From my front row seat

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.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Loving the Little Bitty Parents

One of our mothers had to be discharged recently from our program.  She had blatantly broken some of our rules, wasn't putting forth the effort she should, and made this decision unavoidable for us.  It is always hard to see a woman leave when we feel she is capable of so much more, but when she takes her precious children with her, it becomes even more painful.  In fact, this may be the toughest part of our job.

Right before they left, the oldest child, a spunky little girl, came into my office to give me a hug.  I hugged her back, once again choking back the tears, knowing I would probably never see her again.  Before she walked out the door, I quickly said, "I'm proud of you!"  And I've not gotten the next moment out of my head since.

This young, brave girl immediately straightened her back, held her head high, looked straight ahead and said, "I am proud of myself!"  Then she walked out the door.

I realized in that moment that she had already begun shifting back into the role of the parent.  She knew her mother had messed up, she realized their lives were returning to chaos, and she was already positioning herself to take care of her siblings as she did before coming to Blue Monarch.

There is a subtle melody that plays every day at Blue Monarch and even though the notes never end, it goes relatively unnoticed. I think of it as our own "Rhapsody in Blue".  Sometimes the music is peaceful or playful.  Other times it's loud and almost a little dark.  But it's the ebb and flow and fluid interaction between treble and bass that remind me so much of what happens with our mothers and children as they fight to find their proper places as parent and child.

Things are often very disjointed and dysfunctional when our families show up at the door.  The mother may have never had a healthy childhood and she's hanging onto the hope she will still get one somehow.  Therefore, she's acting like a child even though she has several children of her own.

Then, the older child shows up as the parent.  He has taken care of his siblings for a long time, has worked to keep his mother in line best he can, and he is accustomed to solving grownup problems way beyond his years.  Our children often arrive overly concerned about things no child should worry about - like shelter and food.  They sometimes hoard food because they have learned this as a way to survive.

We have a young girl right now who gets off the school bus and comes straight to my office with her list of things to discuss.  It's amusing, but also a little sad.  That list usually consists of things she should never worry about - a leak in the tub upstairs...the backpack she wants me to remind her mother about...her concern over her mother's struggles to quit smoking.  

So we have a problem.  The mother is the child and the child is the parent.  However, the mother has chosen to come to Blue Monarch because she desperately wants to become the parent, a healthy mother.  This dramatic switch in roles is extremely difficult for both of them.  

This is where the "Rhapsody in Blue" becomes loud, choppy, and quite angry.  As a piano player I've always been uncomfortable when one hand crosses over into the territory of the other.  It never feels right, like the world is upside down.  That's exactly what I picture when the mother is crossing over into the child's territory, and the child is crossing over into the parent's.  When they suddenly cross back and forth with no warning, it gets even more volatile.

So how do they each get to where they belong?  This takes lots of time and patience.  The child resents the mother for suddenly taking over and deciding to be the parent.  How dare her!  He is afraid to give up that power because he's been disappointed in the past and doesn't trust her.  Maybe he tries to give it a shot - and then it's too scary so he takes it back.  That's when the music gets deafening and the whole orchestra joins in.

We have a wonderful Pen Pal program for our children.  People from all over the country sign up to write to our children.  (We currently have a waiting list, by the way.)  The kids love getting surprise letters in the mail, and no doubt the writers on the other end are greatly blessed in the process.

I was reading a letter one of our young boys wrote recently.  He must have been asked what sports he liked because the first line read, "I really don't like sports.  After all, what do they do to solve problems in the world?"

It hit me that this boy had experienced too many grownup things in his short little life to find any meaning in something like sports.  He had recently been reprimanded in Sunday School for being disruptive, but I could see how sitting around singing Jesus songs probably seemed pointless to him - my word, his father had just gone to prison.

So is there any good news in this behind-the-scenes melody that plays day and night here?  After all, we don't have just one song playing - we have multiple songs playing at the same time.  Well, yes, there is hope.  And there is good news.  

