Sweetwater Networks

Whoever believes in me . . ., rivers of living water will flow from within them.”  John 7:38 NIV

Today, with 20/20 hindsight, it is hard to imagine the traditional Passover in Jesus’ day and what it had become by the time of the very hour it was to be finally fulfilled in the actual death and sacrifice of the true Lamb.  The Hebrew Passover was instituted by God around 1300BCE when the Israelites were liberated from slavery in Egypt.  Everything about the celebration denotes types and shadows of the eventual sacrifice of Jesus Christ around 33AD.   It is written of that day and I quote from God’s Plan of Salvation written by author, Richard Rupe:  “Jesus the Lamb of God, was crucified on the day of Passover.  At 9 o’clock that morning as lambs were being prepared for sacrifice, Jesus was nailed to the cross. Then at 3 o’clock as the people are singing praises to God that echo throughout the hills of Jerusalem, the lambs are being slaughtered.  At the same moment, as the shouts of ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise ye the Lord’ ring out on the hill called Calvary, Jesus died.”

Today, as we wait for Christ’s return, it is important that we sort out what we have become spiritually.  Are we like the loyal Jews, preoccupied with the symbolic “slaughtering lambs and preparing the Passover meal” according to our beliefs and not realizing that our praise and preparations have become empty without any true personal depth or principle? And as we go through the motions of “church” are we aware that somewhere in our community by our sins of looking the other way, Christ is being crucified over and over again, never resurrecting, always in a state of dying?  It is interesting to note here that as part of the Passover tradition, the Hebrews were required to bring the lamb that was going to be slaughtered into their homes to live with them for three days before the actual day of the slaughter.  It appears that a feeling of personal loss was meant to be experienced when the lamb died at their hands, as it was no longer just another animal to be butchered from the flock.  

I observe this state of spiritual dying in our communities every day among the disenfranchised due to poverty, mental illness and drugs.  Sometimes when I am working with the inmates at the jail, I feel so helpless to bring them anything that will make a lasting change in the system of justice and for them personally.  One woman lifted my spirits one day by saying, “You are helping us, you give us encouragement.” 

Sometimes I forget how powerful the sweetwater is that flows from those who believe and seek Jesus among the suffering to offer its healing properties.  This living sweetwater that I have been writing about since July, 2013 is everything.  When Christ came, He didn’t destroy corrupt systems that exploit the vulnerable or make everyone rich and in perfect health, He blessed those who came to Him and sought Him out.  He gave them living sweetwater that they couldn’t find anywhere else.  And then, He made the ultimate sacrifice for us and gave His life that we might have that sweetwater forever. 

 “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”  Revelation 21:6 NIV

What is conditional is that the sweetwater must flow from a true believer to the seeker in order for it to have the powerful living properties it takes to heal and resurrect those who thirst after it.

This is how God intended for it to work.  That we would take on the image of Christ and that the living water that comes from Him would flow from each of us to benefit those who were seeking it.   This water flows from those who are loving, caring people who share their testimonies and are without thought of their discomfort or social status or concern for what others who protect and maintain the status quo might think of them.  They are the ones who follow Jesus into the places where only He would go to share the living sweetwater and lift others up and yes, be Him.

 “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”  Jer. 2:13 NIV

God continually had this problem with the Israelites.  The prophet Jeremiah uses a common image in that time of the cistern to help them realize the difference.  Today, we know about the catch pond that is not spring-fed.  Most farms in the Ozarks have one or two of them.  They are full to the brim in the rainy season and are dried up in the dry season with no ongoing living source of water to keep them replenished.

Right now, in the spring of 2016, we are in a very difficult time with the presidential election going on.  It appears that many are giving up on being and doing the right thing as Christ taught us to do.  Many are angry and no longer see the results of working together for the common good.  Many are rising up in anger and dropping civil proprieties. Many are thinking only about what they want and how they want it to be to serve themselves.  Divisive rhetoric and acts of hate are on the rise, visibly unchecked, stirring up the selfish side of our egos.  This climate of hate, prejudice and selfishness that is erupting in violence and division that we are hearing and seeing now on our TVs everyday, unfortunately always exists.  It isn’t just now occurring.  What we are seeing is the dark side of our dual nature. Everyone has a dual nature.  It is part of the sinful nature that is within each of us.  In the Native American tradition, there is a proverb that defines this duality as two wolves inside us and the one that lives is the one we feed.  As followers of Christ it is up to us to ask Jesus for help in controlling it for the sake of the common good and eventually rising above it as we spiritually transform.  It has no place in God’s Kingdom where everyone is equal with opportunities for every gift of talents that God has given to his creation.  Hate has no place in God’s kingdom, but again, if we hear leaders tell us it’s okay to hate and be prejudiced and take action accordingly, what else can we expect but to act that way. There are many important Scriptures that teach us about the side of our nature we are meant to transform through our belief in Jesus Christ. And there are many references that tell us that the wrong that is done in secret will be brought into the light for all to see.

