It's been a while between posts and I'm rededicating myself to weekly blogs (again). Sometimes I just feel a little overwhelmed by life – ever feel that way? Between the weather this winter, the continuing polarization of our country, or the horrendous crimes that occur right in our backyard, it can all just get to be too much.

This is the second post in a mini-series looking at ways that we can make a difference in our communities. Specifically in the lives of the children in our communities. I am woefully ill equipped to address this. I'm researching as we go and I pray for your grace and assistance. The foster care system and child advocacy is not an area in which I am well versed. And that is the point of the series, to familiarize myself with the avenues available to get engaged and make a difference, and to share those findings with you.

Last time I posted was about respite care and you can find that post here. The genesis of that post was the tragedy that occurred here in Springfield when a young girl was kidnapped and murdered. Incidents like this leave us feeling so helpless and angry. I wanted to find a way to channel that energy into something that would make a difference. Two of the members of The Chapel are foster parents, and a close friend has spent the last year working diligently with neglected children in Georgia, they inspired the last post talking about respite care – and really, this series. As a reminder, respite care is a way of giving foster families a break and also connecting with a child that is currently in a foster care environment. While foster families can have babysitter's in their home for temporary breaks, respite care allows you to bring a foster child into your home for up to 72 hours, giving the foster families time to re-focus. Respite care is an important way that you can support foster families to avoid burn out, while also impacting the life of a child in foster care.

Tonight I want to highlight CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA Volunteers are ordinary people who have gone through about 30 hours of training and are appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of abused and neglected children in court. Based on the information available on the CASA Website advocates are typically assigned one to two cases at a time. Each case would require approximately 10 hours or research prior to the court date and the 10-15 hours per month until the case is closed. The special advocate does not replace the attorney or the social worker's in a case, but are specifically appointed to represent the children's best interest.

I would love to have a guest post from someone who is an active advocate today. Please send me a note via the contact me link on the blog or messag me via facebook if you are interested in helping us out, or know someone who is. I'm looking to either have someone write a post for us, or I can do an interview and write the post from that.

Fair warning – I'm going to be asking for a lot of help in this series. This is so important and I'm amazed by how little I know about how an ordinary citizen can work to protect a child. But – I have an awesome net of friends who do amazing things for our kids and I'm counting on you to help educate the rest of us.

So calling all social workers, CASA volunteers, foster parents, adoptive parents, and anyone else who wants to highlight how we can help our hurting kids – help me get the word out!

And finally – I would encourage everyone to check out this blog post about foster care. I know I've thought, and still do, “I just don't think I have it in me to do this. I just don't think I could handle it.” This is a gentle post that confronts that thinking. Take a few minutes, it's worth it.

As a christian I can be disheartened by the lack of unity in the body – but this is something we can all do together. This is a place where we can stand as directed by Jesus and take care of the least. This is my heartfelt hope and prayer. Thanks for walking with me.

Here is the information for the Greene county CASA program:

CASA of Southwest MO

Director: Pat Reiser

1111 S. Glenstone Ave. Ste. 2-100 Springfield, MO 65804

(417) 864-6202 x 252

(417) 864-6280 (fax)

preiser@casaswmo.org (email)

www.casaswmo.org

In honor of my own littles.
I wish all were loved as these two are.

 

I was traveling away from my family yesterday when I heard the news about the abduction in Springfield. I, along with so many others, kept refreshing my facebook page and checking news sources to see if anyone had located her. Just before going to sleep I saw that they had arrested a suspect…but they had not found the cherished little girl. I went to bed with a heavy heart but still hoping for a miracle. When I woke this morning, the first thing on my mind was Hailey. I said a prayer and reached for my phone, hoping beyond hope to see a happy ending. But there was no happy ending to this unfolding drama.

I've thought all day about her family, the witnesses, the police, the schools, and the hundreds of people directly touched by this event. I've prayed for all those 'what if' scenarious to be silenced. I've prayed for peace and comfort. This is unimaginable. It's a blessedly rare thing, a stranger abduction. But statistics are cold comfort in the light of fresh grief and tangible fear.

These tragedies leave us all feeling so helpless. They invoke our fear, our anger, but also our desire to reach out to help. I take some comfort in the fact that when one person commits such atrocious evil, thousands more respond with such amazing and profound love.

But despite that comfort, if I am honest, I am mostly overcome by anger and fear. It is in situations such as these that we can become overwhelmed by our more base desires, and crippled by our fears. I needed to find some way to channel all of this emotion and energy away from the cause of revenge, and into the cause of restoration.