Let's take the little girl who left.  That looks like a pretty hopeless story - but she was able to stop the madness for the months they were here and enjoy just being a kid - perhaps for the very first time in her life!  She danced with other children in a dance contest, she played with the goats and chickens, and she got a glimpse of what her home can look like one day when she's a mother, herself.  Through counseling she had the chance to express her feelings as never before.  She saw the differences in her own mother when she was applying herself, and even told us, "My mother is nicer to me here." She will not forget those memories of safety and security.  She knows, now, what that looks like.

Through the years several people have pulled me aside and confessed that it's hard for them to care about a mother who doesn't treat her child right.  But this is one thing I think they need to consider.  That mother is just that precious child grown up. The difference is, her own mother may not have had a place like Blue Monarch to teach her how to break that cycle.

We see amazing things happen as that "Rhapsody in Blue" becomes more peaceful and the right and left hands learn to stay where they belong.  But let me tell you the most valuable thing the mother and child learn while they are here.

Even though they both may have longed for a parent to care for them, they discover they actually had one all along - their Heavenly Father!  It's when each of them realize this - and I mean, they truly believe and feel it in their hearts - that they begin to heal as a family and settle into their proper places as mother and child.  We get to see the music when that happens...and it's a beautiful, beautiful sight.

Thank you, Lord, for being such a good, good Father, even when we don't realize you're there.  Thank you for your powerful healing that brings such beautiful music.  Amen

I invite you to listen to Leonard Bernstein play "Rhapsody in Blue" by George Gershwin.  It's such a great illustration of the intense and powerful process as our mothers and children find their places in that delicate relationship.  
Click here:  Rhapsody in Blue 

UPDATE: I'm happy to report, since I wrote this post a few weeks ago, the little girl I mentioned above no longer brings a list of things to discuss after school each day.  Instead, I see her riding bikes, climbing trees, and playing with Play-doh, just like a little girl should.  Thank you, Lord!  

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Swinging Swords for a Reason

Do you remember when the Wii games first came out?  My daughter was crazy about them and wanted me to play one where you swing an imaginary sword and fight off enemies who are coming from every direction to knock you off the top of a mountain.  Well, I really hate to lose, so I began swinging the sword with quite a vengeance.  Bam!  Knocked the first one off and cheered, and then continued feverishly fighting...and swinging...until I had fought off every last one of them.  Each fighter was more aggressive and devious than the last, and I got more and more determined with every attacker.  This actually took quite some time before I was declared a winner.

When it was over, I was breathless and sweaty, and suddenly a little embarrassed that I had gotten so ridiculously out of control over a silly game like that.  I looked at my daughter who had an expression of "that was disturbing to watch", and quite frankly, I was a little disturbed by it, myself.  Did I have unresolved anger issues?

This past week I feel like I have been on top of that mountain swinging a sword fighting one thing after another.  We have been through a very trying stretch that has been hitting us from every angle.  We couldn't solve one problem before another popped up.  And they were all critical.  

Here are a few examples, and I'm leaving out bee stings and flat tires.  We had a number of horrible maintenance issues that suddenly showed up out of nowhere.  We lost our local honey supplier who suddenly went out of business, leaving us to replace him with no notice and lots of granola orders to fill.  A distributor for a large grocery store chain actually lost over two hundred cases of our granola (which is still unresolved).  We watched two families walk out the door after we had gotten attached to the children, which broke our hearts.  And then, just when we thought things couldn't get worse, one of our dearest Blue Monarch family members was diagnosed with cancer.  That was the straw that broke this camel's back and that's when the tears started falling. 

I had just received this heartbreaking news when my husband and I were leaving for a wedding.  But this was no ordinary wedding.  It was for one of our very first residents, Chrystal, who has always been very special to me.  I've seen her through the best of times.  And I have seen her in the absolute worst of times.  Through lots of hard work, she had finally straightened up her life, had regained custody of three children, she had developed a strong spiritual life, and was marrying a good man.  So I left for her wedding with a heavy, weary heart, but wouldn't miss Chrystal's wedding for anything in the world.  I was so proud of her. 

