From my front row seat

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Seatbelt is fastened. Bring it on!

One of the most common questions we get is, "What is a typical day at Blue Monarch?"  This always makes me laugh because there really is no such thing as a "typical day".  Honestly, it's like I crawl out of bed, after saying a prayer of course, and from that point on I just hope I remembered to fasten my seatbelt.  It's going to be a fast and crazy ride that will probably take me places I never imagined.

I often regret that our supporters don't get to experience what we get to see on a daily basis.  So I decided to take you along with me on just one day last week.  Don't forget to fasten your seatbelt, though, because you may get what I call "Blue Monarch whiplash".  You never know if you're going to see the greatest miracle you've ever seen.  Or if you're going to get your heart broken into a million pieces.  And both could happen on the same day.

First of all, as I pull into the gravel driveway at Blue Monarch, I am immediately greeted by a nasty, dead armadillo.  Smack dab in the middle of the driveway.  I can see from the tire marks in the grass that no one knows what to do about it.  Sam, our wonderful dog, is looking a little suspect so I suppose he is responsible for this.  Nice.  A quick problem to solve on my way in...

"Can someone please move the bikes away from the door?  And there's a goat crying.  Would someone please go check on it?"

As soon as I get the lamps turned on in my office, I get a call from a very special Blue Monarch friend.  He offers to purchase a car for Marie so she can get to work.  Marie is currently in our WINGS Program for graduates and for many weeks we have been getting her to and from work through a complicated science project made up of staff members and dedicated volunteers.  Yay!  Marie will have a car now!  She is going to be so excited.  

The car has to be picked up today so I think we should run get the car after Kate and I meet a donor for lunch.  In fact, we should drive it to the place Marie works and surprise her with it.  Yes, let's do it.  What fun.

Kate and I have lunch scheduled with an enthusiastic, faithful donor and friend, so we gather some things she needs us to bring.  She is on a mission to introduce some of her friends to Blue Monarch, so we want to send her well equipped with lots of information.  I love this woman's passion for Blue Monarch and I'm looking forward to seeing her.  She had a birthday recently so everyone signs a card for us to take.  I catch up on some emails and discuss some resident issues with the program staff before heading out the door.

While Kate and I enjoy rich conversation with this woman, who is one of the most fascinating women I've ever met, I glance down at my phone and notice I have a lengthy text from one of our graduates.  It appears frantic, so I excuse myself and go to the restroom to read it.  She is completely distraught because a fourteen-year-old boy has been sexually abusing her seven-year-old daughter.  No!  He has been charged with rape of a child but the judge basically gives him a slap on the wrist.  This is outrageous.

This mother is in a rage, as I can only imagine.  My mind immediately goes back to the day this precious little girl was born.  I held her in my arms in her most innocent, purist moment, totally unaware that seven years later her innocence would be stolen from her in such a vile way.  

I text the mother back to let her know we will do whatever we can to help her.  A little stunned, I continue to quietly process this terrible news as I return to the table and eat my barbeque as if nothing's happened.  My heart is broken and I am incredibly angry.  I need to make some calls as soon as possible.

After we say our goodbyes, Kate and I leave to pick up Marie's new car and take it to where she works.  We explain to the receptionist why we need to see Marie and she immediately becomes teary eyed.  She says, "I pray for Blue Monarch every day."  The supervisor gets Marie for us and as I lead her to the car, Marie's co-workers follow her.  Before I know it, we have a parking lot full of people crying and hugging Marie.

Marie says, "I can't believe this!  Just yesterday my supervisor said she had a word for me from God, that if I needed something, I should ask for it.  So I prayed last night that God would somehow provide a car for me!"  She laughed through the tears, "But that's not all.  I told God I really wanted a Honda because it gets such good mileage!"  And of course, the car just happens to be a Honda Accord.

It is so sweet to see Marie's co-workers lift her up and share in her excitement.  She's in good hands here.  Thank you, Lord.

I'm anxious to see Xeven's reaction, Marie's son.  Their relationship has improved so much in their time at Blue Monarch, it's hard to believe they are the same family.  When Xeven sees the car he immediately begins making fist pumps in the air.  "Yes!  Yes!"  You can tell he is so proud of his mama.  Man, I'm glad I didn't miss seeing that.

Then I learn that the Department of Children's Services has decided to allow Jessica to get her two boys back TODAY.  Wow!  We didn't expect it to happen that quickly, so we scramble to get bunk beds moved into her room right away.

Time seems to crawl by.  They are delayed because sadly, a child in DCS custody has run away from home and they must find him before bringing Jessica's boys.  We say a quick prayer for that child.  