Job 24:13,15,17 (NIV) “There are those who rebel against the light, who do not know its ways or stay in its paths… The eye of the adulterer watches for dusk; he thinks, ‘No eye will see me,’ and he keeps his face concealed… For all of them, deep darkness is their morning; they make friends with the terrors of darkness.”

 

 

Isa 29:15-16 (NIV) Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the Lord, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay!… Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing?”

Ps 139:7,11-12 (NIV) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me…” the night will shine like day….

Jer 23:24 (NIV) “Can anyone hide in the secret places so that I cannot see him?” declares the Lord. “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

Jer 16:17 (NIV) “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes.”

Mat 10:26-27 (NIV) “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops.”

Mark 4:22  “For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light.”

1 Cor 4:5 He will bring into the light of day all that at present is hidden in darkness, and he will expose the secret motives of men’s hearts.

We are in times now that are spoken of in the Scriptures as fulfillment of prophecy.  Jesus’ voice is still crying out “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink;” John 7:37, but his voice is being drowned out by other voices appealing to our sinful natures to hate and get what you want at the cost of others well-being.

In the midst of this toxic national climate that is gripping our attention and making us, like Peter, feel like we are sinking and lost as we become afraid of the crashing waves and storm all around us, there are many good things happening.  Jesus is still working among us to teach us to love one another and to become constantly more creative about ways to help each other.  In fact, this positive climate is growing in spite of what’s happening among the masses all over.  Love is so powerful.  I see it in action everyday.  It is love that transforms everything.  Every outcome that is influenced by love will be different than anything you can possibly imagine.  Bring love to bear on every circumstance for the right outcome.

As a representative for Christos House, I am blessed to attend two interagency meetings, one in Texas and one in Wright counties every month.  The comradery that we enjoy when we come together is inspiring.  Our time together is up before we know it.  In fact, in Texas County, we have set the meeting to start earlier so we have more time.  These groups are the basis for Sweetwater Networks.  Each group comes to the table to talk about their programs that are available at that time and how to access them for the community members of our counties.  Sweetwater Networks will focus on the positive that’s happening around us. 

Remember, as time moves closer to Christ’s coming, the Scriptures promise that our choices will become more black and white.  Everything that once was bad will be good.  Everything that once was good is now bad.  Even the political climate right now is serving that purpose.  What once was said and done in secret, we now hear and see blatantly out in the open uncontrolled.  With knowledge and assurance of what Jesus Christ is about, we will weather this and our work of loving acts will be more powerful than ever for those who are seeking transformation in their lives. 

Hate and prejudice takes a terrible toll on one’s spirit.  There is no living water as a source within that condition.  Their source comes from cisterns of stagnant water.

I almost don’t know where to start in sharing with you all the good things that are happening in our counties.  It is important for us to start with the state of Missouri as it relates to the rest of the nation.  In the latest Kids Count statistics, there is ratings for each state in the nation in four domains of well being for children.  Missouri rates 24th for Economic; 30th for Education; 27th for Health; and 29th for Family and Community.  In 2015, Missouri ranked number 50, which is last, for welfare reform. Rising above this rating in our state congress will take a will  and understanding that when everyone has opportunities, our communities thrive.  The God we serve uses words like “abundance” and “generosity”.  

II Corinthians 9:13

By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others,”


I Timothy 6:17-19 “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Proverbs 11:24

One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”


There are statistics readily available online, that tells a story of great need in Texas and Wright Counties.

The first one will probably be enough to create the picture as it truly is.  Texas County Food Pantry served nearly 700,000 pounds of donated and purchased food and USDA commodities in 2015. This number is nearly double for all of the food distributed from food banks in Texas County in the 2013 Report from the Missouri Hunger Atlas. 24.7% of families with children in Texas County have food uncertainty.  There were 783 monthly participants in the Women, Infants and Children or WIC program provided by the county health departments in 2013. In Wright County, 25.8% of the families with children have food uncertainty with 849 monthly participants in WIC. Changes in federal and state welfare laws taking effect April 1 will cut off food stamp benefits to 30,000 Missourians and is expected to deepen poverty and hunger.  Executive Director Jeanette Mott Oxford of Empower Missouri is concerned that there will be an even greater dependency on food pantries already strapped.  Mott Oxford also stated that Missouri ranks second in the nation in the number of people without enough food to eat. (Reported in the Houston Herald- March 31, 2016 issue)