So I reached out tonight to a couple of my friends that work with abused children. I knew that they would be processing this situation differently than those of us who are not used to confronting evil so directly. There is a heroic segment of our population who confront horrific stories on a daily basis. They step into the chaos and work tirelessly to restore order for children. One child at a time, day after day. So I asked them – what can we do? What is a tangible, concrete way that I and other's who are struggling with this tragedy, can make a difference in the life of a child? They had several suggestions but I'll focus on just one of their suggestions this evening – respite care for foster families.

Respite care is designed to provide relief from the stresses of the constant responsibilities that foster families face. Maybe you are not able to be a full time foster family but you have a heart to help kids. Respite care allows you to connect with children in a more temporary setting and not only provide them with healthy relationships, but also give some relief to those amazing families who are fostering full time. You do have to be licensed which means you have to submit an application and go through the different background checks. That process is described in full (for Missouri) here. What a fantastic way to support children and families! Do take note though, the process to get licensed takes some time and you need to be tenacious in the process, but what a wonderful way to channel all of our need and desire to help!

If you feel like respite care is also more than you are able to provide right now, you can reach out to the various organizations that support foster kids. I'll provide a link to several of them below. They are always on the lookout for new and used items, and monetary support is always needed as well.

Family Matters Resourse Center: Strengthening families, children, and youth touched by foster care or adoption through training, support, community collaboration and advocacy. This is a local organization providing support for our great foster and adoptive families.

AdoptUsKids.org is a great resource for both adopting and fostering families.

GreatCircle.org is the new site for Boys & Girls Town of Missouri – another great organization that helps our at risk kids.

The impact that we could have, as a community, to positively impact the lives of children cannot be under estimated. I will find a way to connect with the foster and adoption community in Springfield and I will do this in honor of that young life taken so tragically. I hope you will, too.

 

There are just some parenting moments that shine such a bright and clear light on a subject. These moments can illiminate from an angle that is fresh and revealing. We had just such a moment this week.

After dinner one night Grace began telling us what she had learned about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in school this week. She told us that he tried to “help black and white people be together.” And she also explained that “black people couldn't drink out of water fountains and they couldn't go to the park.” She was very incredulous about all this – like “Can you believe that?” Then she explained that some people hated him for trying to get people together and they shot him and he died. So I asked her what she thought of all that, just curious to understand how she would process such a grown up story.

She crinkled her brow and said, “Do you mean what did they teach me?” And I explained that I really wanted to know what she was thinking when she found out that black kids used to not be allowed in the parks. She said that she thought that was “really bad.” She went on to say that we are all the same on the inside and that everyone should be able to go to the park!

By this time we had been talking for a while. She was explaining such a grown up concept and doing a good job of processing it for a five year old. I am amazed at how capable they are to take in the harshness of the world without being overwhelmed. And then she asked me something that just stopped me in my tracks. She said, “So mommy, what is it that makes a black person black? Is it black hair?”

I asked her then, “Honey, are you asking me what we mean when we say black people? Are you saying you don't know?” To which she replied, “Well, it's black hair, right?”

All my baby knew is that there was some random characteristic that we picked out and her first thought was hair? Maybe?

I talked to her about some of our friends that are black, friends she has known her entire life. We talked about how there are so many shades of skin, and black can mean a whole lot of shades, just like white can mean different shades. She went on from there to inquire about green people, and I knew the teachable moment had passed and she was moving on.

But I couldn't move on. “Is it black hair? It's black hair, right?”

And all I could think is, “It could have been.”

Because it could have been, right? Prejudice shows up in so many random and vicious ways, but it always boils down to some arbitrary characteristic that we just decide is the difference.

And when I look at my beautiful, innocent five year old explaining evil to me, but then fall short of understanding something none of us truly understands…I weep.

Honey, I pray you grow up in a world that continues to try to move away from intolerance, prejudice, and hate. I pray that you always look at this part of our past in disbelief. I pray that you vow to be better than we are. Because this dream of Dr. King is not realized. It is progressed and it is progressing, but it is not realized. I pray that your generation takes majestic steps forward, where we have crept. I pray you all have breakthroughs that alter the course of history, where ours have only shifted it, sometimes forward.

I pray that you can talk openly with your black friends about the past in healthy ways that move you both forward. I pray that we raise you to acknowledge you are afforded a pervasive and systematic privilege that is still today, denied to many – and I pray that you help expose and spread that privilege. I pray that you are forgiven when you fall short and that you extend forgiveness when others fall short. Because that will happen – such a subject as race in our country, it is rife with hurt.

I pray that your generation can find forgiveness for all that is left to be done. Forgive us all of our failings and false attempts. I pray that you can find the path to run forward together and realize all that Dr. King dreamed of, all of it. Resolve our racial differences and then carry his torch to impact poverty in our country. This is what I pray.