Chrystal typically calls me on Mother's Day and when I arrived at the church she presented me with a Mother's corsage, which was such a sweet surprise.   

It was a lovely wedding and a beautiful ending to a terrible week.  However, it was the thirteen year old young man who gave Chrystal away that got the best of me.  And there's no way to understand why unless you know the full story.  Watch the short video below from an earlier blog post and you'll see why this evening was so special... 

Thank you, Lord, for such a powerful reminder of why we do what we do - even on the days we are weary from swinging swords. 

For this earlier blog post click here:  My Favorite Blue Monarch Christmas Story 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

"Please help me find her!"

Business was unbelievably slow at the pharmacy where I worked after school.  Someone occasionally wandered in for a Coke flavored Icee and then there was also the woman who came in every week for nasal spray.  She was notable because she had no nose (although I never knew why), and she insisted on peeling back the Band-Aid to squirt nasal spray into her exposed nasal cavities before leaving the store.  I wasn't sure if she was truly that desperate for it, or if she simply enjoyed shocking the people around her.  If that was her plan, mission accomplished.

I felt so badly for the pharmacist because at the end of the day the sales only totaled $30 or so.  Surprisingly, he was never upset about it.  What a great attitude.

The middle aged pharmacist had loads of friends.  They loved to gather in the back room and watch ballgames on the weekends.  They whooped and hollered and slapped each other on the back.  At least he was having fun.

It was an easy job, which included taking lots of puzzling phone messages that were usually strings of unexplainable letters and numbers - no doubt, prescriptions that only a doctor would understand.

Shortly after I left this job the pharmacist showed up on the evening news.  He was arrested for running a large sports gambling operation.  So that's why his friends enjoyed ballgames so much.  And those messages were bets - not prescriptions.  Imagine.  This entire operation was taking place right under my nose and I had no idea.  I was young and quite naive, but how often does something like this happen right in front of us and we don't notice, or we don't care to see it?

Sometimes I feel like I can almost mark the very day God opened my eyes.  Once I said, "Yes" to God's call for my life, it seemed like the world immediately became more vivid and brilliant.  The way I describe it is like going from sepia tones to technicolor.  Do you remember the sepia toned crayons in the box?  Raw umber...burnt sienna...basically monochromatic tones of dull brown.  That's how I would describe life outside God's will.  It may be in color, but it's dull.

Once God opened my eyes in a different way to the world around me, I began to see everything more vividly - good things and bad.  Miracles around me became more brilliant, full of amazing color.  My heart felt more deeply in all directions.  However, the ugliness of the world became more vivid as well.

For instance, the unruly child in the store no longer looked like an annoying pest to me.  He suddenly looked like a little boy who might be living in fear, probably unable to pay attention in school because he had so many grownup problems to worry about - basic food, shelter, and especially safety.

The messy car in the Wal-Mart parking lot no longer looked like it just needed a good cleaning.  It was actually a temporary home for a family that's struggling. 

The woman staring blankly out the passenger window was probably not bored.  Her gaze was a sign of hopelessness.

The man walking on the side of the road wearing clothes from the wrong season was not a hiker, but most likely a man who had just been released from jail and had no one who could, or would, pick him up.

This brings me to something I saw in vivid color a year ago that unexpectedly turned into brilliant technicolor just the other day.

One Saturday morning last summer, I took a left out of my driveway.  I rarely go that direction on the weekends, but this day I was looking for flowers for my porch and had seen some in town the day before.  When I reached a wide stretch of highway where there are no houses, I found a woman on the side of the road.  She was a pretty woman but showed signs of a rough life.

Right away I noticed she was walking with a sense of desperation so I slowed down to see if she needed help.  Before I could reach her, an SUV came rushing from behind, swerved off the road in front of me, and skidded to a sudden stop right in front of this woman.  She and the driver immediately began arguing.  What's about to happen here?