In 2015, the Pantry also provided over $130,000 in emergency assistance for housing and utility bills to both Texas and to Wright (which began later in the year).  Emergency assistance is just an immediate band aid to keep the crisis in check for that day or month.  That’s all.  It doesn’t do enough to change people’s future or how they manage their lives.  The directors of the Pantry that I have known in the last 12 years continue to lament that they would like to do more about permanent life-style changes in those who they serve, but for some of their patrons, if the Pantry wasn’t’ there as an immediate safety net, their situation would become far worse.  Due to the donations during the holidays to the red kettles in Texas County, the Pantry has discretionary funds that can be targeted to more specific needs that can make permanent changes in people’s lives. Other statistics  that give us a better picture of the need I observe in our communities are:   Texas County has $17,868 per capita which is arrived at by dividing the total income of all people 15 years old and up in the county by the total population in that area. Texas County has 21.4% below poverty level.  Wright County has $14,752 per capita with 27.5% below poverty level. In my experience with the nearly 200 families Christos House served in Texas and Wright in 2015, single parent/single income families with a parent and two teenagers, 15 and over, are not making $44K or $53K per year.  These figures show the vast disparity between those who are in poverty and those who are not. 

At one of the interagency meetings, a Division of Family Services’ representative agreed that poverty is one of the main underlying causes in most of the cases where children are removed from the home.

I have begun meeting with a “think tank” of concerned community members of the wePRAY Ladies in Texas County, who come together to help create a path forward for one person, one family at a time.  At one meeting, I expressed that one of the residents who I was working with from the Christos House Shelter was in need of a computer as she had an interest in working with E-Bay as a possible business.  One of our group sitting next to me, stated that she had a computer she didn’t need as she had just purchased a new one.  The client who received the computer, came to the think tank meeting the next month to express her appreciation and talk a little about what she was already accomplishing by having it.  She was working on learning the E-Bay process of selling online and had gotten approved for government grants and loans so she could attend an online college for a social work degree. The members of the group were able to ask for her opinions about certain ideas we were considering with which to help a family.   

Our latest endeavor is to help a young woman with the tuition she needs to be enrolled in the Church Army rehab program in Branson, now called The CORE for a heroin addiction she has had for all of her adult life, since her teens.  CORE stands for Communities of Recovery Experiences. When I was at the jail for the Women Rising group, at some point a corrections’ officer came and got her to meet with her lawyer.  She grabbed up the letter of support I had written for her to be presented to the court suggesting the option of The CORE as an appropriate sentence and ran out with a beautiful smile filled with hope.  The court may or may not accept this option but we felt she deserved the chance that we had within our grasp to give her.  Four donors gave $32.50 each to put with the Pantry donation for the $330 it would take for the tuition for one in this valuable program.

Our interagency meetings are exciting in the ways we can share what our programs do for the people who really want to change their lives.  When you are faced with daunting caseloads as so many of the agencies are, it is best to focus on what you are doing in the individual lives of those who are successfully using your services. 

Children’s Division has a new program called Family Centered Services where they are working with families who are hotlined – reported to the abuse line.  Even if the abuse is not substantiated there may be a need for services to keep the family intact.  They are providing a caseworker for an intervention that will help keep the family intact.  This is a change in their policy and a new future direction which is greatly needed.

CASA of Southwest Missouri (Court Appointed Special Advocates) motto is “ordinary people doing extraordinary work”. The CASA volunteer coordinator, Leigh Ann Sigman, has trained 45 CASA volunteers since 2014.  At the time of this writing, in the 25th Judicial District which includes four counties, there are 330 children needing advocates, one per child. As this program grows and more people become involved in these children’s lives and see the need as the statistics reflect, there will be gradual change. 

I compare the work we do to a glacier.  It may move only a few inches forward per year but nothing can stop it.  As it moves, it changes and reshapes the overall landscape, leaving behind something new and different. 

At the Texas County Food Pantry, Dana McGuire and Anita Collins from the University of Missouri Extension Family Nutrition Education Program provide nutrition information for the patrons who come to pick up food on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Dana and Anita also provide nutrition programs in the schools and to groups who make requests.

I’m working with the Pregnancy Resource Center and Newborns in Need currently in Wright County for a young woman who needs everything in preparation for the coming of her baby this year.  This is definitely an area where anyone who is Pro-Life can actively be a part of helping meet this need.  There are so many agencies in the Sweetwater Networks that I work with, it is impossible to name everyone who is working hard to make a difference.  

Right now the annual project called Project Homeless Connect is building momentum at our meetings.

 

 

The following is a quote from the project’s website:  

“Project Homeless Connect is being planned for (Jefferson City) – The Missouri Governor’s Committee to End Homelessness, along with Missouri Housing Development Commission, has selected Howell County as the 2016 Project Homeless Connect host community. The Project Homeless Connect committee of the GCEH will specifically be organizing Howell County’s first Project Homeless Connect event, which will take place sometime in 2016. The event will serve as a single access point on one day for homeless individuals and families to receive assistance and services including access to shelter/housing, dental/medical check-ups, access to obtaining photo identification/birth certificates, food, clothing, access to mainstream benefits, and other quality of life services. West Plains and Howell County will be the eighth host city for the committee since the PHC’s inception in 2008. Group officials say Project Homeless Connect is a national best practice model that has been planned and proven effective in cities throughout the United States.”