Mostly though – I pray you never reach a point of understanding when it comes to evil. Evil understood is evil consumed. May you always, always be baffled by it.

May your innocence grow into compassion, empathy, and kindness.

 

Identity. That's my word for 2014. It might have been my word for 2013 but I didn't pick a word for 2013. In any case, I think God's been working on me and my identity for the last year, and from all signs in the past two weeks, He is going to keep at it 'til I get it.

First off, one would think that a 41 year old woman would know her identity by now (not to mention her age, but I almost got out a calculator to make sure I wasn't 42 yet which is what I typed to begin with… I digress). I would expect me to know this about myself, but what I've really done for 42 years, is wonder what other people thought my identity was and then try to figure out if I agreed with them.

It will come as a surprise to some and as absolutely no surprise to others, that I spent my younger years with a pretty wild identity. I thought identity had something to do with power and control, which had something to do with sex and relationships. Although raised in the church, I had no relationship with Jesus and therefore neglected to look for identity in the one place that would have offered me hope. A lot of what I associated Jesus with was judgement, gossip, more judgement, and pot luck dinners – but not hope and not identity.

One day I'll write more about the events that led me to finally recognize Jesus in my life, but suffice it to say that I took a very difficult path. A path that could have destroyed me. As a matter of fact, it did, for a while.

But eventually I figured out how to make better choices and I found that Jesus could be very real to me. And I started to figure out who Jesus was, His identity. And knowing that helped. But as I've been being taught over the last year, I still didn't really know who I was.

This morning my daily reading was Matthew 4:1-11 – this is where Jesus was 'led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.' I've read this many times, and I have heard many sermons about these verses. But today was the first day God spoke to me through it. Isn't that so amazing, how a passage that you think you know suddenly reveals something totally new? So today, as I was reading about Jesus being tempted with food after forty days of fasting, and then mocked, and then offered the entire world – I thought, “Boy, He really knew who He was.”

I mean, listen, I got really cranky over the holidays from eating junk food and having too much to do in too little time. But He had not eaten for forty days, had been alone for forty days, and was facing a future that was incomprehensible. My point here is that I was really very not nice and gave in to every food temptation put before me, without hesitation or second thought. And never once did I really think about who I really was. I was just a task master, worker, mom, wife, wrapper, doer. I totally forgot who I really was from the stress of the holidays, of all things.

But Jesus never forgot. Ever. For one second. He never forgot who He was. The reason Jesus was able to stand strong against temptations that any human would have naturally given in to was because, despite his weariness, his hunger, his physical pain, and his treacherous future – He knew who He was. And who, pray tell, can stand up against that?

So this morning, I thought about that for a while and then this came to me, “What could you do if you just understood who you are, in every moment, without ever forgetting it.”

And who am I? I am enough. I am enough. I am enough. I am a fully accepted daughter of the most High God. I really am. Grace has done everything for me, there is nothing left for me to do. I've nothing to prove. I am fully accepted.

And when I rest in that identity I'm different. I'm patient, happy, loving, tender, unassuming, and accepting. I can stand up against the temptation to prove my worth through doing because my worth does not need to be proven. I remember that other people's opinon are their responsibilty, not mine. I remember that every single person, even the ones I disagree with, they are enough, too. I let go of the need to be right and remember the unquenchable need to love.

When I remember who I am I write with a flow that is unstoppable because I'm writing from a place of peace. You see, this blog started because God said he would redeem all my pain if I would write. I don't know how that's going to happen and I am reconciling myself to the idea that I may never know. I may write the rest of my life and never know why or whether it helped anyone in any signficant way, but when I remember who I am, I write. Because it doesn't matter what the results are, it is the obedience that matters. I truly believe that this writing is my redemption – I just have no remote idea what that means.

And that is why, if I'm going to pick a word, my word is Identity.

I'm working on memorizing three verses that I picked out a week ago – and as I looked over them this afternoon I was a little suprised to find that each one of them is a reminder that if I remember who I am and who God is, then I can let go of my need to defend and protect, and instead just focus on love.

Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.

John 16:33 These things I have spoken unto you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you will have trials; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.

Psalm 46:10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.

Here's to 2014: Letting go of fear. Releasing the need to be right. Embracing differences. Standing for what I believe to be true, but always resting in the grace of my loving Dad. Trusting in my heart and in the promises given to me. And always, finding new ways to love people because when I remember who I am, when I remember my identity, love is the only possible response.

 

I simply had no idea. I just didn't fully understand and appreciate a child's openness to wonder. I didn't get it. Now I do.

