Thursday, November 24, 2016

Let's Be Thankful

Anxiety and strife are the norm for our precious girls. There are, very LEGITIMATELY,  so many things in this world to worry about. How much more for a child who is abandoned and alone on the planet! When they come to us, they cry (for some) for days. They are so filled with fear and anxiety.  All we can do is wait. We patiently wait for them to take the risk, and believe that maybe, just maybe, we could be who we say we are. Maybe we really are kind and maybe we do love them with no personal agenda for gain. We long for them to relax a bit and feel the whimsy of childhood. We pray for them to rest in the fact that they are safe, now. We can see it just beyond their grasp, and it pains us when they are so bound by fear that they cannot experience the "felt-safety" of their new home.

This is exactly what the Lord is doing for me every single day. Waiting patiently for me to realize that He is GOOD and that all that He does is GOOD. He is for me and He is kindness personified. If only I would rest fully in that, I could finally relax in Him knowing that I am a fully vested child of God. Not an outsider that is tolerated. That I indeed, have a seat at my Father's table. 



The antidote to this fear-riddled way of life is THANKFULNESS! . If we come to the Lord with our concerns, and if we remember to keep our hearts grateful, we will be taking the leap of trusting Him, without even realizing it. Before you know it, you'll be learning a new normal way of living. A way of life that refuses to focus on the "what-if's" of sorrow and dread, but instead chooses to perseverate on the goodness of God and the wonderful gifts in our lives! Take your seat at His table today, and be grateful! 

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Call

The cell service was intermittent, only allowing me to hear every other word at best.  A raspy voice was on the other end. The young woman overused the word "like" in her nervousness. I engaged in the back-and-forth of: "can you hear me?...hello?...oh, wait, there! I can hear you, now!" Eventually one of us entered an area where the service was much better. The conversation kept it's awkward cadence, but continued.

The voice on the other end bled with emotion. This sweet girl, that was now on the line and grasping for words, had a love repellent so highly developed and unlike any I had ever experienced. She consistently repelled people and love out of her abandonment and grief. She was not a mean or violent person. She was a child, whose brokenness had left her so desperate and alone that she could not afford herself the luxury of any other emotion besides anger. You see, other emotions leave you vulnerable and open to more pain. But not anger. Anger builds walls of false security. Walls that masquerade as safety. This empty sense of control, in reality, is a lonely place riddled with sorrow. When anger is consistently indulged, you become confined within it's unforgiving fortress and you feel utterly helpless to free yourself. Trapped. When anger is your bully, you enter a cycle that robs you of love and dismantles your hope.

The brave caller simply needed to hear me say the words: "I forgive you." I quickly explained that I loved her, and that forgiveness was not needed. I went on to tell her that I thought of her often and only with fondness. She was unhindered in her quest for the phrase that would be a balm to her weary heart. She was unrelenting. I acquiesced. "Yes. Of course I forgive you" I said.  She exhaled loudly, and seemed quite unaware of it.

I went on to make small talk and ask about her life and goals. She talked about meeting siblings that she never knew she had. She talked about her new apartment. It was lovely to hear her speak with a smile. She aged out of Michigan's foster care system, and her reference to that milestone was revealing. She said with a haunting pride (pride in the fact that she "made it" and the system didn't kill her - not all foster youth are so lucky fortunate) "I'm free now, Miss Maggie!".  I lovingly added (not revealing the lump in my throat), "Yes, I know, honey. I'm proud of you."

As we wrapped up the small talk, she seemed uneasy. Something hung in the air and I waited for it to unfold. She sped up the gate of her conversation and sounded like someone who was very serious about their pending request. She began to talk about the promotional video for the House of Providence that was online. She sputtered a jumble of words that I listened to intently. She begged me not to EVER take the promotional video off of the internet. She explained to me that we were the only family that she had ever really experienced. The video was what "tucked her in" every night. She spent time with us, her family, each night by watching the video and then (and only then) was she able to drift off to sleep. "If you take it down, I won't be able to go on." This was not a dramatization. This was a fact. I promised. She relaxed.

After I hung up the phone, I thought back to the times when, as a young child, I would lay and wait for my mom and dad to come to my room. I fought against that sleep so hard. I didn't want to miss their hug or kiss and the comforting "tuck-in". I think of all of the children who wait tonight, with no parent on their way. I think of the children who lay alone in bed, and alone on this planet. Lord Jesus, tuck them in tight and bathe their minds with Your comfort. Thank you for letting us be Your hands and arms to tuck in those that we can.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Disdain

Sheepish from the abuse (that she believes tells her truth), she looked up at me hoping that I wouldn’t catch her fleeting glance. She was so determined to reject me, but her heart was betraying her. I prayed for breakthrough. It has not yet come, but still I wait.