There will be a great need for volunteers on that day and transportation for homeless individuals who could take advantage of this opportunity for services.  Churches will be an important asset with volunteers and church vans to transport individuals.  Check out the Facebook page for this project to be held on September 27, 2016 at the Civic Center in West Plains.

The Samaritan Outreach Center in West Plains presented their program in February in Houston at the TEAM meeting.  Director Penny Alverson is dedicated to keeping this program viable.  The Center does random drug tests to make sure their residents are complying with the rules.  Right now, she is part of the group spearheading the 2016 Project Homeless Connect in West Plains. 

Also in regular attendance to our meetings are long-time programs like Houston Lion’s Club, who are celebrating their 75th year in 2016; Ozark Action – CAP (Community Action Program), Ozark Independent Living, Catholic Charities of Southern Missouri, our county health departments and hospice programs, again, to name a few. 

Currently, in Texas County another area pregnancy resource center will be opening this spring called Southwest Pregnancy Resource Center.  The Center in Mountain Grove that has been in operation since 2009 reports that in 2015 they served 200 clients: 73 enrolled in classes for parenting and Bible study to mention a few of their offerings; 26 babies were born in 2015 to the ongoing family base they serve.  To date since ’09 they have served 715 clients.  I am privileged to lead classes from time to time on codependence, boundaries, domestic abuse and parenting, etc. with an occasional fun craft project.   

Christos House works with many agencies for social change. Just this week, Carla Johnson, Director at the Cabool Housing Authority, and I sat down with a client to help her put together a plan forward for her and her family which included finishing college and finding needed resources that would help her to eventually become totally independent.  Carla in Cabool, Anita Kennedy in Houston and Becky Friend in Mountain Grove who are excellent in providing care and on occasion tough love with residents who need direction and support.

What feels like a trickle of sweetwater, the living water that Jesus Christ spoke of, can become a deluge of needed change if we tenaciously focus on the one to one approach in a climate of extreme need.  There are many other programs that I’m aware of that are not being mentioned in this writing, but the representatives who attend our Team meetings are very committed to making a difference in our communities.  It is my prayer that we can increase our volunteer pool through sharing the good news of all the advances being made by people spreading sweetwater as professionals and average citizens in each community. If you feel like you are being called to do something in your community, make it a matter of daily prayer.  Take action led by the Spirit that resides in each of us, to share the sweetwater you are being given.  The Source is endless.  The need is endless.  We welcome you to attend the interagency meetings and become acquainted with the opportunities there are to serve.  It can be on any level you want for time and specific terms of commitment.  You can check with Jen Russell at the Texas County Health Department and Karla Meiser at Hospice Compassus in Mountain Grove for meeting times.

I am happy to report that the court did approve of the option of The CORE for the woman who is a recovering heroin addict, and tomorrow, March 31, John and I are picking her up in Springfield to take her to the facility in Branson. This is only her next step forward in a long journey ahead for a lifetime of sobriety.  I recommend the recovery programs that are being offered throughout our counties. I can always use recovery Bibles to offer inmates who I presently serve.

I work closely with the Texas County Sheriff James Sigman and jail administrator, Pam Tripp and her staff to improve the lives of the inmates who are seeking ways to change the destructive patterns. 

 If you have a project going on that you’re involved in that is meeting a community need, I would like to hear about it.  Love through community service is the most powerful force we have to change the unchangeable. God bless the individuals, civic groups, social agencies and churches who are meeting the challenges through the love of Jesus Christ.

 

 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Isaiah 55:1-2 NIV

Joy In The Morning

shutterstock_111725951

Dedicated to you, whose parents have abandoned you in many ways at a young age due to drugs, alcohol and abuse.

Psalm 27:9-11

“Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up. Teach me Your way, O LORD, And lead me in a level path because of my foes.”

 It is not easy for many to comprehend what it would be like to grow up in a home where there is chaos continually – where chaos could look like having some supervision to a small child crawling on the floor through trash and animal feces while the parents cook meth.

More and more, I am seeing clients who at a very young age have consciously chosen not to live in the drug culture like their parents and other family members. They grow up with a feeling of abandonment. As they tell their life stories of neglect and abuse, I am always amazed at how they could have turned out the way they have.   The scenario is quite similar in many of these cases. The mother is addicted at an early age to drugs or alcohol. In an impaired condition, she gets pregnant and tries to raise the child herself on state welfare. Her life is filled with a long string of drug dealers, abusive relationships with boyfriends and other addicts who are in and out of her life using her resources. Her encounters with the law and Children’s Division take their toll on this family. Most often there is more than one child growing up unattended and unprotected from predators attracted to this chaotic free-for-all.

