From my front row seat

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Don't they know about birth control?"

"Why do they have so many babies?  Don't they know about birth control?"

I'm occasionally asked these awkward questions so I recently put together a survey to settle this once and for all.  I polled the women we had living with us at the time.  Nothing was surprising.  It was a collection of obvious responses:
  • "I was so young I didn't know anything about birth control."
  • "I was raped."
  • "I was using drugs and didn't think about it." 
And a very common one:
  • "I wanted someone to love me."
The mothers we serve are often judged because of the poor choices they made that affected their children.  And of course, there's always the inevitable observation about all the good people out there who desperately want children but cannot conceive, and yet this mother who has made all sorts of mistakes is allowed to have baby after baby.  Yes, it's the elephant in the room.  And it's a big one.

But this is the comment that occasionally rears its ugly head, feels like a punch in the stomach, and brings out the Mama Bear in me.  "They should not be allowed to have any more children!  They should be sterilized."


The problem is, it's impossible for me to have an unbiased opinion about this issue because I know, personally, hundreds of precious children who would not be with us today if that were a solution.  They have names.  They run into my office and say some of the funniest things I have ever heard.  They smile, they laugh, and they cling to their mothers as if she is all that matters in the world.  Their lives have value.  And quite frankly, it is not up to us to decide who can have children and who cannot.

Besides, at what point would one cross over into forbidden motherhood?  Who would make that decision?  What about the fathers - would they also be sterilized?

Truth is, I have known plenty of mothers who were just as destructive to their children, but because they weren't drug addicts and their dysfunction or abuse was behind a much nicer door, no one questioned whether they should be allowed to have more.

At the end of the day, it's really hard to understand some of these questions and only God can answer them for us.

What I do know, however, is that the broken families CAN be healed.  I've seen it happen many times!  That's why we consider every day around here to be Mother's Day - not just one Sunday in May.  

We have seen that it is possible for a mother to become more nurturing to her children.  The mess really can be cleaned up and the family can be made whole.  There's a name for it.  It's called redemption - and it's a beautiful gift from our Heavenly Father.

Let me show you what it looks like.  Just take a peek at one family's amazing example...

So does anyone have the right to say this little girl shouldn't have been born?  I do know the answer to that question...and I believe one day Aria will tell me I am right. 

Lord, thank you for the beautiful sanctity of life that you reveal to us every single day.  Thank you for showing us over and over that through you, we can forever change the life of a child by changing the life of a mother.  Amen   

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The High Price of Thinking You're Batman

What do John Glenn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Batman have in common?  When I was a kid, I wanted to be all three of them.  John Glenn was my hero so naturally I wanted to be an astronaut one day, until that dream was shattered by my obvious challenges in math.  (Many years later I had the great privilege of meeting John Glenn at his home and that remains one of my greatest thrills.  I will never forget all his magazine covers hanging in dime store frames down the hallway as if they were ordinary family photos.)

Then there was Elizabeth Taylor.  For whatever reason, as a child I was absolutely fascinated with her multiple husbands - and I confess, I chipped away at that goal through the years until I decided to stop at three.  That's plenty.

But it was Batman who probably influenced me the most when I finally got my driver's permit, the minute I turned fifteen years old.  A few days later, while my parents were gone, I decided to try out the car.  My family lived in a quiet subdivision on a dead end street, which looked like a perfect spot to practice some of the Batmobile maneuvers I had seen on TV.

I grabbed my little brother and put him in the car with me.  Not sure if I wanted an accomplice, or if I was stretching the "extra driver" requirement, but he was going with me.  I pulled the harmless looking baby blue Volkswagen sedan onto the street and decided to see how fast I could go between our driveway and the cul-de-sac.

Stomping on the gas pedal, we peeled down the street and when we reached the end, I stomped on the brake pedal, yanked the steering wheel to the left, and let the car spin until we did a complete 360.  It was awesome.  Naturally I wanted to do it again and again.  My brother tried to bail at one point but I grabbed him by the collar and jerked him back inside the car.  By golly, we were in this together.  (His version is a little more dramatic.)

After a few trips up and down the street, spinning around and spewing gravel everywhere, it was on one of those trips back that I accidentally over shot the driveway.  The car violently bounced off the culvert and landed in the yard.  Needless to say, we left behind skid marks and tire tracks that were impossible to repair before my parents got home - so it wasn't a secret for long.  

This April 15th marks our 15th birthday at Blue Monarch, and I remember that day in 2003 like it was yesterday.  The closing on our beautiful property was a month before, but on April 15th, a day most people dread, I was able to finally get the key and open the door for the first time.