I parked my car behind him and should have gotten the license number but I was so concerned about this woman, I didn't think about it.  He madly waved for me to pass him, but I stayed put.  Then much to my surprise, the woman got in the car with him.

The driver made an angry U-turn and took off slinging gravel.  As I searched for a better place to turn around, I looked in my rearview mirror just in time to see the passenger door fly open and the woman dangle halfway out of the moving vehicle.  The car swayed wildly down the road, and right before I lost sight of them, I saw the woman swing back inside.

I turned around as quickly as I could and went searching for the car.  In those few seconds, though, I lost them.  I drove several miles down the road and was relieved to find someone from the sheriff's department checking out an abandoned car.  "I'm so glad I found you.  I need your help!"

After I explained what had just happened he very calmly said, "Well, how do you know this isn't just the first time they've had an argument?"

"Are you kidding me?  What difference does that make!"  The man finally agreed to call it in, and I waited as he very patronizingly did so.  But he was not willing to look for her.  I drove off and called the sheriff's department, myself.  They assured me they would "send someone to check it out."  Sure you will.

After this I could hardly go about flower shopping, so I drove all the way into the next town to try again.  I walked into the police station and begged them to help me even though I knew this didn't happen in their district.  I said, "Surely someone knows who this guy is because today can't be the first time he's done something like this.  There's a woman getting the crap beat out of her right now and we've got to do something!"

When I described the guy and the SUV, the officer said he thought he might know who that was, and assured me he would call the neighboring law enforcement and get someone to check it out.  I believed him, at least more than I believed the last two guys, so I left feeling I had done all I could, but was still not satisfied.

For the next few days I traveled down all kinds of side country roads looking for this vehicle and worried about the pretty woman who disappeared with it.  I told our staff about the incident and we prayed for her.  For the next year I thought of this desperate woman from time to time when I passed that same place in the road, and even followed a similar vehicle for several miles one day until I realized it was a different driver.  I never forgot her.

So last week we had a special Family Day at Blue Monarch.  One of our newest residents had no family visiting that day so I sat down on the sofa to get to know her.  She began telling me how her former boyfriend had just gotten his domestic violence charges moved to attempted murder because of how severely she was beaten.  She described how he planned to throw her off a bluff, but he threw her out of a moving car instead, which beat her up something dreadful.  In fact, her vision and hearing were impaired because she suffered such severe damage to one side of her head.

"Wait...did the two of you ever go outside of town toward where I live?"

"Yes, he would take me out to remote places like that to fight."

I then asked her if he drove a vehicle like the one I had seen that day.  "Yeah."

"What color is it?"  And yes, it was the same color.  This was the woman I saw!  I finally found her - on the sofa at Blue Monarch.

I was so excited and began anxiously telling her my side of the story that day.  I described how hard I tried to find her and get help.  It turns out, after my visit to the police station that day, she said someone called to warn him that a police report had been filed on him.  Sadly, though, he didn't stop beating her.  He simply looked for places no one would see her.  Months later he threw her from a moving vehicle, nearly killing her.  So I didn't really help her at all - at least not in the way I tried.  However, God was helping her in a different way.

After we pieced together my story and hers, she became tearful and said, "You wouldn't believe how hard I prayed for God to let someone see what was going on and intervene.  And - you did.  Someone did!"

In that powerful moment, this broken, wounded woman realized God was paying attention to her prayers all along and had heard her desperate cry.  As this sunk in, a big, beautiful smile grew across her face, and she glowed with tears in her eyes.  A visible peace came over her, as if she had softly landed in God's arms and was finally safe.

As we shared a tearful hug, I realized that God didn't just open my eyes so I would notice this woman on the side of the road.  He also wanted me to see the brilliant, magnificent color when she met Him face to face.  