These children have grown up being the parent. When they are finally able to leave and become independent, they are faced with controlling contact with this toxic family network and going on with their lives. They must be especially vigilant where their children are concerned to work hard not to expose them to family members who would endanger them in risky situations if given the opportunity. A high percentage of them are vulnerable in that they are ever seeking reunification and healing for that broken relationship like it’s a hole they are trying to fill. Some individuals suffer from post traumatic stress disorder – PTSD. This can be due to alarming experiences as children. More than 50% of the female clients I have worked with were molested as children. The chaos in their homes was a prime source of dysfunction resulting in the violation of innocence. Low self-image and disrespect is common and can easily perpetuate dysfunction into the next generation. Many of the children living in these situations are addicted at an early age when they are least qualified to make that decision and recklessly blow through their chances of a normal drug-free life. That is why the child who can stay free of it into adulthood is exceptionally rare.

At the time of the writing of the 27th Psalm, this issue of being forsaken by your parents evidently had similarities on some level to today. The Scriptures also relate the opposite end of the spectrum in the story of the Prodigal Son who was loved by his father but chose to go out in the world and live life in a faster lane and came home after he was homeless and had lost everything. But in this case, the parent welcomed him with open arms and had a great feast in his honor.

One day, as I was driving home, I saw a large homemade sign posted at the end of a driveway. The lettering was boldly scrawled in red “YOU ARE LOVED PLEASE COME HOME.” I turned around and went back to take a picture as it was so unique. One could only imagine what led up to this sign and to whom it was directed – a runaway child, spouse, or significant other. To the child from a home without love and even human regard, this would be a most welcome sign finally beginning to fill that deep hole.

Jesus Christ understands what it means to be forsaken by His father. In the moment when He had taken all of our sins upon Himself, I believe He was shut out from His Father’s presence because He was in a place, even if only briefly, where God wouldn’t go. “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice saying . . .My God, My God, why has thou forsaken Me?” Matthew 27:46KJV 

This is the bitter cup, He wanted to avoid. “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me;” Luke 22:42

Being shut out from His Father‘s presence was the most bitter cup of all. He could hardly bear it even for a short time but He went to the cross willingly for us knowing that when He did He would go through that experience of alienation and abandonment from God caused by our sin – the condition of the world before Christ. He knows the pain that comes with that in the human experience even though He, like you as a child, was innocent – without sin. You had every right to be cherished by healthy, mature parents, protecting you and fully engaged in your life. 

In Isaiah 49:15 another reference is made to a woman forgetting her sucking child or not having compassion on the son of her womb, but again the reinforcing statement as in Psalm 27, that the Lord will not forget you. “Behold, I have engraven thee upon the palms of My hands.” The nail holes that Christ carries are the marks He bears for His act of love for you.

Psalm 30:5 KJV “weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.

He will bring you joy in the morning. He will take you up and comfort you when you feel forsaken. His sacrifice restored us to our heavenly Father.

To members of our community, who for the most part are blessed to be out of touch with the direct negative effects of the drug culture, we cannot avoid being made aware of its devastating impact on families. Joy can and should come through us to others who feel alienated by the ravaging effects of drugs, alcohol and abuse. Imagine this sign in the driveway of every family who needs healing reunification where there has been abandonment due to drugs, alcohol and abuse – a very good place to start.

You are Loved jul 2012

Scriptures for Your Meditation on Joy:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV).

“ In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Peter 1:6 NIV

10 Let those who love the Lord hate evil,
for he guards the lives of his faithful ones
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light shines on the righteous
and joy on the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous,
and praise his holy name.
Psalm 97:10-12 (NIV)

“For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock. Then my head will be exalted above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy; I will sing and make music to the Lord. Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.” – Psalm 27:5-7 (NIV).

”Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. . .” – Luke 6:22-23 (NIV)

“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” – Psalm 16:11 (NIV)

“Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth. He subdued nations under us, peoples under our feet.” – Psalm 47:1-3 (NIV)

“My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you— I whom you have delivered.” – Psalm 71:23 (NIV)

“For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. How great are your works, Lord, how profound your thoughts!” – Psalm 92:4-5 (NIV)

 

Rite of Passage

shutterstock_35111320Be, Lord Jesus, a bright flame before me,
a guiding star above me,
a smooth path below me,
a kindly Shepherd behind me:
today, tonight, and forever.
(100 prayers by the De La Salle Brothers)

