prayer again. “Lord, I am yours and I am so inadequate. I want to obey you, but I can’t do this without You.”

Pastor Chad and Pastor Kelly are preaching through the book of Acts. On Sunday, Pastor Kelly preached from Acts 4:24-31 where in the face of persecution and imprisonment, the apostles unanimously lifted up their voices to God in prayer. They didn’t pray to be delivered from the task of preaching the Gospel, they didn’t pray for a safe place to hide. They prayed for BOLDNESS! They prayed for God to equip them for the task at hand. And guess what! God shook the ground they were standing on and filled them with the Holy Spirit!

After the sermon, conviction lead me down to the altar to pray. “God, give me the strength and power I need to obey You in all these things.”

On Sunday night, on the eve of a new week, Chad and I gathered the kids around the table before bed. We acknowledged that things have been a little crazy over the last few months, partly because we’ve taken on a difficult task, but mostly because there are some things that need to change. I was amazed as we went around the table, how each kid shared their heart. We were all able to recognize things we need to do differently to help one another.

Then we prayed for each other by name. I can’t tell you what it did to my soul to hear these children, who have been at each other’s throats, begin to pray for each other. We all together confessed our mess to the Lord. 

This is growth that needed to happen, and I will always treasure this turning point in our lives.

Are you trying to navigate through difficult times? Have you reached your breaking point? Let me encourage you, if you know the task is from God, don’t listen your flesh telling you to give up, instead pray in faith; then wait on God to shake the ground under your feet and fill you with His power!

2 Corinthians 4:16-18 says, “16 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Shoes For Ruby

I try not to share things on my blog that are too personal, especially dealing with finances. Mostly because I never want to seem ungrateful for all God has done for our family. He has brought us through so much, but our life is still very much a walk of faith. Every day He provides for our needs, and I thank Him because I know it is by His hand we have the things we need. Many times I want to jump to my keyboard and share, but most of the time I just treasure the miracles in my heart. This time, the Lord impressed upon me to share, because someone else might need to be encouraged. Someone else may have a need and they wonder if God sees. So I must give testimony to the good things He has done.  

Christmas is a crazy time for our family. At Mission OKC, we make Christmas boxes for the kids who are a part of our ministry. The process for gathering and distributing these boxes starts in September, while Christmas for our family usually comes together at the last minute.

Somehow, every year we end up having a great Christmas. Some years we’ve even been able to take a trip before the kids go back to school from winter break. Still, as a mother, I have a nagging anxiety through the month of December that we may not get it all done.

This year, while we were putting out our Christmas decorations, Chad and I sat down to talk about what the kids have told us they wanted for Christmas. Their requests weren’t too outrageous. Ruby asked for an Easy Bake Oven, which BTW seems to be making a big come back this year, while the boys have certain clothes and games they want. Our discussion was around getting each of them some nice clothes and shoes this year instead of a bunch of toys; then maybe one super fun thing to play with Christmas morning. We talked about budget and made it a matter of prayer.

The next day, after Chad and I had our conversation, I got a text from the mother of one of Ruby’s best friends in the neighborhood. Ruby spends so much time with this friend that they’ve tried to convince the other girls in the neighborhood they are actually sisters. Anyway, BFF’s mom had been cleaning out closets and found three boxes of brand new shoes in Ruby’s size. She texted me pictures of the “fancy” shoes and asked, “Do you want these for Ruby for Christmas? They are brand new, never been worn! You can just wrap them up and put them under the tree!”

I was so moved. We have accepted a lot of hand-me-downs over the years, but this was special. God knew the conversation Chad and I had, He knew the delicate balancing act we are trying to pull off and was already en route to provide. 

Is your heart bigger than your budget this year? Is worry blinding you to the wonder of this season? Instead of wishing on the magic of Christmas, trust in the Lord.
1 Peter 5:7 instructs, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”

Someday, when our kids are grown, we’ll tell them about all the miraculous ways God provided for their great life. Right now we will teach them to be thankful to the Lord, for He is good. And His perfect Love is the greatest gift we will ever receive.