I will never forget that moment.  I turned the key in the lock and walked into the main house.  The previous owners had sold it completely furnished because they were moving out of the country so it already looked amazing.  Everything was spotless - but it was supernaturally quiet.  Not a sound. 

As I walked into the kitchen, I suddenly got an overwhelming, panicky feeling of "Oh, my word, what have I done?!"  The magnitude of this enormous undertaking hit me like a load of bricks.  I even got a little dizzy from the endless "what ifs" going through my head.

Then immediately God reminded me, "This is MY plan, not yours."  He showed me what the empty kitchen would look like one day when it was filled with women and children, lots of laughter, and completely full of life.  Whew!  That's a relief.  It was way too scary to think of as my plan.   

I glanced over to the sofa where I had met with the owners for the first time.  I remembered telling them how God had meticulously described Blue Monarch to me in a dream years before, and how I wanted to use the home for women and children to heal together and start a new life.  I felt they also had a right to know I was not a qualified buyer, and furthermore, I had absolutely no idea how I would find a million dollars for their three houses and fifty acres.  

When I finished my story, convinced the owners would feel they had cut the grass for no reason, the woman looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "We always knew God asked us to build this place for someone else to use one day - and we always felt it would be for women who were hurting.  So we're just glad you finally showed up."  It was in this powerful moment that I realized this thing had a life of its own and I was simply along for the ride.  (To this day I can't tell that story without getting the same chills I had that day.)

Miraculously, God sent an amazing couple who helped me purchase the property, even though to them, I was nothing more than a stranger with an ambitious plan on paper.  Then by 2014, with the help of many generous donors, we were able to pay off this debt.  Yay!

But what an amazing ride it's been.  I have seen lots of babies born who most likely would have died if their mothers had not come to Blue Monarch.  I have seen women find complete freedom from hideous traumas and harmful addictions.  I have seen over 250 children reunited with their mothers when they were inches away from never seeing each other again.  The miracles have been so remarkable I sometimes feel like each day brings more blessings than any one person should expect in a lifetime.

As we have approached this 15-year milestone, I have also given a lot of thought to things I wish I had done better, things I wish I had done sooner, or things I hope I never do again.  I realize, even as a teenage organization, we still have a lot to learn.

This is the funny thing, though.  As I have recalled the absolute lowest points, and the times of adversity that brought me to my knees, they all lead to the same place.  Every single time, I placed myself in the driver's seat and tried to solve problems in my own power when I had only been given a learner's permit.  I never was given the authority to drive on my own. I should have trusted God more and I could have made things easier on myself and those around me.  I shouldn't have underestimated his power and abundant blessings because his plans are always grander than my own.  There should have been more prayers of, "Lord, please show me how to drive," instead of, "Lord, why did I just spin out?"  
God has been so good to us.  He has provided abundant blessings.  One of the special blessings I never overlook, though, is the daily reminder of his faithfulness.  Every evening as I walk through that kitchen that was once empty, but is now full of noisy women and children, I can't help but remember that powerful day fifteen years ago when God showed me that same, exact picture to illustrate that it was his plan and not mine.  Little did I know then, every one of those women and children would one day represent a breathtaking miracle.  But God must have smiled to himself in that moment, because he knew that all along.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."  
Jeremiah 29:11-13

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Easter Treasures From a Dark, Dark Place

The Easter bunny wasn't really a part of our Easter when I was growing up.  I suspect it was considered sacrilegious, or maybe it just wasn't my parents' thing.  But when my own daughter was old enough to understand, I decided to let her benefit from everything the Easter bunny had to offer.

As I put her to bed the night before the big day, I said, "Just think, Mary Susan.  While you are sleeping the Easter bunny will sneak into your room and leave you an Easter basket.  Yay!  Won't that be great?"

Right away Mary Susan sat straight up in bed and began screaming at the top of her lungs, "NO!  TELL HIM TO STAY AT THE MALL!"

Suddenly I imagined the enormous bunny we had seen earlier that day with the emotionless black eyes and three-foot ears.  I thought of that scary creature slowly creeping into her room, and she was right.  That was a terrifying thought.  What was I thinking?  I wouldn't want him coming into my room, either.

I tried to explain, in every way I could, who the Easter bunny was and why there was no need to be afraid, but I was completely stumped.  Why did we have an Easter bunny, anyway?  Then I really hit a brick wall when I tried to somehow connect the Easter bunny with a basket with eggs.  What's up with that?

Nothing I said calmed her down so I finally decided to throw in the towel and confess the big bad truth.  "Guess what, Mary Susan.  There really is no such thing as an Easter bunny.  The whole thing is a big, fat lie!"

