Just Look...

Just Look...

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

New Eyes

I've had this post in progress for a good while now. In the past year, my thinking has undergone a bit of a transformative process. I actually think being exposed to PCL's philosophy had a lot to do with it. I've always believed in sustainable projects and sustainable living, but I remember a conversation with Jake and later with Matt (the director of the orphanage in Cambodia) in which we talked about orphanages and their purpose. A point was made that the hope is that by providing education and help, parents would be able to provide for their children, thus eliminating many of the issues that lead to abandonment of children. This conversation was in July of 2013.

Fast forward to 2014. We had a service and prayer time for Royal Family at our church. At the end, we got in a circle around the church to pray. A lady in that circle spoke up, as different people had expressed a need for prayer for the children we serve. Her request was a little different. See, this wonderful woman of God and her husband run a Prison Ministry. They see God work in the lives of people who are at their most broken, their most vile in some cases, their most vulnerable. She asked for prayer for the biological parents of our kids, that they would be drawn to the Lord and provided care by people so that they could do what they needed to do to have their kids returned to their care. I'm going to be 100% honest; for one moment, I was taken aback. See, I've heard the stories of the abuse and neglect. I've heard them in the news, from real teenagers in my classroom, and from kids at camp. We want to pray for our kids to be put back in those situations??? Then it hit me that our prayer is NOT for our kids to "be put back in those situations", but for those situations to be changed and redeemed by the grace of our Lord, just like MY life was changed and redeemed by the grace of our Lord.

After that night, I thought about it even more and realized that many of the people Eddie and Gloria serve in their prison ministry actually probably CAME from the foster care system themselves. Some of them are possibly Royal Family "kids". It's such a vicious cycle. And if we could break it by reaching in at the root, how many lives would be changed? As much as I love Royal Family, do you know what I would love even more? If there was NO NEED for Royal Family.

This past year, I have seen in a far more personal way than ever before the ravages of divorce. Again, honesty here: Divorce is so common and people seem to approach it so cavalierly that I have bought into the lie of our society that it really doesn't do that much harm... that it mostly only affects the kids and they are able to get over it quickly... that it hurts for a bit and then live moves on. I truly had started to believe that. My thinking first started to change by watching the show that ended this year called "Parenthood". (I know, it's kind of sad to reference a tv show, but bear with me.) The writers of that show did a most incredible job showing the intense pain of divorce for the couple, their children, and even the extended family.

Unfortunately, since then, I have felt the tremors as the ground has shaken under two of my good friends whose marriages have shattered. I've walked, from a distance but still closer than I have ever been before, with them through this difficult valley. I've prayed for them and with them, worried about them, talked to them, and loved on the kids of one of them. I cried an entire weekend of tears for the family I'm closest to... and through the process, I've seen that nobody wins. No matter who initiates the separation, everybody is in pain.

One of these two friends has found a ministry called Rejoice Marriage Ministries. They support a movement they refer to as "standing". (You might have seen the video in which Miss Kay from "Duck Dynasty" talks about her early years of marriage to Phil. Same concept.) The idea is that you stand for your marriage, you claim that the Lord has ordained the two of you to be together. Some people refuse to sign the papers, some just continue to pray and hold out hope that the Lord will revive the relationship. We discussed the fact that this sort of ministry (and message) is very rare in the church. I talked to another friend the other day, a friend whose own marriage has been shaken but recovered. She mentioned how many people she could name, people in the church, who have walked those shaky grounds of a marriage in trouble.

Some churches have divorce care. Some offer counseling and I would assume any pastor would counsel with people whose marriage is struggling. But I have recently started to wonder if maybe the answer is in marriage support, couples groups, small groups, friendships, community, and accountability. I know that I have felt very guilty that maybe we should have done more for our friends, been more present, been more open, been more supportive.

I'm afraid we (we meaning the church, we meaning our society, we meaning MY church, we meaning MY FAMILY, we meaning ME) pour our resources into first aid when we could (should) be vaccinating and distributing vitamins, teaching fitness and clean eating. I'm not saying that first aid isn't needed, because it certainly is. There is always going to be sin in the world, and sin leads to terrible situations. But if we could also work to support marriage, to heal the hurting, to help the drug addict recover, to reach a hand to the teenager before he or she gets too far down a path of destruction...