She screamed and scratched while demanding that we pack her things so that she could run away to find her “mother”. After wearing herself out, she snuggled and sobbed. This baby-girl lay sweaty and soul weary - grateful that we had not acquiesced. 

Anger rages and abandonment falsely frames every. single. interaction. There they remain, listless and unable to risk the vulnerability brought by the audacity of hope. To live life as someone that is only tolerated is an unbearable burden that crushes foster children. This childhood prison is a thief that relentlessly returns over and over to snuff out hope, intimacy and the ability to bond. 

1 disdain 
noun dis·dain \dis-ˈdān\
Definition of disdain
: a feeling of strong dislike or disapproval of someone or something you think does not deserve respect.


If you’ve ever showed up to a gathering where the host was not expecting you, then you understand the awkwardness of feeling like you don’t belong in a place or at that party. It feels like everyone is rushing around to make room for you, but you weren't expected or initially "wanted" there. Can you imagine with me, the reality for foster children who KNOW this is true about their very existence? Children who KNOW that they are cast aside and only tolerated, NEVER celebrated. And we have the effrontery to wonder why the behaviors they exhibit attempt to shun everyone who comes emotionally near them. Understandably, the suicide rate is much higher in these children. The highly developed antisocial traits have proven to be the only comfort they find in controlling the inevitable rejection. It is far easier to survive a (perceived) controlled rejection, rather than riding each wave of rejection as it swamps them completely.  

At the House of Providence, we celebrate the very existence of each of our residents. We understand that we are not the “plan A” of their lives. We talk openly about this! We are not bullied by this fact, and we certainly don’t shy away from broaching the subject. We declare openly that we are going to do whatever we can to be the best “plan B” possible (and that they absolutely deserve)! We have to get pretty creative at HOP when trying to be this best that our girls need and deserve. Sometimes that looks like a quiet night in with a movie and healing laughter. Other times, this looks like REFUSING to give up on a child who is begging you to give up, with every defiant action that she can muster. Because, for her, loving us is just to dang risky!

What Michigan’s foster kids have endured, is not a reflection of who they are, and this is a difficult truth to convince them of. It can be equally as difficult to convince society of this truth. If perspective is reality, then we have a big paradigm to shift! Won’t you join us in our attempt?  

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Smile

**Names our often changed in this blog to honor the dignity of our residents.

I walked up the shamefully uneven sidewalk toward the unmistakably secure institution. With each step I took, I noticed that the weeds had already begun to fill the cracks and were quietly announcing Spring. Hope can be seen anywhere, if you are searching. I approached the entrance of the emergency shelter for under-aged girls, as I have many times before. As usual, I am on the look-out for hope! Certain environments try to trick us into believing that hope is not here or cannot be found (and this awful shelter is certainly one of those places!). Today, the Lord would generously offer me an enormous helping of hope that would seek me out, and serenade me to a place of humility that would be leveling.

I signed in and waited for the young girl (the one that I would be interviewing as a possible resident at HoP) to be escorted in to the room where I was sitting. As I sat, I imagined and prayed. I always ask the Lord for His eyes, and great clarity. I already had a sense that this girl would be a perfect fit for our program. Our program requires a minuscule degree of internal readiness for change.  Did I mention minuscule? I literally mean minuscule! All we need is a teeny, tiny seedling of desire and we can nourish that thing to full bloom with: an ounce of the child's cooperation, all the unfailing love that we can muster (that is the love of God flowing through our frailty)  and immeasurable mounds of Supernatural healing!

As the loud turning of the doorknob startled me back to the present, the commercial safety door swung wide. The staff member (whom I have come to know and love) presented the brightest introduction that I had yet seen at this facility! "Hey Maggie! This is Angelina!" This young lady was a sturdy 5'6" and her smile immediately lit the room! Her hot pink, too small glasses were mangled and hanging by a thread lots and lots of scotch tape. It was obvious that her lens was quite strong, and that going without glasses was not an option if she were to manage on her own. Unfortunately, that's exactly where she has, ONCE AGAIN, found herself...alone.

She sat with a nervous excitement in the chair adjacent to me and made fleeting eye-contact. She knew why I was there. I could see the wonderings spinning in her mind...would she be "good enough"? Would she be acceptable? Would I want her? Still smiling, although much more sheepishly, she waited for me to engage and set the tone. As soon as we were alone, I began by warmly greeting her and making the room feel as safe as I could. I engaged her fear and addressed it head on. I complimented her from every angle, without patronizing her. She began to open up about her life and the death of her mother (when she was only three years old), and then two years later, the death of her guardian-her grandmother.  How she now, six years later, found herself back in foster care because the adoptive father had been abusing her and using her as "The Help". She had a dimly lit sense of self and it grew dimmer still as she reminisced about her past losses and trauma.