There was a long, silent pause as Mary Susan carefully considered what I was telling her.  She thought for a minute and then screamed, "TELL HIM TO STAY AT THE MALL!"  That's the year the Easter bunny died at our house and never returned.

Sometimes I feel like Easter bunnies, baskets of eggs, and fancy dresses (with even gloves in my time) are just big distractions because we can't bear to think of what the Easter season really means.

I have finally realized that I dread the weeks leading up to Easter because I can't stand to hear the agonizing stories of Jesus' death on the cross.  I've never been able to watch movies that depict the ghastly details of Jesus' crucifixion because it's just too terrible to imagine - even though the resurrection story is so beautiful.

However, just because it made me uncomfortable was no reason to avoid it altogether - so this year I decided to read the various accounts of Jesus' crucifixion in the Bible, and maybe I'd find something new and very personal to make it less painful.  I did find something that totally surprised and blessed me.

Apparently I was so preoccupied with the ugliness of the cross, I never paid much attention to what Jesus actually said while he was hanging there.  This time, however, I found the four major cornerstones of our work at Blue Monarch - right there, tucked away in Jesus' own words.

Forgiveness:  Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."  Forgiveness is at the very heart of the great healing that takes place at Blue Monarch.  There is so much generational dysfunction and abuse, this statement is often very true.  Many times the ones who have hurt the women and children of Blue Monarch really did not know what they were doing at the time.  Their behavior was totally acceptable in their homes their whole lives.  But through counseling and lots of prayer, our courageous women are able to forgive the ones who caused them great pain, which then begins their own supernatural healing.

This powerful statement even applies to us in a different way.  Sometimes our women or children say mean things to our staff that hurt to our core.  We need to remind ourselves that they, too, may not know what they are doing and we must forgive in order to continue serving them in the best way possible.  Their unkind remarks are often out of pain and will not be so hurtful once they begin to heal. 

Faith:  When the thief on the cross next to Jesus said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom," Jesus responded, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."  The thief was not a righteous man.  He had lived a criminal life.  But look how quickly Jesus embraced him once this man simply expressed his faith in him.  I think that is why we see such huge emotion when the women we serve develop a personal relationship with Jesus.  They are completely overcome with God's forgiveness and grace.  This, in turn, gives them more than recovery.  It gives them true freedom.

Love:  Then, this is the one that really moves me.  When Jesus saw his mother standing there with the disciple, whom he loved, he said to her, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother."  The passage says from that time on, this disciple took Mary into his home.  Just as Jesus charged this faithful disciple with caring for his mother, whom he loved dearly, he charges us with caring for the women and children he sends to Blue Monarch, whom he also adores.

But there is more.  Because the disciple was so special to him, he wanted this man to be blessed by serving his mother.  He wanted both to benefit from their relationship together - just as we are blessed by God's children that we welcome into our Blue Monarch home.

Trust:  Finally, there is this valuable cornerstone.  After Jesus had completed his work on earth, had suffered on the cross to his final breath, he said, "It is finished."  At that point he left us with the Holy Spirit for guidance and discernment.  One of the hardest things we ever do is watch our women and children walk out the door after we have poured time, heart, and soul into them.  Even under the best of circumstances, it is still a frightening thought that they will once again be on their own to make decisions and choices.  However, we must always remind ourselves that we have done our best, we have planted the seeds, and at this point we must trust the Holy Spirit, who will continue to be with them - even when we cannot.

Who knew?  All these years I avoided one of the most beautiful stories of all time, when all along, there was a special letter waiting for me - hanging right there on the cross.  I am so grateful I finally uncovered my eyes and found it because something tells me, this is going to be the best Easter ever.

Thank you, Jesus, for showing me the beauty in the cross - that even in your darkest hour and greatest pain, you spoke truth that would become treasures we need today.  Amen

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Lessons From an Old Junkyard Dog

Throughout his lifetime my father in law broke his back, accidentally cut off a finger, and even lost an eye.  All separate incidents.  He was like an old junkyard dog - tough as nails and nothing could knock him down.  None of this, however, kept "Bink" from being a master woodworker right up until he died at the age of 90.

Clay and I were married for nearly twenty years before I really got to know his father.  We saw him on birthdays and major holidays with spur of the moment visits scattered in between.  He always had a dry sense of humor and made ugly, snarky remarks, which we usually found amusing.  Little did we know, he was not actually joking.

Our lives turned upside down the minute Clay's mom collapsed in the McDonald's parking lot from a severe, debilitating stroke.  Her recovery took many long, dreadful months before returning home.  But she was not our biggest problem.  It was her husband.