Open my eyes that I may see
Glimpses of truth Thou has for me...
Hymn by Clara H. Scott, published 1895 

UPDATE:  This woman has continued to heal, grow, and thrive at Blue Monarch.  Here she proudly displays her photograph from around the time I saw her on the side of the road.  Just look at her now!  Thank you, Lord, for such tremendous healing!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

It's not always love at first sight

It started out so lovely.  There we were, eating lunch side by side.  The sweet toddler in the high chair next to me was eating chicken noodle soup while I enjoyed my leftover kale soup.  Swimming lessons had just ended and we were at the Blue Monarch kitchen table as moms and kids, and staff members, scurried around preparing their lunches.  The room was filled with lots of laughter and chatter.  That's one of the things I love about bringing my lunch.  It gives me a chance to visit with the amazing women and children we serve and get to know them better.  It was another special Blue Monarch moment.

Then - all of a sudden I heard a loud splashing sound with great force and velocity.  The adorable little girl next to me was calmly spooning noodles into her mouth, all the while peeing a river through her swimsuit, right onto the floor.  She must have a bladder the size of a watermelon because there was a virtual lake beneath her.

I guess this is a great example of the environment in which we work because I paused to say, "Bon Appetit", to no one in particular, informed her mother that we had guests coming any minute and it would be nice if the massive mess on the floor was gone, then kept eating my soup as if nothing had happened.  (It's not always a Hallmark moment at Blue Monarch with hosts of angels singing in the background.)

When I was a young teenager I made frequent visits to the doctor's office for a nagging stomach problem.  In looking back I think I was simply anxious about being a teenager.  But I grew very tired of the routine, which always began with a pesky urine sample.

One morning before my mother and I left for yet another doctor's appointment, I happened to look in the refrigerator and discover a Tupperware container filled with leftover pineapple juice - the real syrupy kind from a can of pineapple rings.  Hey!  That looks familiar.  So I decided to play a little joke.  This was going to be great.

I hid the container in my purse and could hardly wait to implement my brilliant plan.  Sure enough, as soon as my name was called, the nurse handed me the usual cup and nodded toward the bathroom.  Just in case someone was listening, I turned on the faucet and let it run while I carefully poured the pineapple juice into the cup and flushed the excess down the toilet.  I marched out the door and placed the cup on my file as I had been instructed, then took my seat to watch what would happen next, which I had not considered until that moment.

I could hardly contain myself.  This was absolutely hilarious and without a doubt, one of the best tricks I had ever played.  It was hard to keep a straight face while I watched the nurse run her test on my fake urine specimen.  She quickly ran another one.  Then another one.  Her face gradually turned white as a sheet and she became increasingly frantic.

Suddenly she jumped up, grabbed the two doctors in the hallway, and rushed them back to see the results.  They looked just as alarmed as she did.  Occasionally they glanced over their shoulders at my innocent mother in the waiting room, then turned their backs and whispered among themselves.

Eventually the nurse looked over at me, and I suppose I must have looked pretty guilty because she yelled, "WHAT IS THIS?!"

Immediately I realized my joke was not funny to anyone but me.  I confessed it was pineapple juice and I suppose the sugar level was sky high and no one was laughing.  Especially my mother.

Both doctors stomped off in total disgust.  The nurse just stood there shaking her head as the color in her face swung all the way back to beet red.  No doubt they probably grumbled to themselves, "We come to work every single day only trying to help people - and then she comes in here expecting us to fix her problem when she's not willing to do her part!"

Does that sound familiar?

We do random drug testing at Blue Monarch.  Actually, we test for a variety of things:  drugs, alcohol, and even nicotine.  (We are a non-smoking facility.)  Occasionally we have someone who tries to fool us and finds ways to fake a test.  Instant coffee, her child's urine stored in a medicine bottle, you name it and someone has tried it.

This always aggravates me.  A woman comes to us for help, we are committed to helping her change her life, and then she does something like this that only cheats herself.  Aren't we all on the same team here?  Team Help Her?

