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

The White Blanket

This past week has been one of catching up before the next storm comes through. We have experienced just a small dose of what Bostonians and others have been dealing with since January. Our county and surrounding areas have been rocked from complacency as the national news is brought to our doorstep. Friday, February 27th was spent in varying degrees of shock and disbelief as family and friends called us from other states all asking the same question “What’s happening in Texas County?” a question all of us are asking about this county and surrounding counties as well. A few local friends and acquaintances called to share and for solace, telling their stories of pleasant memories about knowing these families, visiting their homes and sitting at their table together. Sunday morning when I looked out, the thick blanket of snow was beautiful in its peacefulness. My mind went to the Tyrone area and the neighbors who first looked out upon this blanket of white that has covered everything especially around the now-empty houses once filled with vibrant life. The snow had filled the tracks that had reduced them to crime scenes and had left such devastation in its wake. The snow, pristine and peaceful trying to make clean the stain, soften the blow, came as healing hands – a purifying covering from God who knows about suffering when someone crosses that unimaginable line to destroy life with devastating results. This blanket is symbolic of the covering he promises us when we seek refuge from pain.

“Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me! For my soul trusts in You; and in the shadow of Your wings I will make my refuge, until these calamities have passed by.” Psalm 57:1

We are left to wonder about the perfect storm that could have triggered such mindless action and as the numbness begins to dissipate, we seek God once more in our compassionate prayers for family and neighbors and the personal resolve to go on.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.

None of us know what will happen today and it is through faith that we trust God in life and death. I believe that the outcome of humanity’s choices good and bad will cannot come between us and God’s love. We are forever and who we are goes on beyond time.

God bless the survivors, the family and friends with peaceful sleep at night and assurance of his love when they awake. “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”Psalm 30:5

For more information on this tragedy:  http://www.ky3.com/news/local/tyrone-residents-try-to-wrap-head-around-7-murders/21048998_31535710

On Becoming a Butterfly

IMG_6376I have discovered some of the old Sunday School classics that were written for children of another generation. Margaret Gatty wrote a book titled Parables from Nature. In her book is a story “A Lesson in Faith” about a caterpillar that makes a discovery that reinforces the critical lessons that nature teaches us about ourselves.

Here is a brief excerpt – the mother butterfly has just asked her to take care of her eggs and not to feed her baby butterflies anything but honey nectar from the flowers and morning dew and then, falls off the cabbage leaf, wilts and dies: “‘A pretty nurse she has chosen, indeed, poor lady!” exclaimed she, “and a pretty business I have in hand. Why did she ever ask a poor crawling creature like me to bring up her dainty little ones! Much they’ll mind me, truly, when they feel the gay wings on their backs, and can fly away.’ However, the poor butterfly was dead, and there lay the eggs on the cabbage-leaf, and the green caterpillar had a kind heart, so she resolved to do her best.’” A Lesson in Faith by Margaret Gatty

The miracle of Metamorphosis is a perfect example in nature of the physical process of a creature literally becoming a new creation. There are references in the Scriptures that speak of the new spiritual creation that we can become.   In Second Corinthians 5:17 we read “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old things passed away, behold new things have come.”   Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” In Colossians 9:13, Apostle Paul reminds them “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” 

These signs in nature, the Scriptures refer to as shadows and types, are there to teach us the deeper principles he wants us to discover in order to understand the holy creation he has designed us to become with of course one requirement – we can only become this new creation through his Son, Jesus Christ.

I have been blessed in my work to observe the spiritual process of metamorphosis in many situations. Through Christ I am able to create an environment for change in the encounters I have with others. Creating an environment for change takes faith and a large measure of hope. It also takes patience as not everyone is at that point of wanting to change and I respect that. Spiritual transformation is such an important process that it cannot be rushed or forced or brought about through guilt or shame, and can only happen within the heart and spirit of the individual. It can happen in the eleventh hour of our life. In these encounters, a partnership between them and Christ can begin to happen as they observe the ways in which it is manifested in my life, such as the way I treat them and how they feel. Over time, week after week, session after session, am I still this loving, caring person toward them after I see all the flaws and hear the stories of a life stripped over time of its dignity and humanity? Does my God still see something worth loving in them, the unlovable, as they may see themselves.

One winter, while working with a family, I observed the young husband struggling through the consequences he reaped from the seeds he had sown in his life of drugs, violence and indiscretions outside the marriage. He was like a spindly young tree swaying this way and that, in whatever direction the wind was blowing. In this struggle, he began to transform spiritually. He gradually became totally aware that he was responsible for the chaos that was causing his wife such anguish and saw how he needed to be liked by everyone so much that he couldn’t seem to create any lasting change. Here is an example of how we lose ourselves meeting everyone else’s needs but our own and the ones who look to us for stability.   I observed that the unselfish love his wife had for him had such power because she would not settle for anything less than the best he could become. She knew there was a new creation possible in him even if he couldn’t see it. During a stint in jail in another county sleeping on the cold floor in an overcrowded cell, he discovered a book that had been left by a visiting pastor titled Jesus Freaks by dc Talk, a Christian rap group. Not being a reader, he shocked himself as to how much time per day he spent reading the testimonies of people who were martyred for their belief in Jesus Christ. When he was released, the change was remarkable and lasting. Who he gradually became through Christ, was the difference between a caterpillar and a butterfly, it was so dramatic. I believe that his transformation has been one of the most profound I have witnessed in my career.