I sprinkled our undeniably formal chat with questions that would make her feel like the sweet, normal 14-year-old girl that she is. We talked about: favorite colors, boys, subjects in school that are a total drag, television shows, what makes her sad, her favorite food (ice cream!) and what three foods she would love to live without (broccoli, broccoli and broccoli)!  When children come from really hard places, and extreme neglect, food is a very. big. issue!

As our time together began  to wind down, I asked her if there was anything that she was really good at. She seemed to sit up a little straighter, and with a confidence that she had not yet revealed, she asked: "want me to show you?"  Of course I nearly jumped out of the chair at the offer.  She closed her eyes and solemnly cleared her throat.  She began to sing. I knew immediately that this was a MOMENT that I would not soon forget! She sang "I Smile", by Kirk Franklin.

 She started  her solo midway through the song with these lyrics:

Today's a new day, but there is no sunshine
Nothing but clouds, and it's dark in my heart
And it feels like a cold night
Today's a new day, where are my blue skies
Where is the love and the joy that you promised me
Tell me it's alright
I almost gave up, but a power that I can't explain
Fell from heaven like a shower
She proceeded to close it  out with: "I smile...See, I smile...Smile."  It was all I could do to maintain my composure in the sacred moment. I dared not burst into the ugly cry and recklessly bleed my selfish emotions all over her. This dear child, with her lap full of loss and  life full of trauma, was singing to me about why she smiles and her reason for hope.  I was disgusted with myself and the simplicity with which I become distracted by disappointment. Lord, please forgive me. I will try much harder to keep my holy "smile"! 



Thursday, April 7, 2016

Audacity to Hope

Some days are filled with obvious and miraculous reasons for hope. Some days our girls are making therapeutic progress and embracing the love that we offer, with open arms. Some days the pre-teen girls sit together on the suite floor playing Barbie's and laughing with a heart that believes there is "better" ahead for them. Some days our teen girls actually get along, giggle about cute boys and beg to watch some ridiculous, mind-numbing reality show about dance moms. Some days feel hopeful and normal.

Other days don't offer much of anything in the way of reasons for hope. There are days when anger gets the best of a thirteen year old. She is so angry that she does not know how to gain control over all of the triggers from her abuse and memories of rape. When her anger bullies her, she ends up throwing a few punches and destroying several rooms, all while firing up the fear brain in our other girls, who thought domestic violence scenes were in their past.

Yet, on the darkest days, if you look close enough, you can see glimpses of hope. I have the audacity to hope. I hope, because I look into the prettiest, darkest eyes of a ten-year-old girl who is eager to move in to HOP because the Easter Bunny DOES show up here. She has all of her earthly possessions packed up shoved in this garbage bag and nervously picks at a hangnail trying to avoid eyecontact. Most of her things are torn and small. She loves these things and we treat them with the respect that a couture gown would receive. All of her items are washed, dried and neatly folded. They are then placed into her beautiful new dresser with crimson lined drawers. She is unsure and reactionary with reflexes that would outwit a feral cat. She is posturing mean and angry. That is ok with us. We WILL win her heart and help her heal. We believe in the "slow work of God" (Teilhard de Chardin), so we show up, day after day and love her well, because we have the audacity to hope for her future.
  

I receive court rulings, recommendations from foster care workers and reports about all of the "deficits that will be permanent" as a result of trauma, and they try to leave me breathless and angry. Hope often feels eclipsed, and it is not always readily discoverable. BUT, hope is there-just waiting for me to grab ahold and with all of the tenacity that I can muster, CHOOSE to remain hopeful. 

This is not the end. This present trouble is not the bitter end or the finale! I know WHO has the LAST WORD! I choose to walk around spreading Light to dispell darkness. I find it is MUCH more effective and productive than just making sure that everyone is "aware" of the darkness by announcing all of the hideous forms that it takes on. 


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Overcomers

The room was dimly lit and smelled of lavender. The silence was soothing. We lay on our mats while Ms. Sarah read Isaiah 40. She read of hope and soaring like eagles. I soaked it in. Grateful.

It was our first yoga class at Living Waters. These young ladies who seem to have boundless energy (ONLY AFTER the "I will NOT get out of this bed" argument has been sufficiently waged). These young ladies who are always poised for a fight (physical or verbal) because that's what they have had to do. These young ladies who struggle to regulate reactions and emotions. These young ladies who just want to be "normal", whatever that is (they believe it is everything that they are not). These young ladies who are (albeit slowly) learning to be others-focussed and socially appropriate. These young ladies who walked trepidatiously into that Grosse Pointe yoga studio, stressed out about the possibility of doing it "wrong".  So unsure. So self-conscious.