As I stood looking out the window in my office, I watched a couple coming up the walk in silence. We had a 10a.m. appointment and they were early. We settled in our chairs and took care of paperwork, allowing the quiet to settle in. As the last line is filled in, and the tension building, we begin. “Tell me what brings you here” can be a floodgate opening or a telling moment of decision “where do we start and can we trust her with something so painfully personal”. They either both talk at once, or one will begin framing a story of the peaceful life they once had and how it gradually became the awful place in which their family now find themselves. The pain is palpable. Finding a way through this nightmare is something they have never faced. They look like they haven’t slept well for weeks, physical symptoms of the toll this stress is taking. This meeting would be like so many others with parents’ anguish over their children. Their sons and daughters – out of control, disrespectful, associating with friends who did drugs, promiscuous, self-destructive and now the violence. In many cases like this, kids had been in counseling, in and out of juvenile custody, even in a treatment facility and finally removed from the home by Children’s Division and the courts. Here was another set of parents who were being required to take parenting classes to begin to rein in this child who was pushing back.

I have worked with many families in this situation and the outcome is not always good. Many times the relationship between the teen and parents has become so toxic as to be irreconcilable. Sometimes it takes months to uncover the underlying causes of a family’s dysfunction. This is the value of the work I do. There are no time restrictions or deadlines in working with families. One hour per week becomes a respite for these parents to come and talk where openness is encouraged and disagreement is allowed. Based on cases I have worked with, extreme behaviors can begin with for instance, a child who claims to have been molested and the parents may not believe the child. Even if you are the non-offending parent but you choose not to believe your child or pursue investigation of the incident in question, your response can be just as detrimental.

The parents’ reaction can be clouded by who the alleged perpetrator is and may choose not to accept this disclosure because of the personal impact it might make. In downplaying its extreme significance the outcome for the child can be devastating as the child looks to the parent for protection that may not come. The child can feel devalued and helpless as everyone moves on as if nothing happened. This can cause feelings of suppressed rage that can be dormant until they reach that narrow window in their adolescent/teen years and then life as you once knew it can change drastically. The breech of this child’s trust could have been from a long list of other reasons, anyone of which could be the problem.

It would be a logical choice if we could blame the times in which we live or influential friends or even the child for outrageous behavior but in all cases, the parents must accept the responsibility of turning this around. They are the only ones in this child’s life who can really change the dynamics of the crisis. Parents mistakenly look to counselors, medication, caseworkers and the courts to take over this problem and fix this child, when all the professionals can really do that is most effective is help the parents fix the child.

The subtle nuances of parental-love relationships we have with our children are so delicate yet powerful that we can be unaware of what happened or was said that has triggered certain behaviors. Those behaviors, if left unchecked, can escalate out of control. I have found in many cases that the behaviors of these children/teens in crisis can happen overnight with explainable reasons that could be dealt with early on with respect, love and honesty and restore all to normalcy. If any of this is describing your situation, it would be advisable that you seek help immediately. You are the superhero who will eventually make things right. Seeking help for your child is a responsible demonstration of love on your part to learn new skills in heading off what can eventually become a disaster.

For instance, once you have to begin threatening to call the authorities to control your child, it has already set in motion a chain of events that may not turn out well. We all want our kids to graduate from high school and go on to college or get a good job that allows for their independence and especially not living at home. There is a narrow window of a few adolescent/teenage years that can especially impact what your child will do with his/her life. These are the years that we must be vigilant over our children, our nieces and nephews and our grandchildren and be courageous to take actions that will protect them. Any behavior that is an extreme departure from your child’s norm is a cry for help. Someone must listen and respond. It will not improve on its own.

When we refer to the word “wilderness” many pictures come to mind such as a desertscape or a dense forest. In the Hebrew culture “wilderness” represented being taken from a place that could harm us to a place where we can be taught what we need to know to be safe and complete.

Our relationship with our children is like our relationship with our heavenly parent who created us. If you feel like you’re in a wilderness, maybe you’re there to learn what you need to know to rescue you and the ones in your care.

Abuse of children doesn’t always have to be physical. It can be emotional and have an equal impact with devastating results.

Abused children are:
• 6 times more likely to commit suicide
• 24 times more likely to be sexually assaulted
• 60 times more likely to be involved in delinquent behavior
• 1000 times more likely to become abusers
• 80% of all men in American prisons were abused children.

In national statistics relating to violence in the family, it is estimated
63% of youth age 11-20 in prison killed their mother’s abuser.

In August, 2009 a group of seven twelve year old boys headed into the Catskill Mountains in New York to tend a fire for 24 hours. They were given no food, only had water and weren’t allowed to take any electronic devices with them. “Tending Fires” is the documentary about this event. Each boy alone in his own location on the mountain was to gather wood and tend a fire with no distractions.