There was a lark in the story with the caterpillar. She looked to the lark to help her by finding out how to raise the little “butterflies” in one of his trips high up in the blue sky. As he returned, he announced: “‘News, news, glorious news, friend caterpillar!’ sang the lark, ‘but the worst of it is, you won’t believe me!’”

The lark was correct; the caterpillar did not believe him when he told her that the butterfly eggs would hatch into caterpillars like herself. But, the most unbelievable statement for her was that she would   become a butterfly one day. . .

I will let you and the Holy Spirit finish this chapter of Sweetwater Journey in your prayer life and what may need to happen to breathe life into your new creation. The young man in the story still has struggles and has to pay the ongoing consequences of his younger life’s bad choices but he knows that Jesus is with him and loves him and continues to reward his good choices and give him strength the days he feels like a worm with wings. We all have those days. Today, he especially likes having his own copy of Jesus Freaks.

God bless our communities with butterflies and caterpillars alike who are continually becoming and loving in the process, discovering their new creation in each other.

 

 

 

Transcending Fear

shutterstock_140214940“Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet, not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Luke 12:6-7 NIV

Fear has contributed more to the negative shaping of our lives than anyone can imagine or measure. Fear is responsible for unfortunate knee-jerk reactions to temporary dilemmas in which we find ourselves sometimes. In moments of fear we choose options that have ongoing consequences beyond the temporary problem before us.

The fear I’m referring to are feelings of helplessness and panic when we have no control over an event that comes at a time when we are least prepared to handle it.

In my work, I meet people who are experiencing the ongoing problems directly related to poor choices they made in their lives. Women have sold their bodies, stripping away their dignity to keep a roof over their children’s heads as they saw no other way. Fear through intimidation is a control mechanism in an abusive relationship. Where families have been isolated by the one who uses power and fear to keep everyone in line, there are fewer and fewer resources for this family to get help.

Rhonda Britton, author and founder of Fearless Living Institute has created a fear cycle she calls the Wheel of Fear.   Phase one is the trigger. It is the event that threatens our peace and security. Phase two is the fear response. Phase three is the negative feeling, like extreme anxiety. This is when the negative core belief we have of our self is reinforced. Phase four is the self-destructive behavior that we choose out of that negative core belief. The cycle begins anew the next time our security and well-being is threatened. Most often the self-destructive behavior we choose only compounds the cycle’s intensity and frequency of recurrence.

There are many permanent responses to temporary problems that would compel us to look back and see with 20/20 hindsight the negative direction those choices have taken us.

Jesus was quite often in a quandary over the fear reactions to crises He observed in His disciples and others in His life. As you read through the four gospels you will see that the word “fear” and “afraid” occur quite often. Here is one of those accounts: “And when he was entered into a ship, his disciples followed him, and behold there arose a great tempest in the sea, insomuch that the ship was covered with the waves; but he was asleep. And his disciples came to him and awoke him saying, Lord save us, we perish. And he saith unto them ‘Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?’ Then he arose and rebuked the winds and the sea and there was a great calm.”

Matthew 8:23-26 KJV

It wasn’t long before this event with the storm that He sat on a mountainside and described in great depth how much their heavenly Father loves them and how every hair on their head has been counted. He spent his entire ministry building people up to have faith and trust that God will never leave them or forsake them. There is a saying: Sometimes the Lord calms the storm. Sometimes he lets the storm rage and calms his child.” Author unknown.

What are we missing here? Is He saying that we don’t have to fear anything – like when the family car breaks down and getting it fixed takes the rent money; or when the childrens’ father decides not to pay his child support on time; or when we lose our job because of illness? Are these the times that our faith is supposed to be enough?

Here are some Scripture references to put this into perspective:

“Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? . . .for your heavenly father knoweth that you have need for all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”Matt. 6:31-34 KJV

1 Peter 3:13-14NIV
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” 

2 Timothy 1:7 KJV “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.”

Hebrews 13:5-6 NIV “ Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence,“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

Psalm 56:3-4NIV “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.  In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”

The Apostle Paul says I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:11-13 NIV It was because Paul went without that he learned he could do all things through Jesus. But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.  Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” 1 Tm 6:6-9 NIV

         “David wrote, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for You are with me.’ (Psa 23:4-6) . . . Many people hesitate to go through the dark valley and allow themselves to sink into depression, isolation or frustration needlessly. . . If you are afraid of the dark valley experiences, remember that God’s love can carry you through whatever problems you are experiencing. God in His loving way finds a way when there seems to be no way. He alone shows us how to resolve all conflicts. He helps us focus on his immeasurable love and then loves others through us.”   (Quote from sermon by Reverend Paul Fritz, Sermon Central)

We can allow His love to quiet our fears and give us greater confidence. God may not remove the afflictions in our life but He will provide us with sufficient grace so as to demonstrate His power through us.