From that day on, Clay's dad became our daily problem to solve.  This began as soon as we got up and continued most days until well past our bedtime.  He was stubborn, uncooperative, ungrateful, disrespectful, belligerent...the list could go on and on.  He had a way of stirring up trouble from a completely blank slate.  In two years' time we went through thirty-four caregivers because none of them suited him, or else, they broke up with him first.  According to Bink, they weren't pretty enough, they were bad cooks, talked too loud, or ate too much.  Some of this may have been true, but it became impossible to please him.  Im-poss-i-ble.

Naturally, one might assume he had dementia, which would explain his ugly behavior.  However, I observed on numerous occasions that he showed a much more charming side to select visitors (especially those from his church) and saved his worst side for those of us closest to him. 

I watched day in and day out as my sweet husband struggled to take care of all his father's problems.  But nothing he ever did was good enough and it rarely resulted in a thank you.

After months and months of this madness, I built up quite a storehouse of anger and bitterness.  "He can control it, so why does he just get away with it?"  Out of respect for my husband, I tried to control my tongue - so "turn and walk away" was the only plan I had - and I left the room a lot.

As if things weren't bad enough already, my father in law developed excruciating pain in his neck, which only made him crankier.  He was miserable so Clay and I made an emergency appointment to see his doctor.

Even though the doctor and nurse stayed after hours to see him, Bink slowly waddled in while barking, "WHY DON'T YOU PEOPLE EVER ANSWER THE PHONE AROUND HERE?!"

I apologized for his behavior and said, "Isn't it ironic that a Pain in the Neck actually HAS a pain in the neck?"  They both looked at me like I was a monster.  If they only knew.

Bink's neck pain only got worse.  He went to a specialist, no luck.  He went to a pain clinic and they basically said he had bone on bone from many years of abuse and there would be no relief.  So he continued to add this to his long list of complaints, which was endless.

We made frequent two-hour trips to see Clay's parents on the weekends and on one particular drive, as we traveled down the interstate, I began hearing God speak to me, loud and clear.  "I want you to pray with your father in law."

"Awww, man.  Surely not.  Please, no."

I argued the whole way there.  "We don't have that kind of relationship.  Besides, I'm so angry with him, my prayer probably wouldn't even take!"

By the time we arrived at the house, I was sweating bullets because I felt so much pressure to pray with this man - even though I absolutely did not want to.

On this particular day, though, Bink was extremely upset because no one had been able to make my mother in law's cornbread recipe the way he liked it.  That poor little ragged index card was worn out from all the caregivers giving it their best shot.  But he was insistent that today, someone was going to finally get it right.

Clay looked at me and I could see what was coming down the pike.  "Please...?"

"You know this won't turn out well, right?"  My father in law had been complaining that everyone made the cornbread too sweet so he wanted me to cut way back on the sugar.  Knowing full well that I was entering into dangerous territory, I eventually rolled up my sleeves and began looking for what I needed to make the stupid cornbread.

Working in someone else's kitchen, trying to find everything I needed, this project took about two hours.  I used less sugar than the recipe called for and took a deep breath.

As soon as the cornbread cooled enough to eat, Clay proudly served his dad a warm slice with a glass of buttermilk, just the way he liked it.  I had flashes of someone cautiously feeding a wild animal at the zoo.  The caregiver sat on the edge of her seat and looked a little scared.  We froze in place as he slowly dunked the cornbread into the thick buttermilk and took a big bite.

Bink immediately spat it out and yelled, "THIS ISN'T WORTH EATING!  IT'S AWFUL!  YUK!"

Well, that was the drop that made my bucket of tolerance overflow.  I grabbed my things, stormed out of the house and waited in the car until we could leave.  I screamed at the top of my lungs and pounded my fists on the dashboard.  Then for the long drive home, I spewed out all my frustration about Clay's dad through lots of tears and choice words.  I was so, so done.

The next weekend, however, I found myself riding down the interstate yet again, heading right back into the danger zone.  Again I heard, "You need to pray with your father in law," as if nothing had happened.

"Are you kidding me?  Did you not see the way he acted last week?"

This visit was no different from the others, except that it held less drama than the infamous cornbread incident.  I continued to fight the nagging feeling I must pray with Clay's dad.  It felt unnatural on so many levels.  Maybe God would forget about it. 

Hours later, as we were going out the door to leave, aware that I had not done what God asked of me, I turned and looked at my father in law stretched out on the sofa groaning from the pain in his neck.  Suddenly he looked different to me as if a veil had been lifted.

I laid my things on the floor and pulled a stool next to him.  I leaned over and asked if he would mind if I prayed with him.  He refused to wear hearing aids and usually couldn't hear me.  But this time he heard me perfectly and said, "Yes, I'd like that."