I try to be very obvious about modeling how to do something that I know is brand new to them. I talk my way through the simplest of why's and what's as an attempt at empowerment. This takes the edge off and allows them to follow my lead. It also takes off the pressure of figuring it out. They begin to follow my lead and take their shoes off and place them on the shoe rack, as if this were old-hat! When I am sensitive to their deficits in experiences, and model with oversimplified clarity, they feel more at ease and more confident. When I see our girls try on confidence, it profoundly affects me EVERY TIME! Not taking one. single. thing. for granted, I mention as we walk into the small front office: "Oh, that's the delicious infused water for after our session, that I can't wait to drink once we are finished." Every girl responds in a way, as if to say: "yeah, of course...I was totally gonna wait until after our session to tie into that amazing-looking iced water!!!"  Feeble as I feel, it is my way of teaching them without making their extreme lack of experiential knowledge painfully obvious.

Our girls WANT to be well. They simply have no skills or ego strength to draw from. When our girls arrive, we first stabilize and build trust and then we work on developing a more robust sense of self (this is an amazingly arduous process that is altogether beautiful to witness!). Without this, they simply cannot withstand the restructuring and healing process. Frailty and fragility are the most paralyzing when you are trying to heal or process trauma! We believe in the development of STURDY girls at HOP!

As we concluded our yoga session with Ms. Sarah, she again read Isaiah 40 in a soft, sweet voice while the instrumental music lulled us to relaxation. I was laying in a room of survivors. Survivors who never give up...girls so full of depth and value that I am not even worthy to roll up their yoga mats. I laid there, sprawled out on my slate blue mat with aromatherapy spritzing over me. The tears were defiantly sneaking down my temples as I looked at the ceiling.  I could hardly take it all in. These girls who come to us in desperate need of emotional ICU, full of self-harming behaviors and suicidal ideations and couldn't make it through a single day without a massive meltdown...they were laying beside me in a completely relaxed pose after being silent for an hour of yoga...what fresh miracle was this? Hope is alive and change is in the air. I suddenly realized that they are not just survivors, they are overcomers!

Monday, January 25, 2016

We'd Love To Have Her

"She's a thirteen year old permanent state ward.", they said, factually. "She's had quite a few failed placements.", they said. "She can be a sweet kid, but she is pretty tough to manage.", they said. "If you don't want her, she will probably stay in lockdown because that's all we have." they said. "We'd love to have her!", I said!

"She's a 17 year old girl, who is currently staying at a shelter.", they said. "Her mom doesn't want her and will likely relinquish her rights to her next week.", they said. "We don't have anywhere to place her.", they said. "Our only option is lockdown.", they said. "We'd love to have her!" I said.

"She's 16 and she's being kicked out of her foster home today." they said. "Her adoptive mother died last year and she's really struggling with some pretty serious anger." they said. "Her behaviors are pretty intense at times." they said. "We really have exhausted all of our options and we have no place for her." they said. "We'd love to have her!" I said.

"She is 14, almost 15, with no place to go and no family to speak of." they said. "She's a permanent  ward of the state." they said. "She is very depressed and won't participate in school." they said. "There is no real plan for her, and she doesn't have any hope of finding a family." they said. "We'd love to have her!" I said.

These are just a few of the introductions that are attached to the girls we GET TO do life with, here at HOP.  Move-in day at HOP always seems bleak and terrifying in the eyes of our girls at every. single. intake. We hold our secret hope (of what we know is possible for them) close to our chest so as not to FREAK them out when they first meet us. Every "first day" is filled with uncontrollable trembling and tears. We try to do a LOT more listening than "telling". Not one new girl comes in unscathed by the terrifying realization that she is at our mercy. Who are these new people? Will they abuse me, too? Will they feed me enough? Will they be mean?  Young girls, alone on the planet and desperate for a safe place to live. Desperate, because safety is something that has long eluded them. As we welcome them, we can hardly contain our hope for their future!  We hold it like a soda pop that has been shaken beyond the limit of its containers ability to hold it in.  We are probably much more obvious than we'd like to think!

All of the girls who live here and who have come to trust us, always greet the newcomers with cheer and expectation for what they now know "can be".  Hope is what we must infuse their shriveling souls with. It is the only antidote to this internal wasting away that is powerfully visible to the naked eye.  Hope is, however, not a luxury that these girls have been able to afford. They are too busy surviving and that takes just about every ounce of their will that they can muster.

We'd love to have her! That's the easy part. Intake does not even scratch the surface of the beginnings of what we do here at HOP. We have to be purposeful in maintaining the attitude that we really do  love having her. Every day. Good days. Bad days. Hard days. Messy days. Exhausting days. These are the days where we must continue to convey that we LOVE having her! The daily minutia is so important. It is how the Lord designed our lives to be played out; what our legacy will be. After all, our lives are the sum total of our moments. Our true purpose is not found in what we say is important to us, but what we prove is a priority for us. Michigan's suffering foster youth IS OUR PRIORITY!