Sometimes we may not feel that we are worthy of a blessing. We may feel that we have less worth in God’s sight than a common sparrow. We tend to add up the score of our lives and feel like God doesn’t care at all about us or we wouldn’t be in the predicament in which we find ourselves.   All of the adding up just reinforces that negative core belief that we have of ourselves. I have found that whether you were raised in extreme poverty or by parents on drugs or in any social setting, it has not made a difference on whether you had a negative core belief or not. This can happen to anyone. You ask yourself, “Who can I trust”? In all your life, perhaps, you haven’t been able to trust anyone because you’re surrounded with negative people who only wish to exploit you, take your resources, abuse and control you for their benefit.

If today is the day that you could make a choice to no longer fear but trust and believe what Christ said about your self-worth then it would be important for you to consider this:
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

I John 4:18 NIV

I believe that courage in the face of fear comes from a strong core belief that you are loved in a healthy, empowering way by the One who created you. Remember God reminds us that even if everyone else forsakes you, “the Lord will take me up”. Psalm 27:11.   Based on what the Scriptures tell us you can reach up and single out one strand of hair on your head and imagine that it is numbered and what that number might be. In that moment, if you can thank God for everything you have even if it appears to you at the time to be very little, then a spirit of love will gradually fill you and the momentary paralyzing fear will leave. You can even thank God for the crisis you are facing because it causes you to seek him out of need.   I believe God loves this kind of prayer.

Jesus said, all it takes is a mustard seed of faith. I John 4:18 states that fear has to do with punishment. Who punishes us better than ourselves? We may even seek ways to reinforce our negative core belief that we are without worth and unloved – sabotaging ourselves for success and a life free of fear.

Transcending or rising above fear, is one of the hardest things we can do, especially since our lives appear to be going from one fear event to the next. Today, you might be ready to choose to believe that you are loved and have a purpose in God’s design.

In my work in the farm crisis, I was working with a single-parent woman providing resources and support. Over time she came to trust me. One evening, she disclosed a frightening story of a life spent in extreme sexual abuse from the young age of three until she was in her teens.   She suffered abuse from many of the male members of her family including her stepfather and his friends. At the age of twelve, she became pregnant. In her extreme circumstances of stress and despair, she attempted to take her own life and fell headlong down a flight of stairs and ended up losing the child. It was a baby boy. She had been suffering that loss for all these years up until my working with her in her early 30’s.

One evening as she disclosed her story, I felt led to take her to a church in the community for which I had a key as it housed much of the food for the Heartland Food Pantry. It was late and of course the church was dark except for the low light in the altar area. We walked in and sat down in a pew. The central focus in the silence gradually became the elevated *crucifix that eerily stood out from the shadows. The Spirit impressed me that she hadn’t allowed herself to let go of this child even in death as she believed that she was the only one who could possibly love him due to the heinous way in which he had been conceived.   I told her in tears that God knew and loved her little boy and had taken him up to himself. God loved him so much that he gave his own son to die for him. In that defining moment, she allowed this love message to wash over her and she could finally let go of this child and begin to allow herself to grieve over his loss. The love of God is so powerful that through it we can transcend even our worst fears.

The following is the poem that she courageously wrote to her mother after this experience:

 

                                         Where Were You

“The truth shall set you free.” That’s how the saying goes.

But only when at last we talked of what happened long ago.

I had no tears to cry then, I bade them to go away.

There was no rhyme or reason at all for them to stay.

But when the painful truth came out, my tears they fell like rain.

And now that they have fallen, I do feel whole again.

Why weren’t you there to help me and protect me in my need.

Instead I had to fantasize about a white knight on his steed.

 

He never quite could rescue me. He left my heart in dread.

Although I didn’t have the strength to do it, I wished that I was dead.

 

But now my tears, they have returned. And at last I let them fall

For now you see they’re happy tears. I know your love, it encompasses all.

I needed to know you loved me, when the pain was at it’s worst.

Even though you didn’t hurt me, though you beat me and you cursed.

 

Your pain is something you will have until your dying day,

But if you had been there for me, the hurt would have gone away.

I don’t blame you for what he did, the anguish he caused me,

I blame you for not stopping him and just letting all things be.

 

I now can say “I love you”; that love’s always been intact.

My hate instead is for the way you ignored me, that’s a fact.

If only you had helped me and put him in his place,

The sadness that you’re going through, you would not have to face.

 

Because I was afraid of you, I kept the secret well.

I didn’t think you would believe the horror straight from hell.

But at last you know the awful truth, and you’re the one who’s shedding tears.

Believe me when I tell you, there is an end to all the fears.

 

The facing up to what went wrong is a way to put things right.

We must go on with both our lives, with courage, strength and might.