Peter Ferland, a filmmaker from Vermont who produced “Tending Fires” stated that the rite of passage sprung from a wilderness program he and his son attended learning about plant identification, fire making and nature in general. The boys were from 9-13 and as they grew out of the program they needed a challenge, a ritual that would mark the transition from childhood into adolescence and adulthood.

In the Active Parenting curriculum, one of the five natural goals for an adolescent youth in their pushing-back period for greater independence is “Challenge”. It is during this crucial stage that they build skills with reasonable risk-taking in learning how to take care of themselves and make responsible decisions. This stage works like it’s supposed to if the parents are tuned in to what’s happening naturally and are prepared to step back and provide guidance, appropriate boundaries and support during this testing time. If the relationship is toxic between the youth and their parents it could be a time of all-out rebellion which could include harmful thrill-seeking through drugs, promiscuity and even petty crime depending on their circle of friends.

The “Tending Fires” film takes a look at all of that. The parents of the boys provide interviews which gives you an across the board representation of the pushing back behavior in which these young men were engaging at the age of 12. One of the positive outcomes of creating this rite of passage is to develop restorative culture. In Wikipedia “restorative culture” is defined as “building healthy communities, increasing social capital, decreasing crime and antisocial behavior, repairing harm and restoring relationships. In sociology, social capital is the expected collective or economic benefits derived from the preferential treatment and cooperation between individuals and groups”.

The village or extended family all come together to mentor the boys in the ritual as the parents step aside. Several men all known to the boys- brothers, uncles, grandfathers and men of the church and community, participate bringing their skills and support into the experience to validate the importance of each boy’s arrival at adulthood.

Rituals of this nature in different cultures has been lost over time to the broader public so we must create our own. The Native American Vision Quest is a good example of a rite of passage in which the community comes together to witness this transition and provide support. A rite of passage ritual should be created for girls as well.

One of the viewers of the film commented: “As a father myself, I experienced emotion when one of the mothers talked about the detaching process. I understand it and expect it – but probably can’t really imagine it yet. Still, her comment that such detachment was ‘bittersweet’ was, to me, the heart of the film”. Taken from Tending Fires website.

On the eve of the beginning of the rite of passage, each boy who has been prepared over several months for this is accompanied by the mentors to his prospective campsite. Following this the mentors all wait at the bottom of the mountain at their own campfire praying for the boys. No personal campfire experience was filmed for obvious reasons. Being on their own for the most part with no distractions would be the most powerful catalyst for change. There were random periodic checks for safety. The reactions of the youth which come later in the film are very profound in the way they are impacted by the experience.

I have a copy of this film “Tending Fires” that I would be willing to provide to any group for the purpose of creating rituals for rites of passage for our youth here in the beautiful Mark Twain National Forest and waterways.

Imagine our communities as a result of providing programs for restorative culture where all our youth are prepared and honored in loving ways for adulthood.

“Start children off on the way they should go,
and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
Proverbs 22:6NIV

“ Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”. Gal. 6:9NIV

October Awareness: Part One

shutterstock_108866654Once again, October rolls around and the staff of Christos House schedule the proclamations in the eight counties we serve to inform the public on what they need to know about domestic violence. We dust off the silent witnesses that are once more placed on the lawns of the different county courthouses, representing the women and children who have fallen victim to domestic violence. The numbers grow and we see no end in sight. We ponder “Is God among us or not?”

In Exodus 17, there is a reference about the complaining Israelites needing water and challenging God to provide it. Moses pleads with God “What shall I do unto this people? They are almost ready to stone me!” God then tells Moses to go before the people to a special rock that when struck will produce the water they need. The key point is that God tells Moses “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. . .” In verse seven, Moses brings it to the reader’s attention that the people doubted God because of the conditions that they were struggling with and questioned “Is the Lord among us?”

It’s easy to say God is with us when things line up and life is a positive experience but much more difficult when we see no end to trouble. It is essential to our peace of mind to know that God is with us even though it doesn’t readily appear like it. So many times we stay in bad relationships because we don’t see God in our lives and can only trust what we see even if it is a disaster. Like the Israelites, we want to run back to the mud pits in Egypt rather than look for God in the ways in which he can be found.

As God told Moses “Behold I will stand before thee there upon the rock” he is telling us “I am with you”. Pastor Jeff Nelson states it best in his sermon “Is God Among Us or Not?”

 

               We look for waters of relief from our grief and miss God’s presence in our tears. We look for waters of relief for loved ones and look past the person next to us offering us a cup of water. . . Is the Lord among us or not? We hear the promise: “Yes, I am in front of you. I will be in front of you”. In our thirst, God remains with us. God fills the cracks in our hearts with his presence. God stands in front of us through friends and family reaching out to us in genuine love. . . I stand in front of you calling you to each other; calling you to be my hands and feet, calling you to take up your staff and take care of one another. I am among you! Look toward one another and believe.”