Well, actually we may not be.  At least not yet.  Many of our women arrive here very broken.  Some have developed pretty sharp survival skills that may show up as deceit, manipulation, and even ugly entitlement.  Often they don't trust us - and they are suspicious of anyone who wants to help.  "Why are you doing this for me?", which usually means, "What's in it for you?"

These are thick, heavy walls to tear down.  It takes lots of time, great patience, loads of prayer, pretty intensive work - and especially the tremendous grace and mercy of God, to reach that sweet place of redemption.  But in the meantime there are some days when I honestly want to grab a woman by the shoulders and say, "What were you thinking?  Don't you see we are only trying to help you?  Do we care more about your recovery than you do?!"

That's when I have to take a deep breath and ask God to please show me what He sees in her.  "Please, Lord, help me see her through your eyes because I'm having a hard time loving her today."  And each time I get the same response.

"She is my daughter.  And I love her."

Well, this does the trick every time.  In that moment I am humbly reminded that she and I are actually sisters.  We are both children of God, and He loves each of us the very same - even on the days she hands us pineapple juice.

Thank you, Lord, for the raw and beautiful reality of recovery that you so graciously allow us to witness day after day.  Help us to feel your presence, even on the days that are hard.  Thank you for the gentle reminders that we are always to love others as you love us, and that when we do, the results can be amazing!  Amen.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Leave the Buckets Alone!

It was years before I knew the real story.  Just down the road from my farm, an older man sat in a junky car on his front lawn - every single day, year round.  In the winter he looked miserable all huddled up with his collar pulled around his ears.  In the summer he seemed pretty content, swung around with his feet on the ground and elbows resting on his knees.  Doing absolutely nothing.

Neighbors sometimes brought him corn to shuck or beans to snap - I figured it bothered them just as much as it did me, to see him wasting so much time day after day.  I was brought up with that saying, "Idle hands are the devil's workshop," which made his front yard look like a breeding ground for trouble.  That is, if he weren't so darn lazy.

A neighbor finally told me this man's story.  Turned out, his wife had banished him to the front yard years ago because of something he did to make her mad.  He wasn't allowed back inside until it got dark.  And come daylight, back outside he went.  Not sure why nighttime made a difference, but her forgiveness was clearly conditional.  That woman was sticking by her grudge!

Forgiveness is something we focus on a lot at Blue Monarch.  There are often extreme, intense issues surrounding forgiveness.  Things that are so grievous it's hard to imagine how anyone ever gets past them.  I believe that's one of the reasons Mother's Day and Father's Day are so difficult around here.

I can't help but remember the time I found a woman standing in front of rows and rows of Mother's Day cards at our local drug store.  She was crying.  I assumed she had probably just lost her mother.  But after reading one card after another and stuffing each back into its slot, she finally slammed one down and said, "Not one of these describes my mother!  All of these are for the mother I wish I had!"

Sadly, mothers and fathers have caused some of our residents' greatest pain.  Certainly not always, but often.  Perhaps the mother sold her daughter to support her own drug habit - or turned her back when her boyfriend repeatedly molested her daughter.

There are also numerous heartbreaking stories from women who were hideously victimized by their own fathers.  These are unthinkable offenses, that for most of us seem unforgivable.  It's no wonder drugs become an easy way to numb the terrible pain.

The women at Blue Monarch are some of the most amazing women I have ever known.  I often hold them up as a standard by which to measure myself.  This difficult issue of forgiveness is one of the reasons why.

I have seen the women of Blue Monarch reach into the depths of their souls with weeping, grieving hearts, and supernatural determination - and then miraculously overcome the bitterness and anger they so rightfully earned.  It's a beautiful and powerful process.

But their forgiveness is not conditional.  They don't hold a grudge until the sun goes down and pick it up again in the morning.  They totally and wholly let go.  They completely hand it to God and ask Him to take it from them.  And He does!

Isn't that where the true issue lies?  I think we often convince ourselves we have forgiven yet feel it's our right to hold onto the hurtful memory.  But when does that memory turn into a grudge?