I’m facing all my demons and I will see this through;

At long last I have the strength, thanks to God, myself and you.

 

2 Corinthians 4:7-11 NIV
. . .we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

 

This is a very important reference. We are the jars of clay. Normally, you wouldn’t store a treasure in actual jars of clay as they are easily destroyed, but God has placed in each of us a living treasure that through his power gives us the ability to rise above anything fearful that would come into our lives and even try to destroy us. Our lives are resurrected daily through the treasure of faith we exercise to reveal the risen Christ who dwells within us. We are each given gifts through the Comforter or Holy Spirit Christ sent to us on the Day of Pentecost after he ascended to Heaven. One of these gifts is faith.

 

Greg Carr in his sermon “The Living Dead” tells us: “Jesus told us what the treasure was, ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ Acts 1:8 NIV When God gave the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 it started a chain reaction that started in Jerusalem and expanded through all of Judea and Samaria and ultimately to the ends of the earth. It was an event that had no constraints of time except that it would end when Jesus returned the second time. Because of this treasure, the Holy Spirit in us, God’s children are able to live as Spirit-empowered believers.”
Not even the most heinous acts that humankind is capable of can destroy us if we look to the risen Christ who overcame everything so that we might have life.

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” John 10:10 KJV

Job 11:13-19 NIV.

13 “. . .if you devote your heart to him
and stretch out your hands to him,
14 if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
15 then, free of fault, you will lift up your face;
you will stand firm and without fear.
16 You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.
17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
18 You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
and many will court your favor.

Imagine the support we could offer one another with the sweetwater that could flow through our lives if we seek it for sharing. This describes God’s kingdom on earth.

*The crucifix is a statue of Jesus hanging on the cross.

Please Note: There are people in our communities who are hurting because of sexual abuse as children. The abused woman in the story was able to return to wholeness because someone believed her led her to Christ and continued to care about her.   If you are dealing with a memory of childhood abuse or at any age, please seek help so that you can live the abundant life God has planned for you.

 

 

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)

 

The Indescribable Gift

shutterstock_9256995417 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Mark 10:17-22 NIV

The rich young man came to Jesus for something that he lacked. He seemed to have everything but that which only Jesus could offer him. He most likely sat under the instruction of the Rabbi Jesus and listened to the same words we have access to today in the Gospels and discovered that there was a lasting peace and satisfaction that he was unable to find in his own life. He also was impressed that this Rabbi could give him a pathway to heaven but he was told something he didn’t want to hear. In fact, in his extreme disappointment he went away sad.

Jesus is concerned about wealth causing us to become less dependent on Him and having only a share of our devotion. There is a paradox in the Scriptures “We lose what we keep and we gain what we give away.”   The Scriptures are very plain about God’s generosity and how being generous ourselves can give us much joy and treasure in heaven. In II Corinthians 9:6-15 NIV we find words that help us understand the purpose for generosity.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

My clients are grateful when they receive help and it is a good opportunity for me to steer that praise and thanks to God for bringing us together and making it all possible. It is because of his grace, the indescribable gift, within the people who act to support the work of Christos House that we can offer these services. C.H. Spurgeon, a minister in the 1880’s aptly describes this indescribable or unspeakable gift and that it is centered in giving.

                   “The Gospel is founded upon giving and its spirit is giving. Buying and selling are unknown in spiritual things, unless we buy without money and without price. Payment is for the Law. Under the Gospel, everything is a gift. God gives us Jesus, eternal life, grace and glory, and everything. . ., and then, moved by love to him, we give ourselves back to him and to his people.

                   As it is the glory of the sun that he gives light and heat to our world, so is it God’s Glory that he gives mercy and peace to the sons of men.

                   And, moreover, as the sun is the author of reflected heat and is all the more valued because his beams can be reflected, so is God glorified by that part of His goodness which we are able to impart to others.

                   God is glorified in the thanksgiving which is excited by the gifts of his people to the poor, as well as by their personal thanksgivings for his own gifts he gives to us and we thank him.

                   We give to others and they thank God for the kindness which he has inspired in us.

                   Thus a round of thanksgiving to God is created by the spirit of giving which first of all displayed itself in the unspeakable (indescribable) gift of God!

                   We are as cups filled at the spring and from us the thirsty drink and praise the Fountain! “                            C.H. Spurgeon http://www.spurgeongems.org
 “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.” I Chronicles 29:14 NIV

 

However great our abilities, we have nothing which God did not give to us, and which he cannot withdraw if these tokens of his favor are not recognized, appreciated and applied where we are called to apply them. I believe that which we are given as gifts from God are given with the intention that they be returned in such a way as to add to the glory of the great Giver. We do this for our spiritual well-being. The glory of God should be the joy and the blessing of all. When we seek to promote His glory we are seeking for ourselves the highest good which is possible for us to receive.