I don't know, really. This post isn't about answers in the slightest, it's merely a record of the struggles of my mind and the slow evolution of my own perspective and thinking over the past few years. I don't know how this will affect the future of my own causes and ministries, if my life will take a different path than I had imagined, but I do know that I'm looking around in a new way, through new eyes.

*I did ask permission from the friends who are referenced in this blog. Small town, small world, it's not usually hard to figure out who people are. :)

Monday, June 29, 2015

Words, Words, Words

Writing is my release. It's also my therapy. And my memory-keeper. I use it for activism and for relaxation. In the past couple of years, I have felt more of connection to others through reading and writing than I have face to face. I love to write, whether it's 140 character tweets, Facebook statuses, blog posts, texts, emails, or, one day, a book. The other thing I love is taking pictures, as evidenced by my 9 year photography business. I guess that's why I ADORE instagram-- it gives you a way to combine writing AND photography.

This past week, on two different occasions, reference has been made in a public setting by a public speaker to my social media presence. Although I don't think either person had any sort of negative intentions, it has caused me to step back and analyze all day today. And worry. Which, in light of the legitimate worries and fears I'm having right now, wasn't really the best timing.  But maybe it took my mind off those? .... Nah.

In regard to time, I think non-writers overestimate the amount of time it takes to formulate a tweet, fb post, or instagram caption. Those are usually sucking... 1-3 minutes, if that, from my life. IF, that is, you view it as sucking time from your life, which I don't. I don't see it as sucking time from my life because I typically have a specific reason to post. And those reasons fit into a couple of different categories.

I have an activity that I use sometimes with my students in which they analyze their time on social media. They study their patterns over the course of a week and then fit their posts/tweets into categories. I think you also need to consider your audience and my audience varies greatly from instagram to Facebook to twitter. My social media posts are MOSTLY instagram photos. Those photos serve either to document, entertain, or humor. I use social media as an online scrapbook. Aside from photos, I find that I typically use twitter for either social activism, education, or humor. I do allow my current students to follow me on twitter, although I don't follow them, so I often tweet things that pertain to classes and the news. Facebook is a little different. My Facebook posts are typically either for humor, entertainment, documentation, or seeking information. To me, Facebook's tremendous worth is in having an entire community of input at your fingertips. Last week I got TONS of vacation suggestions and this week on instagram, unsolicited, I got two GREAT suggestions for finding sunglasses!

I guess what I don't understand about people who complain about either frequency or content of posts by others (and it should be noted that I don't think either person who addressed me this past week was complaining, but rather observing) is that the beauty of social media is that it's the ONE PLACE IN YOUR LIFE where you CAN walk away! I'll be honest and say there have been a few people in my newsfeed who just plain literally drive me crazy with the type of things they post. In January, I decided that I would be a much happier person if I did not see those things, so I used that really handy "Hide posts" feature on fb! WOW! Instant mood improvement. I don't understand why people don't utilize that.

I love social media. I don't think that it takes away from my real life at all or that I miss things by posting on social media. I am a photographer by nature and so I would be taking photos of events anyway. I don't believe that the 3 minutes it takes to post photos means that I am removing myself from the community. I will acknowledge that there was a time in my life I spent entirely too much time READING social media (and sometimes I slip back into that when there's something in particular happening that I fixate on), but I've dealt with that issue. I am very careful WHAT I post and HOW I say it. I know the power of words and I try with all of my heart to let my social media activity be positive, encouraging, and loving. I guess it's the careful attention I give to words that makes me extra sensitive to comments that may just be intended as casual joking about me and social media.

I reached a point today in which I decided against this post because truly, there's no need for me to explain or justify my writing/posts. However, as it got late and even turned to early morning and I was still mulling it over, I knew I had to write about it and get it out, if only just to reassure myself. I feel better. The words, they do that for me. :)

Monday, June 8, 2015

The One I Tried to Avoid Writing


This is one of those that I need to write mainly for myself, although I know that many others can probably relate in different situations. It's one that I hate to write because I detest vulnerability (in myself) and yet I somehow know that I benefit from transparency. It's a strange paradoxical state, the world inside my brain. ;)

I got home on Friday from Royal Family Kids' Camp. It's a ministry my church does for kids age 7-11 who have been abandoned, abused, and neglected. Most are in foster care currently, though we do serve some who have been recently adopted. This was our 17th year and I have been blessed to be part of this ministry from Day 1. I did miss the year I got married and the two years I had babies, but it's been an integral part of the fabric of my life since shortly after my high school graduation. Kraig has been in it since the beginning with me, we coordinate many fundraising activities for this ministry, our girls are as involved as they can be until they are old enough to be counselors, and we both serve on the leadership team. The staff over the years becomes like family. Many of my biological family members, former students, and closest church friends are also deeply involved. I say all of this to provide background for what I am about to say. You should know that, of all ministries and activities I participate in, this one has my heart. This one is the one I am most involved with and the one I love the most.