At that point it was almost as if I became just an observer because the most beautiful words began spilling out of my mouth.  It was a powerful prayer about great healing for his neck, comfort as he slept, and peace for his soul.

For a brief moment I saw him in a totally different light.  I saw that he was a great provider for his family, he had passed on valuable skills and strong work ethics to his child, and he had managed to raise a son who was a wonderful, sweet man.

Honestly, I was a little uncomfortable with the intimate moment but when I opened my eyes, I was surprised to see tears rolling down his weathered face.  Bink placed his gnarled, four-fingered hand over my own hand and said, "Thank you, Hun."

Several days later I realized we had not heard any more complaining about the pain in his neck.  Could it be?  Honestly, it had never occurred to me that he would truly be healed of this pain, but he was.  We never heard about it again.

Amazing.  Even through my gritted teeth and bitter heart, God was able to perform supernatural healing for the pain - simply through my obedience

We may not have women showing up at Blue Monarch missing a finger or an eye, but they definitely have chunks of their hearts missing and show signs of great pain and trauma.  Just like my father in law, they are amazing survivors, yet this can sometimes result in some of the same ugly qualities he had.  They may have run off lots of people who were trying to help them.  We may sometimes want to pound our fists and scream out of frustration.  And they, too, may have been told there is no cure for their problem, that they will be an addict for life.

However, I have seen over and over and over, that despite our occasional lack of faith, or our gritted teeth, when we are obedient, God is still able to perform beautiful miracles.  He can soften hardened hearts, heal addictions, and restore families in amazing, supernatural ways.  He simply needs us to say, "Yes," and He will take it from there.

"You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you."  John 15:16

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Look what we found panning for gold!

Instead of playing with dolls, I had a huge crush on this guy, "The Rifleman", and preferred to pretend I was living in the Wild, Wild West as a cowgirl.  (I just now looked for my autographed photo of Chuck Connor and I'm a little relieved I didn't already know where it was.)  I was completely fascinated with horses for transportation, saloons that had bad girls living upstairs, and brawling fights that took place on Main Street for the whole world to see.

The Gold Rush, which was also intriguing, inspired me to pan for gold in a nearby creek, where I was convinced I would one day hit the jackpot.  I sifted endlessly through the mud and gravel, searching for precious nuggets of gold.

Blue Monarch often reminds me of this.  We see many women and it sometimes feels like we are panning for gold.  Not every woman we serve values the opportunities we offer as much as another.  I often tell them that Blue Monarch is a beautiful, valuable gift God has offered to them.  Some will look at it, and hand it right back because it's not the right color.  Others will keep it for a while and then decide they don't actually want the gift after all.  Truth is, they may not be ready to accept such a tremendous, life changing gift.  Then a few might even throw it on the floor and stomp on it, which is painful to watch.

But then there are the ones we love to see, who will take the precious gift in their hands, hold it to their chests and cherish it.  They will love it, nurture it, protect it, appreciate it, and want to share it with others.  (They are the ones for which doors will suddenly open in miraculous ways.)  Those are the nuggets of gold we love to find.

I'd like to introduce you to one of those nuggets of gold.  Her name is Linsey Vanover.

Linsey came to Blue Monarch in July of 2015.  She arrived with her baby boy who was only six months old.  Linsey had struggled with an addiction to painkillers.  Her doctor put her on an alternative drug during her pregnancy, and although he insisted it was safer for her unborn child, he was born addicted to that drug instead. 

Linsey had lost everything.  She had no job, no home, and her family had given up on her.  She held felony charges in two counties, pending charges in three, and there was a warrant for her arrest.  She was at rock bottom with a baby that was trying to get to know her again after a month long separation.

Even after a few weeks at Blue Monarch, Linsey was still living out of her suitcase because she wasn't sure she would stay.  She was very emotional even though her baby showed remarkably little emotion.

However, Linsey eventually began digging in and working the rich, amazing Blue Monarch program offered to her.  She worked very hard in her counseling sessions to discover what had caused her downward spiral in the first place.  Through spiritual growth she developed a beautiful relationship with God.  As Aidyn grew into a strong, healthy little man with loads of personality, she bonded with him as they recovered together through structure and lots of love.  She put her heart into her assignments, she did her chores without grumbling, she struggled through days that were painful, and she forged ahead with "white knuckle" strength and determination.  

But there was still one more step.  All residents must take my Work Ethics course before they graduate.  This is an intensive 9-week course that takes place after they have completed the other classes we offer.  It was designed from my own bad experiences employing this population through a previous business, and it addresses their specific challenges in the workplace.  