 

In the lives of the Saints of the early church following the day of Pentecost there must have been great dependency on one another. For a Jew to embrace Christianity was to lose everything worldly in the way of a livelihood. Their family ties would be severed and even their national identity. Though, as they received the grace of God through Jesus Christ, their numbers grew daily because they were performing acts of grace toward one another, living out the principles of community outlined in the Gospel.

The following is taken from II Corinthians 8:2-15 NIV as Apostle Paul gives us a glimpse of how life was in that time as they learned to come together as a community in Jesus Christ.

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you – see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”.

We may be in the mindset of thinking that the key issue of giving is “how much should I give to the Work of the church? or in other words what does God require?” But this is not the case. The key issue is whether we have received the grace of Jesus Christ. If so, there will be no seeking of the right percentage of our income so we can be comfortable within those giving limits but we will be seeking opportunities and the privilege to give generously, not only of our material wealth but our time and dedication to the raising up of others.   And as that grace works within us, we will seek to do it all, not for our glory but for God’s glory.

 

Christ told us: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked”.

Luke 12:48 NIV

 

Jesus grew up under the Jewish system where people were taught to be liberal when it came to sustaining God’s cause through helping others. There were special offerings to take care of the needy. The corners of the fields were reserved for the poor. God sought to teach Israel that he came first as everything they had was his and that they were his stewards, his caretakers. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; Psalm 24:1NIV

“We are as cups filled at the spring and from us the thirsty drink and praise the Fountain!” Spurgeon                                    

Imagine our communities where the living sweetwater of generosity flows between us – where each one is doing their part in responding to the needs of others God places in our lives each day.  “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” From II Cor. 9NIV

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night Sky

imageThe announcement of the birth of Christ had to go to the shepherds first – to a class of people for whom very little excitement ever happened. God would look for those who would be most filled with wonder at what he was about to do. He would want people who wouldn’t wave away or discount this most historically profound event of heaven touching earth – God our Creator taking on our humanity. The shepherds were such a group. It wouldn’t be the first time God would look to shepherds for a special task. In the time of Christ’s birth, the shepherd was considered the lowest of the lowest. Most oen they were not the owners but hirelings paid to risk their lives for someone else’s property. The historians who described elements of the Hebrew culture were not very kind when it came to the shepherd.

They were considered to be thieves from whom locals were cautioned not to buy such things as milk, wool or lambs as it might be stolen goods. They were so untrustworthy that they were not allowed to fulfill a judicial office or be admitted in court as witnesses. The conditions in which they worked for paltry pay were extreme as they led the sheep to grass daily. From the 23rd Psalm, we picture sheep grazing in alfalfa to their bellies, but in truth, this near-desert land had limited rainfall and whatever grass that was available was little tufts found at the edge of stones where night dew had collected and then trickled down the side. The shepherd led the sheep across the desert and over mountains in pursuit of a day’s ration of food. In a video clip I once saw of this process, from overhead the sheep grazing paths looked like someone had drawn a comb through the sand as side by side they walked through the desert, heads down searching for the next tuft. The historians refer to the sheep-herding occupation as “mean and inglorious” which is a synonym with shameful, dishonorable, disgraceful and discreditable. .

The shepherds would be compared to the poor of our day. Those who through poverty are more vulnerable to hardship that brings want, alienation, loss and suffering. It would be more difficult for them to raise their prospects of a better life due to societal perception and bias. And like the poor today, without the material buffer, one wrong decision could come at a high cost. This subgroup would also include the mentally ill who would have a greater challenge to succeed than others and with the added obstacle of poverty would be at the mercy of those they depended on as caregivers. The prophet Isaiah foretold what this Messiah would do for this group of people when He came: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound . . . to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion; to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” Isaiah 61:1-3 In Luke 4:18 this prophecy was fulfilled.

Everything God has done in the narrative of the Holy Scriptures has layers of meanings, and we are rewarded discovering what they are and the spiritual meaning they hold for us. This heavenly declaration of the coming of the Messiah that the Israelites had waited for hundreds of years to hear, was coming as it was prophecied – as “a thief in the night” because only a select few of God’s choosing would have knowledge that it was happening.

To receive and experience this profound message in the way it was going to be given, God would want people who were singly connected to the earth and little else, with a learned awareness of a changing environment and then to at last, look up at a night sky seemingly ready to explode.
As the stellar event drew near, the breeze off the distant Mediterranean Sea began to gently shift and bring in the life-giving moisture for morning dew the next day. There must have been gradually building signs of unrest in the sheep as they slept or quietly grazed on the hillside. The shepherd would have the acuity to be drawn to their behavior and begin to search the landscape for an explanation, not looking skyward until suddenly unexplainable light and sound began to escalate their rising dread of what was coming. The shepherd continuously risked his life with the threat of predators, both human and animal, that would attack the sheep so it makes sense that their adrenalin would be rising in this highly charged atmosphere. The scriptural narrative cites the great fear the shepherds felt, even terror. The shepherds crouched to be as small as possible, as their night sky shook with the booming voice of one angel eventually joined by others filling the sky in a glorious chorus of praise. The words of declaration spoken directly to them would be a story for all time, and it has been.