I would be hard-pressed to think of a time in my life I have ever felt more like an outsider than this past week at camp. More so than my first day as a new faculty member at CHS, more so than traveling to DC to be part of a group of Holocaust teacher fellows in which I knew NO ONE, more so than in SE Asia where I am one of precious few tall, overweight Caucasians ;) .... It makes absolutely no sense, I know that. And this is not one of those posts about how people exclude people and the church needs to get it right, either. This year at camp was probably the most peaceful and supportive and encouraging staffs we have ever taken. It is not at all the fault of a single person. It was just me. And no matter what I did or what I told myself, I could not shake the feeling.

It was grating and constant and made me feel all itchy inside. It wasn't like sadness or anxiety or anything at all like that, just like I was the wrong size puzzle piece and I was the only one who knew it. Or maybe everyone else knew it too. I laughed at the wrong places in the story, heard the silences in conversations when it should have been my line. I was the kid at the lunch table who desperately wants to be liked but yet somehow can't ever offer the right key to unlock the group. I felt displaced and replaced and out of the loop. It unnerved me and scared me a little because there was very much a sense of, "What if this is the rest of my life? What if I have somehow lost what it takes to connect with people? What if I'm all poured out and used up?" because if I don't fit here in what has become a sort of home for my soul for the entirety of my adult life with people who are and feel like family, then where will I ever fit in?

Throughout the week, I was living it, so there wasn't much time for introspection and reflection. Since I have been home, I have reflected back on those feelings and possible causes. The very strange thing was that, no matter how much of a disconnect I felt with the people, God was so very present for me this week. There were multiple situations that were nothing short of miraculous answers from Him, circumstances in which His hand was the only possible reason that certain pieces of the week worked out.

It was sometime on Saturday that I had a thought. I wish I could say that God revealed to me that THIS, THIS was the answer to the entire week and that my feelings were straight from Him to make this point, but I can't say for certain that was the case. What I can say for certain is that this thought shed new light on my camp experience this year.

{I have typed and retyped the next part multiple times because I want to be so careful what and how I say it. I think it's so important for people who have truly lived easy lives not to ever imply that they "know what it's like" for anyone in true hardship situations. It's the same reason we teachers of Holocaust education avoid any type of simulation. I NEVER want my students to leave saying, "Oh, I know what they felt like, being in that railcar" because YOU DON'T and never could. In the same way, I have NO IDEA what it feels like to be a child in foster care and I NEVER COULD, no matter what. So please don't misunderstand what I am about to say.}

I think my feelings this week gave me a tiny taste, a fraction, a moment, of what those kids feel all the time. They live lives of displacement, rejection, feeling discarded. They are accustomed to having little to no information about their circumstances, to feeling like no one is ever happy to see them. Many of them, when it comes to potential adoptive situations, know what it means to feel "too old", "too shy", "too many siblings". They hear other kids talk about holidays and family events and vacations and all of those things and many of them just don't have much to offer to the conversation. There often isn't time to make friends because the next new school is just around the corner. At some juncture, it isn't just a matter of no time but rather feeling like there is no point. Although looking at them, you would never know they are in different circumstances than other kids, they always know. They always feel like that puzzle piece that never exactly fits.

What I hope is that they also know and were reminded this week that, no matter how few things they are able to fit in their little suitcase or trash bag to take to their next placement, there is One who goes before them who is so much bigger than their little lives. I hope they remember that, because of Him, they can be strong and courageous, not fearful or sad, for He is with them. It's always hard at the end of camp week for the staff because of the uncertainty. We know many of them are in great foster homes and group homes, some are in wonderful adoptive homes, some will go back to improved situations with biological parents at some point. But we also know that the future for so many of these kids is so uncertain and shaky and it's hard to spend a week loving on them, then watching them walk away seemingly alone. I loved the song we did all week and it's such a great reminder that they aren't walking away alone. The God of Angel Armies is always by their side.