When my daughter was about ten years old, she and I went on one of our usual horseback trail rides one summer.  I had just gotten a new goose neck trailer and we were barrelling down the interstate having a big ole' time, probably listening to some Restless Heart or Forester Sisters, when I happened to notice something crazy going on in my rear view mirror.

As if a tornado had hit the bed of the pickup truck, our heavy, black rubber feed buckets began tumbling in the air behind the cab, and every so often one would suddenly shoot out onto the interstate like a rocket.  Pretty soon every single one of them were gone and I could see cars swerving behind us to miss them.  Yikes.  This could cause an accident.

I quickly pulled onto the shoulder and parked.  I knew I didn't want to leave the truck running so I told my daughter to stand under some trees in the shade until I came back.  It was blazing hot and I knew I couldn't leave the horses in that metal trailer for long, but someone had to get the buckets off the road - and we were going to need them.

As I ran down the interstate to retrieve the buckets, I was a little surprised to see how far back they were.  Thankfully, off in the distance I could see a car pulling over from time to time to pick up the buckets for me.  Or at least that's what I thought.

When the car pulled over to one of the buckets near me, I ran to thank them, but they started to drive off.  What?  Of course, I foolishly ran to the car demanding an explanation, and surprisingly, they stopped.  I couldn't help but notice it was a nice looking family in their Sunday best as if they had just left church.  What's this?  A family that steals together?

They insisted they didn't have my buckets even though I knew they did.  "So then, what's that in the back floor board?"  I could see two of my buckets under the legs of the young girl in the back seat.  She was wearing a flowered sundress and looked quite innocent, but a little nervous.  She timidly handed them to me through the window.  

At that moment the father pulled the car back into traffic and there went the rest of my buckets.  I was furious!  I began stomping back completely disgusted, (probably mumbling some pretty ugly things to myself) and then a few seconds later, way off in the distance I saw that same car pull over in front of my truck.

Oh no!  My daughter is standing there under the trees completely unprotected!

I immediately dropped the buckets and started running as fast as I could, (not sure I've ever run that fast), but as soon as I reached the truck, completely out of breath, the little church family quickly took off.

What was I thinking?

I had left the most precious thing in the whole wide world standing there under the trees while I ran farther and farther away from her over some stupid buckets.  I risked losing the one thing that brought me the most joy in life for something that was completely worthless.

How many times do we focus on all the wrong things?  Things that have hurt us, things we just can't forgive, while we could be focusing instead on the joy that Jesus Christ so passionately wants us to have?

We sometimes think we have forgiven someone when we really haven't.  That painful memory we just can't stop thinking about, is often disguised as forgiveness, while in reality it's an ugly, bitter grudge.  It looks like a nice church family, but it's really a car full of thieves.  Thieves that want to rob us of our joy.

God wants us to forgive as He has forgiven us.  It's even included in the Lord's Prayer that we learned as kids.  But there is a secret side effect to forgiveness that I've learned from the women of Blue Monarch.

When they forgive the ones who have hurt them - and I mean, truly forgive them where they no longer hang onto the memories or carry a grudge, they actually become prettier.  Yes, it's true.  Prettier.  I bet you could ask anyone who works at Blue Monarch and they would agree with me.  It's something very tangible that changes on their faces and in the way they carry themselves.  It even spills over into the way they laugh, the clothes they wear, the way they spend their time, their relationships with their children, and how they see their future.  It is truly remarkable - and it is only through the tremendous strength God gives them that they are able to forgive to that magnitude and gain such beautiful freedom.

It's at this point they begin basking in the glow of the pure joy that was patiently waiting for them the whole time.  In fact, the glow on their faces becomes so intense, it actually reflects onto the faces of their children.  

And you know what that means?

It means those precious children will have fewer buckets of their own one day.   And they will learn to leave them in the road... right where they belong.

You turned my wailing into dancing;  you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.  O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.  Psalm 30:11