Luke 2:8-20 (NIV)
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

This one hallmark event to every believer is so much more profound when the context is understood. That is how God would want us to learn about his intentions for us and the depth that a relationship with him could have. He doesn’t do what conventional thinking says he will do. In fact, he is unconventional. We can only predict what he will do when we choose to seek and align with him. The shepherds saw the new and brilliant star, one they hadn’t seen before marking this event and the place where the child lay. They followed it.

When the shepherds left the stable and went out to tell others what they saw, given what we know about them now, their story was believable only because of the striking change this visceral event must have brought about in them. As they shared their story with genuine excitement and wonder the scriptures tell us “everyone was amazed”. It is my hope that like the shepherds, we are open to this wonder and undistracted from the world can look up and imagine that brilliant white feathered messenger against a black night sky speaking to each of us, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy . . .” Then, with conviction, go out and share it. That’s what our story of this Messiah still does to us and others with whom we share. We are visibly transformed as we respond to the message and leave our familiar comforts and go out to find this Messiah no matter where and among whom He is accessible to us. This is our sweetwater journey.

On our Christmas tree every year I hang several small yellow-gold stars that I made from craft clay that is baked. I carved the words “All is Well” in the clay and then cut out a cross in the center so the light shines through. I gave away several of these ornaments in the last few Christmas seasons because I wanted the broken-hearted, the meek, the forgotten, those bound in prison, those with a spirit of heaviness and those who mourn to know that this angel message is for everyone and because Jesus came and sacrificed His life for us, we are loved and cared for with our daily bread provided. “All is Well” and there is nothing that can separate us from His love. He told us this in the book of Romans 8:31-39 (adapted):
1 What, then, shall I say in response to these things? If God is for me, who can be against me? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for me—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give me all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against me whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for me. 35 Who shall separate me from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
I am considered as sheep to be slaughtered.
37 No, in all these things I am more than a conqueror through him who loves me. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
A Blessed Christmas to everyone – All is well!

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

Harps Upon Willows

weeping-willow-2The Old Testament is for the most part God’s interaction with his chosen family set apart to bring forth our Savior, Jesus Christ. These Scriptures describe their struggle to follow the rules God gave them as his standards are high. Around 600BC, through his many prophets, he gave the Israelites warning after warning that unless they stopped worshiping idols he was going to allow them to be taken captive. We know that did happen. King Nebuchadnezzar took them from their home to Babylon and there they lived in captivity for 70 years. Psalm 137 relates the lament of this people as they realized that they no longer lived in their beautiful city of Zion – Jerusalem. Their captors wanted them to be entertaining, to sing and be happy but their spirits and hearts were broken. They were no longer free. Nothing was the same.

          “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion.’ How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

                                                                                                Psalm 137:1-3KJV 

You don’t have to be captured and exiled from your home to experience the loss of freedom. Today, as I work with families who have been victimized in their own homes by people they love, I have seen this broken heart and spirit where happiness and contentment is temporary and superficial. They are literally being “wasted” by the ones who they thought loved them but who now control their every move.

Many Ozark city and county law enforcement departments report that 50% or more of their incoming calls are related to domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is not just a law and order problem, it is also a community problem. Harps Upon Willows has been written to raise awareness that there is a severe cultural problem in our communities. Listed below is the profile of an abuser. Some or all of these behaviors can be present in the individual who is abusing their family. The list is a pattern of behaviors repeatedly presented in my case files of hundreds of Texas and Wright County citizens that make up in part that 50%.

Keep in mind that for the most part an abuser has a low self-image and seeks ways to control and intimidate others to compensate for it. When you have two persons together in a relationship who both have a low self-image and one of them fits the abuser profile then you can have a perfect storm.

 

 Below is a list taken from “Criminal Thinking and Behavior Patterns Often Displayed By Abusers” Source unknown.

 Excuse Making: Gives excuses instead of accepting responsibility; tries to justify the behavior with the excuse: I was never loved; My parents beat me; I had a bad day and when I walked in and saw this mess, I lost my temper.

Blaming: Shifts the responsibility for the behavior on others and justifies the anger at someone else for causing the behavior: If you would stay out of it when I’m disciplining the kids, I wouldn’t hit them. 

Redefining: Changes the definition of what is going on so that the problem becomes the focus instead of the abusive behavior: This place is always a mess. . .what do you do all day!

Lying: Helps to control the situation through confusion by controlling the information available.

Uniqueness: Believes that they are different from others and do not have to follow the same rules. They are right and everyone else is wrong: I don’t need counseling; Nobody knows as much about me as I do; I can handle my life without outside help.

Fragmenting: Feels justified and sees no inconsistencies in their behavior: Common for an abuser to attend church on Sunday and beat their partner on Monday. 

Minimizing: Refusing to take responsibility by making behavior out to be less than it is: I didn’t hit the kids that hard; I didn’t leave any marks so you can’t be battered; I could have hurt you a lot worse, but I didn’t.