Early in the class I surprise them and have a business professional come to conduct mock interviews, which we videotape to critique later.  I intentionally do this when they are raw and unprepared so they can see all the areas that need improvement.

Despite the fact Linsey held good jobs in the past and had a college degree, her mock interview was terrible.  I will never forget her response when the interviewer asked the last question, "Why should I hire you?"  She said, with a sense of defeat, "Honestly, I don't know why you would."

After the interview she returned to my office to report on how she had done.  It was one of those moments permanently etched into my memory because she sat in the cushy peach chair by the door, and with tears streaming down her face she said, "No one will EVER want to hire me with all my felony charges."

I realized then that we had work to do.  As we must do with all our residents, we had to find a way to turn those experiences into strengths that would benefit her employer one day.  Those mistakes needed to empower her, not cripple her for life.

Linsey finished the class with a brighter outlook on her future and graduated with her head held high.  She immediately moved into our new WINGS community and continued taking advantage of all we had to offer through our transitional program.  Instead of hibernating in her cottage, she continued her counseling and she sought help for new parenting challenges.  She kept strengthening her spiritual life and faithfully leaned on God for guidance.  She invited us into her safety net.  Linsey was a perfect example of someone who made the most of her "golden" Blue Monarch opportunity.

We were proud that Linsey was immediately offered a job as a court advocate for a local women's domestic violence shelter.  Shortly after, she was given a promotion and more responsibility.  She excelled at her job and was thriving in her new life with her sweet little boy.  After nearly a year in our WINGS program, Linsey transitioned into a new place to live.  It was a bittersweet goodbye but she remained close to us and always stayed in touch.

Recently our position for Director of Family and Children Services opened up.  I immediately thought of Linsey.  Was it possible for her to do this important job?  I asked God this question over and over and the answer always came back the same.  "Yes!"  Our staff wholeheartedly and enthusiastically agreed and I had great peace about asking Linsey to join our amazing team.

So you can only imagine how it felt to look at Linsey sitting in that same peach chair a few weeks ago when I offered her a job here at Blue Monarch.  I don't know about you, but when I look at this picture, I see gold.  Even though it's only been a few days, I can see Linsey's glow reflected on the faces of the women and children we serve, and that's because she has already started panning for gold, too.     

So be truly glad.  There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.  These trials will show that your faith is genuine.  It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold - though your faith is far more precious than mere gold.  1 Peter 1:6-7
Lord, we pray that all the women we serve become nuggets of gold as we know they are already precious in your sight.  Amen 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Thing that Happens Behind that Door

Okay, I'm going to make myself look like an idiot in order to make a point.  So, here goes.

Years ago when I entered my freshman year in college, I joined a group and was immediately elected Treasurer.  Clearly there were no particular qualities required.  Perhaps everyone simply liked my outfit that day.

Regardless, here I was.  Treasurer.  Important job.  The outgoing treasurer met with me to discuss my responsibilities and hand over the books.  As she described how to keep track of our income and expenses, she said, "Be sure to list any outstanding checks here."  

After she finished she asked if I had any questions.  "Yes, just one.  At what point does a check become outstanding?"  I imagined there must be some kind of threshold a check could cross that would suddenly turn it into a remarkable amount.  Like, wow, that's one outstanding check

Truth is, one of my favorite activities each day is picking up our mail at the post office.  I like to lay my eyes on every single check we get because it helps me remember the kind person who sent it.  You see - EVERY check we get is outstanding!  I don't care if it's $5 or $50,000.  Every gift is valuable to us.

We have a unique situation in which our donors are literally scattered all across the country.  Many don't travel in the same circles.  They don't attend the same parties.  And they don't concern themselves with whether their friends see their names on a gold or platinum list.  What this means is that every supporter we have gives to us because he or she is passionate about our mission to break cycles of abuse and addiction and rebuild families through the love of Christ.

Having been involved with Blue Monarch since it took its first breath, it's sometimes overwhelming and quite moving to look at all the hundreds, actually thousands, of donor files and see just how many people lift us up and support our ministry.  We've been encouraged to go digital and I can hardly stand the thought that I may not be able to physically touch those drawers and drawers of donor files one day.  It's such a powerful reminder that we rely on so many kind people who make our work possible.

One day recently I was searching through my phone for a particular photograph.  As I scrolled through all my photos, I realized I was seeing a great representation of what happens at Blue Monarch on a daily basis - things I always wish our donors could see firsthand.

For instance, this note.  One of our mothers had a really difficult morning with her ten-year-old son the other day before school.  When he came home that afternoon she looked through his bag and was surprised to find this.  He had written this sweet little note, completely on his own.  This may not seem like very much.  But it's really huge.  