October, the month appointed for raising awareness of the dangerous conditions that still exist in many homes comes and goes with a few more members in our communities who have stepped forward to make a difference, a few more church and civic organizations offering to sponsor an event to raise awareness, a few more victims who leave their threatening environments, a few more children safely out of harm’s way and we passionately declare that a success. We hear about domestic violence in the news and it pulls at society’s conscience to do the right thing and level consequences that fit the crime. As long as some of us are standing against this criminal behavior with such far-reaching consequences to human life, the hope of eradicating it is still alive and well. May God bless all that you do to help him care for others.

Respect vs. Sarcasm With Children

shutterstock_65137336It’s always good to work with parents in parenting class for more than just a few weeks.  In talking and getting acquainted, you can get to know a lot about the family dynamics.  Sometimes when we as parents are confronted with the beginning of “pushback” from our children, we have this inner red flag that goes up.  This pushback starts in the toddler stage with “No”.  We’ve all heard that. We begin to panic that God forbid, we are “losing control”.  We immediately react and stop it in its tracks.  In what we think is a well-earned response but is actually sarcasm, we symbolically pound our chests reminding our children that we are the ones with the power – we are the ones who will always win and they don’t have a chance.  At this point, the child is already in control as they quickly learn that when I push mom and dad’s buttons getting an emotional rise out of them as they scramble to control me, “I feel powerful!”.  Another down side of this parental reaction is the sarcasm or mixed messages that are so divisive.

When a child begins to push back, they are doing what naturally comes next to them.  They are beginning to become independent, self-reliant and confident.  Growing up in a world that is centered in the survival of the fittest mentality, it’s important that we do everything we can to facilitate this independence.  We should even celebrate it the first time it happens because our child is very normal and if we do a good job, they won’t be sitting around the house as adults when they should be out going to college or working at a good job.

So how do we facilitate this in a healthy way to give them freedom within boundaries without sarcasm and power struggles?

The definition of sarcasm is described as the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny.   Sarcasm is not a laughing matter with children and you may lose an opportunity to build a relationship of trust with your child at a very crucial stage.

When a child resists you, do everything you can to treat them with respect as you redirect them. Stand firm on what you have requested without an argument filled with sarcasm and put downs.  Respect their feelings and encourage better communication so you know why they’re resisting you if there is an immediate reason.  Your child will have greater respect for you and for themselves because you understand that it’s okay for them to have a different opinion and that obedience doesn’t have to happen because they lost the argument.  Everyone is a winner this way.

Rita Foster

Christos House: The Right Stuff

 shutterstock_43703626Wendy A. Walsh in The Carsey Institute fall of 2010 newsletter reported that in a child maltreatment investigation “Neglected children from poor households are more likely to be placed in out-of-home care.  The close relationship between child neglect, poverty, and placement in out-of-home care has been a long-standing concern among child welfare professionals. Because of this concern, seven states bar the removal of children for poverty-related reasons like homelessness or a person’s financial inability to meet a child’s basic needs. Yet, inadequacy of family income con­tinues to be a strong predictor of whether a child reported to child protective services (CPS) is placed in foster care.

Analyzing data from a nationally representative sample of children with a report of child neglect, this study finds that children whose caregivers struggle with drug abuse, mental health problems, alcohol abuse, or struggle to pay for basic necessities were more likely to be placed in out-of-home care than families without such struggles, even after con­trolling for other risk factors. These findings echo other research that demonstrates the many challenges families face that have a report of child neglect. Their struggles suggest that intervention and prevention must not only integrate substance abuse and mental health services but also address the needs and effects of long-term poverty, such as apathy, loss of hope, and indifference.” (end of quote)

At this time, many of the families we are working with have gone through the removal of their children due to active drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues which can lead to cases of child neglect.  As we read in the quote above, poverty also plays a role in this bigger picture as people experience the effects of long-term poverty cited as apathy, loss of hope, and indifference also negative contributing factors to drug and alcohol abuse and mental health issues. Christos House has been around for thirty plus years and proves continually that our integrated approach carries the highest success rate for that family who love their children but due to the devastating effects of poverty and mental illness start to lose control at some point.  I can work closely with Children’s Division caseworkers to provide long-term support and access resources to reunite the family.  I have been told that the caseworkers love us.

Working with the families with drug issues, you get just glimpses of how pervasive the drug culture in this area really is.  One woman told me that when she got involved in drugs, within three months she had over 300 contacts on her cell phone for drug dealers.  Another family related that after they quit, “friends” came by everyday pressuring them until after a few months of being clean they gave in.  For many, it is their vocation to cook and sell.  It is my understanding from testimony that even when you are clean your body craves the drug 24-7 without a break.  That person needs access to support continually if they are going to be successful in staying clean and taking care of their family.  The Christos House program offers that.  I am so proud and fortunate to provide this service to our community families.