All week we've been telling the kids that we had a surprise for them this Sunday night. We gave them hints, but they just couldn't figure out what it could possibly be. So, as you can imagine, this afternoon after we got home from the church they were totally wired up with the anticipation of it all and could not wait. Greg and I were sitting by the Christmas tree reading and they were running around playing. We had all been right by the Christmas tree the entire time. There was nothing under our tree.

And then there was.

A wrapped present suddenly appeared under our tree! The kids found it and brought it to me and on the tag was a message: “Special Delivery from the North Pole. To: Elijah and Grace. Please take this wrapped package with you to your surprise tonight.” We talked about who could have possibly brought it and how they could have done it with us all sitting right there. The kids finally decided that it must have been there the whole time and we just didn't see it. So, Santa must have came to our house while we were at church. But just after deciding that must be it, Grace said under her breath, “But I really didn't see anything under there…” We all just shrugged our shoulders and decided maybe we would find out at the surprise.

About an hour later we packed up the mystery present and got in the car to go to the surprise. We drove into town, all the while fielding guesses about where we might be going. We parked the car, bundled up with our coats and scarves, and walked to the square in downtown Springfield.


Now they thought they knew – we were coming to see the giant Christmas tree!


After taking a few pictures we told them that they still hadn't quite figured out what the surprise was and we began walking over to the corner of the square. About that time they noticed the giant white carriage with the beautiful black horses, and riding in the carriage was…SANTA! Now they knew!

Once we were all settled in the carriage, we pulled out the present and told Santa that we didn't know what it was, but it had appeared under our tree this afternoon and the note said to bring it with us. Then we asked him if he had any ideas. Well, he did. He said that he had snuck in when no one was looking and left it, then he asked if they would like to open it. Of course, they said yes! Just like Grace had been asking for, it was an Elf on the Shelf! Santa then explained how every night the elf would be coming to see him and telling him if they had been naughty or nice that day, so to be sure and be nice! It was perfect!

Elijah appears to be thinking of ways to circumvent the elf, here…

After the carriage ride we went to eat and we read the story of our elf. Grace filled us in on some of the crazy things her friends' elves had been doing, grinning ear to ear the entire time. Then came the process of picking out a name: Pinkie, Gerald, Cha Cha, TreePack(?), but finally they settled on Sunny. Soon, we were back in the car and on our way home.

Before we were halfway home, they were both sound asleep.


When we got home, Greg and I unloaded the car, including the elf, and then brought the kids in. Grace woke up enough for me to show her Sunny sitting up on our mantle all ready for his nightly trip. I wasn't exactly prepared for the reaction.


When Grace saw Sunny sitting on the mantle, she woke up completely and exclaimed, “How did he get up there?!? So, when you opened the box, he wasn't there? And you found him here?!?!?”

To which I, wide-eyed, stammered my reply of, “YES….uh, yes, that is exactly what happened, Grace. I went to open the box and couldn't find him, but then I looked over at the mantle and there he was!” Well, she could hardly contain herself! Soon enough she had Elijah up to come see that their silly elf had already started doing the crazy things she was talking about earlier.

Finally things settled down and everyone got tucked into bed, still buzzing a bit with excitement, but ready to sleep. I went in to wash my face and also get ready to settle for the evening. But then, all of a sudden Grace comes running into the room, “MOM, Sunny, he MOVED!” Then giggling, she ran back to the living room, “Come see, Mom! Daddy, come see! ELIJAH!!!”

And THAT is when I realized their capacity for wonder and their ability to believe. Because this is what had happened that had absolutely solidified Sonny's realness as a magical elf. He had went from the position you saw earlier to….THIS!

And I looked from that elf, to my children, and back to that elf in total awe and wonder as well. Grace and Elijah thought I was just as amazed as they were by the elf's antics. At first I really thought they were kidding. I mean, the elf tipped over. Surely they knew that the elf had just tipped over…

But no, they did not. Then I saw what they saw, just for a moment. I saw that silly elf playing jokes with them already! Laying down – in the same silly position that he had been sitting earlier. “Mommy, see? He is LAYING DOWN NOW!!” And I let it wash all of my sadness away for a moment. I just basked in their purity, their faith, their wonder, their capacity for magical thinking. Their whimsy, their delight, and their joy. It's amazing.

It was a gift. A reminder that the world IS a magical place and there is beauty to be found in the most mundane circumstances. They helped me to laugh, with pure delight, at their joy.

And for that I thank our little elf. He may be keeping track of how well behaved the kids are, but he will also be reminding me to set aside my concerns and just believe in the wonder of it all…

 

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