I can remember when this boy first came to Blue Monarch over a year ago.  He was extremely angry, repeatedly tried to run away, refused to obey his mother, was doing poorly in school, and was very aggressive.  But now, he and his mother have a very loving relationship, he's at the top of his class in reading, and is an absolute joy to be around.

Then I found this one.  A few weeks ago I saw this woman give a very moving account of her past and where she wants to be at the end of our program.  It was heartbreaking.  I was moved by her amazing courage to share her horrific story. 

But later on, I watched this same woman from my office as she excitedly showed the other women a beautiful sunset from our backyard.  (God seems to bless us constantly with gorgeous sunsets!)  I was so grateful that we have this peaceful farm for our women and children to heal in a safe place.

Then, a few weeks ago before we ate Thanksgiving dinner together, this little boy eagerly offered to say the blessing.  What a life this child has had over the past couple of years!  After a painful separation from his mother, through our program they were reunited and able to grow and recover together.  Not long ago, his older brother went away to prison for a very long time.  However, this boy has opportunities that will cause his path to look much different. 

While I love to find checks in the mail, there's something else in the box that is equally important.  Every day we receive stacks of applications with handwritten letters from desperate women trying to get into our program.  I can almost tell you what they say without even opening them.  We also receive calls all day long with the same heartbreaking stories.

The sad fact is that we have somewhere between 50 and 60 families on our waiting list at any given time.  We can currently house 16 families so we turn people away every day.  But they need our help just like the ones who are living with us right now.

There's a really powerful bond that takes place in our mailbox.  You see, the mailbox that holds a woman's desperate cry for help, is the same mailbox that holds the help she may receive one day.  The giver and the receiver may be bonded for life in this little mailbox and never even know it.

Someone's check paid for the gas it took for that little boy to finally be reunited with his mother.  Several other gifts provided the intense family counseling that allowed that mother and ten-year-old to build a healthier relationship.  Others have paid for our beautiful home where the woman above is able to enjoy a beautiful sunset in a safe place, free from severe abuse.

Every check we get is outstanding.  Every gift is valued.  And whether we realize it or not, every dollar has some hurting woman or child's name on it.  But they all start right here.  Together.

Lord, thank you for all the many people you have brought our way who help support our ministry in powerful ways.  We pray that we will someday have the resources to turn no families away.  And more than that, we pray that one day our services will no longer be needed.  Amen

If you would like to give to Blue Monarch, you may mail a check to:
Blue Monarch
PO Box 1207, Monteagle, TN  37356 
Or click here to give securely online:

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Complimentary Relapse is Over

Do you ever get so angry it makes you cry?  We are fighting a powerful, destructive gang and it's so big, the members of the gang don't even know each other or travel in the same circles.  Nevertheless, they belong to a deadly group that is responsible for death, heartache, and sadness that is destroying families everywhere.  We have been personally touched by this devastation, have felt its pain firsthand, and it makes me furious.

Let me introduce you to the members of this gang.  They include pharmaceutical companies, medical professionals, and drug dealers.  Together they have created the perfect storm, a deadly combination of greed, apathy, and pain.

We have been in operation for almost fifteen years now.  When we first got started, meth was the drug of choice, by far.  About the third year, however, painkillers rose to the top and they have stayed there ever since.  Through the years I have occasionally had a woman curl up in the floor of my office and literally cry because she craved painkillers so much.  Never have I seen this kind of behavior over any other drug.

We have served hundreds of women since 2003.  Thankfully, we had never lost even one due to drug overdose, until this year.  And now, despite the fact our program is stronger and more successful than ever, we have lost two former residents within only seven short months.

There are some significant things these two women have in common.  They both had plans for the future.  They both left behind hurting children who will miss them the rest of their lives.  And they both died from drugs laced with Fentanyl, a synthetic Opioid.   Something else they have in common?  Both their lives mattered - a lot.  

So why is there such a rash of people dying from this dreadful drug?  According to the first government account of nationwide drug deaths in 2016, it shows that Fentanyl deaths are up 540% in three years.  This is outrageous.

I feel like I've been walking around for months desperately trying to understand this national epidemic.  From a businessperson's perspective, it makes no sense to kill off your customers.  So why would a drug dealer sell something that could potentially hurt his sales?  I've spent a lot of time talking with our residents, whom I consider to be the experts on this topic, and this is what I've learned.  (I will share their solution later.)