Ownership: Applies equally to people and possessions and justifies their control over other’s behavior through abuse and taking what they want: If I want it, it’s mine; If it’s mine, I can do whatever I want with it. 

(Rest of the list Taken from “Criminal Thinking and Behavior Patterns Often Displayed By Abusers” Source unknown).

 Anger:  Uses their anger to control and intimidate others and situations.

Power Play: Uses these tactics to regain control when not getting their way: Walking out of a room; Refusing to listen to others; Out-shouting and ignoring others.

Playing Victim: Manipulates others into rescuing them by appearing helpless and pretending to be unable to cope: If I don’t get what I want, I am a victim.

Drama and Excitement: Substituting uproar and stimulation for close satisfying relationships because they have a problem connecting with others: Gets into fights; incites others to anger. Criticizes and belittles others to make them feel worthless.

Closed Channel: Reveals little about their real feelings and is not open to new information particularly about their behavior: Secretive, closed-minded, self-righteous, always right in all situations.

Image: Thinks of themselves as strong, superior, independent, self-sufficient and macho because of the results they get from intimidating others. Any statement which does not support the concept of their image is taken as a put-down: I’m not doing anything wrong. If I am doing something wrong, I won’t get caught. If I get caught, I can talk my way out of it. If I can’t talk my way out, the consequences will be light.*(end of quote) 

 

We may only witness a few of these behaviors in our acquaintances and family members and feel that they are harmless and even normal but the person or the family who is being victimized by this pattern of behavior can tell a different story. Abuse is criminal. A person with these behaviors will cross a line at some point pushing the control to a new level – one of violence, especially if there is any resistance.

If you know someone like this or are living in a relationship with them, please know that you cannot change the abuser’s behavior. This individual must seek professional help and want to change themselves. If you are finding yourself in an ongoing cycle which includes incidents of escalating abuse followed by the honeymoon phase and on and on, please seek help for yourself. Protect yourself and your children as it typically does not end well.   You can also lose your children to state custody and be charged with “failure to protect” or “child endangerment”. There are different levels of severity of these charges which could give you a felony record for life. This record could affect any employment or education opportunities you might seek especially in human services as they do background checks. And worst of all, eventually your children will think this lifestyle is normal and behave this way when they are adults or will enter into relationships where they are abused – continuing the cycle because that is all they have known. This is your opportunity to break the cycle and protect yourself and them. There is help available in dealing with this destructive problem.   Please call me for more information: 417-252-0829.

Harps Upon Willows is a voice for those whose every activity is monitored for signs of infidelity or betrayal; those isolated from family and friends and spending each moment bracing for the next barrage of verbal abuse that can escalate into violence.

This writing also provides a voice for the survivors who have been kicked out of trucks speeding down the highway; for those being ran over with the family car causing permanent damage and those dragged by their hair while being pulled alongside a truck on a gravel road leaving gravel embedded in their knees.   Harps. . . is especially a voice for those who were killed by their partners as they tried to leave. Statistics prove that that is when the danger is the highest.

Imagine a community where everyone is knowledgeable about abuse and will not tolerate it. A community where the children observe the adults taking action to protect them within their families, their schools, their churches and in the justice and the social services system that has been created to protect the innocent.

“The Lord will perfect me in knowledge, concerning his kingdom, I will praise thee O Lord forever, for thou art merciful, and will not forsake the works of thine own hands.” Psalm 138:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awakening

107286-555x488-YinYang6In the life that I have experienced, joy and sorrow can come at the same time just like the yin and yang of the Taijitu symbol in Chinese philosophy.

Yin and yang is used to describe how opposite or contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world; and, how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Many natural dualities (such as light and dark, high and low, hot and cold) are thought of as physical manifestations of the yin-yang concept. The concept lies at the origins of many branches of classical Chinese science and philosophy. Yin and yang can be thought of as complementary instead of opposing forces interacting to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts. Everything has both yin and yang aspects, for instance shadow cannot exist without light. (Wikipedia online)

A disciple of Jesus Christ, Apostle Paul, described the same Christian principle in this way: II Corinthians 12:9-10 NIV

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I will call her Grace. When someone is describing their life to you in tears of both joy and sorrow about not knowing real familial love and then finding it at their lowest point you listen in earnest because she has had divine intervention in her life, an awakening.   Grace’s lowest point came when everything that defined who she was had slipped away and was under the control of the ones she no longer trusted. This was her yin and yang moment – the light and shadow, fire and water, joy and sorrow, life and death moment of awareness. I was sitting across the table from someone who once was dead and now – alive – her tears, a form of baptism in entering a new life.

A few years earlier at our first meeting, she described a life without a childhood, a life of trying to parent siblings only a few years younger to keep them in school and out of trouble.   Her life started in rocky circumstances, born into the chaos of drugs and a long string of stepfathers. She talked about the adults who knew the abusive lifestyle in which the children of this family were living but who did nothing. She described social services representatives who looked the other way. She was in and out of hospital care with broken bones due to the condition she was born with caused by drug abuse. She got pregnant at 15 by the son of a family friend who lived with them. They had slept together due to cramped quarters since they were children.