While we wait, I check on the distraught mom to see if the court provided for her daughter to get counseling.  There are many unanswered questions and hard to understand answers.  Part of this mother's agony is because she also experienced the same thing at a young age so there are many painful layers to this trauma.  My heart hurts for all of them.  I'm angry, sad, and even a little sick to my stomach over it.  Please Lord, heal this little girl.

Meanwhile, Jessica waits, and waits, and waits at the window for her boys to arrive.  How many times have I seen this sight - a mother waiting at this same window for the first sight of her children?  I realize whenever I've seen this, there are always other mothers surrounding her who understand the pain, the fear, and the agonizing anticipation.

Jessica has not seen her boys in 18 months so I'm certain she has fears they will not remember her or even like her.  I should tell her that in fifteen years of this, not once have I seen a child who didn't immediately cling to his mother, even when there were years of separation.  That always seems like such a miracle to me.

Finally!  Here comes the car and Jessica rushes out the door.  The other moms want to run out there with her but I encourage them to give her some space.  So instead, they crowd at the railing and watch from the porch with tears in their eyes.

Immediately both boys jump out of the car and hug their mom.  I can see that Jessica is trying very hard not to cry in front of them, but tears of joy still cover her face.

I have seen this amazing scene over and over - in fact, over 250 children have been reunited with their mothers through our program.  But never have I grown tired of this powerful moment.  It still reaches in and grabs my heart like it did the very first time.  

Okay, it's 6:30 and I should get home now.  Thank you, Lord, for another "typical day at Blue Monarch".  I wouldn't have missed it for the world - and I can't wait to see what you have up your sleeve for tomorrow.  Bring it on!    

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  Philippians 4:6


Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Endangered Unicorn Daddy

Dear Daddy on the Phone,

I believe I owe you an apology.  Despite the fact you call nearly every single afternoon to talk to your son, you have somehow slipped completely under my radar.  You'd think I would have noticed you before now because you are actually quite rare - in fact, you belong to a group that is virtually extinct.

Many years ago I went on an exciting photographic safari in Kenya.  Right away we were told to look for a particular rhinoceros because it was extremely rare.  The only one in the area lived alone, which I found quite sad, and it was very old, so sightings of this amazing creature were scarce and perhaps soon to be impossible.

However, one day, way off in the distance I spotted the famed rhinoceros.  Our driver carefully crept closer so we could get a photograph.  Apparently the powerful animal was quite shy.

Once we got a little closer, we could see the massive horn and weathered hide.  It was quite a sight to see.  I remember thinking, "This is like finding a unicorn!"

We often refer to something rare and exceptional as a unicorn - so I hope you are not offended, but I now think of you as a "Unicorn Daddy".  You see, one day recently when you were talking to your little boy on the phone, I stopped what I was doing and tried to remember how many times I had seen this sight - a child talking to his father on the phone.  Something seemed out of place.

I began to reflect back over the hundreds of children we had served over the past fifteen years.  Had I seen this before?  I thought...and thought...and thought.  Truth is, I could only remember four fathers who had taken a positive and consistent role in their children's lives.  Four.

I think we get used to assuming all dads are in jail or perhaps they are just a dim memory of the mothers'.  How many times have I heard, "His father just went to jail for a long time," as the explanation when a child is acting out?  We have seen that behavior so many times I think we just assume, "Oh, of course, that explains everything."  Again.

Many times our boys show up desperately trying to be the father to the younger siblings.  He may have assumed that role as soon as he noticed there was no father in the home.  But that must surely be confusing.  How do you become a father if you don't know what that looks like?

That's where we come in.  We have a very robust Children's Program, full of adventure, education, and individualized care.  We provide on-site counseling.  We place mentors with our boys so they can learn how to respect women, how to treat others - how to put a worm on a hook.  But is that enough?

Well, we may not be totally replacing the dad.  But I do believe we are making good future fathers.

The boys we serve are growing up in an entirely different environment than their fathers probably did.  They are surrounded by people who love and respect them, who provide a healthy, structured routine, and by people who lift them up.  They are able to observe their mothers, as they become healthier parents.  And most importantly, they learn about their Heavenly Father, who loves them and will never leave them, no matter what.

Our kids, who lived with us as toddlers, are now visiting us as teenagers.  And you know what they have to say?  "We want our children to live like we did at Blue Monarch, and we want our grandchildren to live like that, too."  Those are some good mommies and daddies in the making.

So, Unicorn Daddy, the next time I hear your voice on the phone, I will take the time to thank you because there are lots of children who are not getting that phone call, and sadly they never will. I guess I'm just now figuring out what your little boy has known all along - you are one rare and special dad.  And if I had been paying attention, I would have seen that in your child's face the whole time.

Sincerely,
Susan  

Lord, please bless our little boys, that they will get the firm foundation they need to become good and healthy fathers to their own children one day.  And thank you for the daddies who are there for their children, even through the struggles of their own.  Amen

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."

WHAT?!

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