Fentanyl is cheap.  So it's an easy way to deceitfully bulk up another drug to create a higher profit margin.  Truth is, compared to heroin, it only takes a few grains the size of salt to cause someone to die from an overdose of Fentanyl.  So why aren't the dealers being more careful?  Simple fact.  They don't care enough to be careful.  And it's about the money.

Isn't it interesting that a deadly drug like this is dirt cheap, but something like an Epipen for an allergic reaction is outrageously expensive?  Something is terribly out of balance here.  There are all kinds of stories of how some pharmaceutical companies are making harmful decisions based on profits alone, fully aware they are hurting families in the process.  But again, it's about the money.

Then, why are Opioids so prevalent and available?  You don't have to research very long to see that many medical professionals (certainly not all, of course) are eager to over prescribe painkillers.  Therefore, they are in medicine cabinets, purses, and pockets everywhere.   Perhaps the pharmaceutical industry has provided some kind of incentive - that's one theory.  Or maybe it's just easier than taking the time to explore other options.  Is it possible it's about the money or they just don't care?

We have had women show up at Blue Monarch with over thirty legal prescriptions.  How does this happen?  We get so frustrated because our residents will ask doctors to please not prescribe narcotics for them since they struggle with addiction, and yet they will leave with a prescription for narcotics anyway.  We have one woman who was prescribed medications by a doctor for seven years before she actually saw him face to face.  One of our mothers became addicted to Opioids following a surgery and even though her doctor insisted her painkillers would not harm her unborn child, he was tragically born addicted to painkillers, too. 

Truth is, I think relapse has often been considered a natural part of the recovery process.  We have occasionally had women leave our program and then contact us later to report they relapsed.  However, they are also proud to describe how they used the tools they gained at Blue Monarch to pick themselves back up this time, instead of spiraling out of control.

Let's face it - the days of the complimentary relapse are over.  What's out there now is so much more potent, so much more deadly, the same amount that used to feel good will now kill you.  Relapse is no longer an option.

The challenging journey of recovery often takes me back to a time when I was a child, struggling with my own challenge.  I hated the water, and in fact, after a week of swimming lessons, the instructors gave my parents their money back.  The last day was humiliating for them, I'm sure, because while all the other kids were diving off the board and swimming under water to the other side, all I could do was dip my head in the water without holding my nose, and barely dog paddle to keep myself alive.

Nevertheless, every time we went to the Olympic sized pool at a nearby state park, I was determined to jump off the high diving board.  I really don't know why I put myself through this self-inflicted torture, but I felt some kind of overwhelming obligation to conquer my fears and overcome the challenge.

Many times I got to the top of the ladder and then chickened out.  Even though the ladder was completely packed with people, I carefully backed down the ladder past every angry, grumbling swimmer, until I landed safely back on the ground.

This is so much like the struggle I see our women experience here.  They desperately want to conquer their addiction.  They want it so badly!  So they fearfully climb the ladder - and even back down a few times before they eventually make it to the edge of the high diving board.

The day I finally got the nerve to jump off the high diving board, I held my nose, shut my eyes, and then leapt into thin air.  It seemed like I fell forever, and since my eyes were shut, landing in the water came as a sudden shock.  I quickly struggled to rise to the surface for air and was horrified to discover someone had put a lid on the pool!  I couldn't get out!  I struck the lid over and over with my fist and went into a complete panic.  I knew for sure I would drown.  

Then it occurred to me to open my eyes.  When I did, I discovered the world was upside down. What I thought was the surface of the water was actually the floor of the pool.  In fact, there were my father's feet in front of me.

He reached down, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out of the water.  "What in the world were you doing down there?"

I believe this is exactly what happens sometimes with people who relapse.  They conquer their fear of sobriety (because there really is a fear of success and the unknown), they painfully climb that enormous ladder of recovery, finally make it to the edge of the diving board, then jump off into their new lives of hope and uncertainty.  But when their world gets turned upside down because of sadness, regret, discouragement, or simply feeling overwhelmed, they head downward for help and not up. 

The deadly gang we battle is so large and out of control, I'm not sure what we do to reel that monster back.  What we can do, though, is follow the advice of the amazing women we serve.  We can tell the ones we love, who are struggling with possible relapse, "Please open your eyes, look up, and grab the hand of your Heavenly Father who is reaching for you."  He does care.  And this is the crazy part - it's free.  

Thank you, Lord, for Blue Monarch - a place where women can learn the true solution to addiction and relapse.  Please protect every single woman who has ever crossed our threshold, that she will look to you before her child ever has to live without her.  Amen 

*When I polled the women at Blue Monarch, each one of them said the only solution was having a personal relationship with God and relying on Him for strength.  They saw no other way to overcome addiction and relapse.