She was in a leg splint recuperating from a broken leg. She was told that next time she would most likely lose her leg. She was raising her child and attending college online and trying to make her life better. I remember how impressed I was with her intelligence and will to succeed.

Today, two years later, even that was renewed and stronger than ever coupled with nosedives to the bottom describing her struggle to stay clean from drugs and the devastating fact that her children were no longer in her care. Grace talked about the journey she had had with alcohol addiction and now hardcore drugs and trying to get through life daily under her own steam toughing it out – the only way she had learned to survive each hellish day.

I have heard the stories from many young women looking for love in all the wrong places as the saying goes and getting burned again and again but this time for her it was different. Grace was in love with being loved in healthy ways. She was around people who weren’t perfect but were trying to live a clean drug-free life, and who set boundaries on her addiction management and yet loved her unconditionally. Now, for the first time, she had her village. Her partner sees her as a beautiful person. He wasn’t trying to exploit her in any way.   This was the joy that ran down her cheeks today, at last finding something that felt whole and lasting.

The dark and light in her life, were in a battle together everyday making her feel like they could tear her apart. The yin and yang symbols are held together in a circle which is an actual line not just imagined but visible as it shows up in the light side. It is this circle I believe to be God who I look to at all times to keep my light and dark together as a whole. I hope to lead others to this awareness by seeing that belief in action in my life.

Grace’s greatest challenge was now facing her in her new life. Her parental rights were in question. Her tears of joy and sadness peaked as she was dealing with the reality that she could do nothing at this point. Too much time had been lost in drugged numbness and escape to be able to catch up. Could she let her children go where they would no longer have to experience her present instability or fight for them when she had nothing to fight with at this time? Later, as we rode in the car, I told her the story of King Solomon and the two mothers who came to his court one day. She leaned forward and listened.

.           17 One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. 18 The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.

19 “During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. 20 So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. 21 The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”

22 The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”

But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.

23 The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’”

24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. 25 He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”

26 The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”

But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”

27 Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

28 When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice. I Kings 3:16-28 NIV

This story has many of the elements that Grace was dealing with and the most important one was the ”grace of God love” that she and the mother in the story both shared. “Grace of God love” is defined as the love and mercy given to us by God, our Father because he desires us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.

This love tirelessly advocates in the most difficult situations. This love makes the hard choices to let go when there is no other way. I have witnessed many times in custody cases where one parent even though they have been the perpetrator of abuse is awarded physical custody because they have the financial resources. Whereas the other parent who has invested a great deal of emotional energy and time in providing loving care will have to accept this decision due to their lack of financial resources. The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence reports that half of all women and children become homeless while trying to escape abuse situations. Research shows that domestic violence is a risk factor for homelessness and this is especially true for those who are more isolated and have a harder time getting support from family and friends.1

After hearing the story of the two mothers, Grace decided she must be that woman who was the real mother and let her children go until she was able to get her life on track for their sakes.

From her journal: Struggling to Stand Again – “I turned to the people supporting my self-destruction thinking they were my only real friends. .. I asked multiple people sitting in leader seats for direction, advice, help, a chance. I have tried every way I know to show the people of the community that make the big decisions, that have jobs to give that make any difference, that I made a mistake. I own that. But once I was the employee to fight over. I want to be that again.” (End of quote)

. . .we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 NIV

“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14NIV

5 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”. John 1:5 NIV

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

“Like the rising sun that shines. . . From the darkness comes a light!

I hear Your Voice. . . This is my awakening!” Lyrics from “Awakening” by Hillsongs United

Wherever you see dysfunction in people’s lives, believe me, God is there working to bring Shalom2. If it isn’t visible it’s most likely because not enough of others are helping God to make it happen.

I have been entrusted with the stories of those whose paths have crossed mine. I have been blessed in discovering how powerful the “grace of God love” is in helping someone understand that God encircles their chaos and wants to teach them life’s lessons while under his guidance and protection to bring about their awakening.

John Newton wrote: “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.” 

Our neighbors in our communities have amazing stories of life and near death of the spirit and the watershed moments of enlightenment that brought them into an awareness of God. I believe that it is God’s intention that we come together to listen to and support one another and be strengthened by each other’s story of faith and struggle.

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was grace that taught my heart to fear.
And grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Through many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come;
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far
and grace will lead me home.

The Lord has promised good to me.
His word my hope secures.
He will my shield and portion be,
As long as life endures.

Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.

                             John Newton 1725-1807

The true stories that are included in Sweetwater Journey are being shared with us by clients of Christos House with their permission that they be presented in a way to teach the readers that there are people who are in difficult circumstances where not having any resources or a support network can make it impossible to overcome. We are honored that they are willing to share their stories to help others with similar issues and to hopefully keep them from making the same mistakes.  

  1. MCADSV “The Basics” Newsletter, February, 2012

    2.  Peace