Monday, January 22, 2018

All The Wrong Places

I’m getting kind of excited about next month.  You see, I get to facilitate an online group that will be going through an amazing book in an experimental study through my church, The Refinery.  The book is I Am:  A 60-day Journey To Knowing Who You Are Because Of Who He Is by Michele Cushatt.

Now, admittedly, I am a hard sell when it comes to women’s bible studies.  So often I have picked up a book, excited by the title or the premise, only to be disappointed by the dearth of depth or lack of acknowledgement in the realities we struggle with in our broken world.  I’ve become a little gun-shy when it comes to Christian “self-help” or study books that promise any answers to the kinds of things I encounter on a day to day basis.  My world is complex.  My issues run deep.  Pat solutions, airy clich├ęs and carefree (and, dare I say, careless) remedies don’t connect with me.  If anything, they frustrate me.

So, why this book?  What makes this different? 

Here’s the thing.  This past December I turned 49 (my heart drops just typing that number).  I just don’t feel ready to BE in my fifties.  As I look back over my 40’s (ugh… I sound old, don’t I?), I feel like I have finally just started learning who I truly am.  I think I’ve had glimpses and hints throughout the years.  But it’s only been the last decade where my identity has become clearer to me.  And, when I picked up this book last year, it catapulted me even further in my journey to realizing who I am in God.

Michele Cushatt is the real deal.  She has been through it.  She has been divorced, a single mom, and, in the midst of a very successful speaking career, was diagnosed with squamous-cell carcinoma of the tongue.  Did you get that?  The tongue!  What followed was months of doctor appointments and a painful surgery where they removed a portion of her tongue.  But then it came back.  Then it came back again.  It was relentless.  She lost two-thirds of her tongue including function and the ability to taste and was scarred severely by repeated interventions and operations.  As she said, she would “never look, speak, or eat the same again… if you had asked me five years before --- or even one year before---whether my identity and self-worth were based on my appearance, my talents, and my career, I would have said, ‘Absolutely not!’” But now she was faced with not knowing who she was or where to find the answer.  She is transparent and authentic in pouring out her heart and what she learned when God showed her through his word that “Identity isn’t grounded in who we are; it’s grounded in who He (God) is.”

That sounds simple, doesn’t it?  But she doesn’t pretend it is, because she knows.

And I know.

I’m a pastor’s kid.  And, yes, the rumors are true.  We can be the worst of the bunch.

I used to think I was like that old (geez… did I just say “old”?) song from 1980, “Looking For Love (In All The Wrong Places)”.  But as I was getting ready for this study it occurred to me that it wasn’t necessarily love that I was looking for.  It was my identity.  I consistently sought out and yearned for the approval of others (primarily those in positions of power or influence).  I performed (both literally and figuratively) for the applause of others. I took every “quiz” and personality assessment known to man (FYI:  I am a pear-shaped, Fall, ENFJ, Choleric/Sanguine, Enneagram Social 8 with a 7 wing). I have been all about self-knowledge.  And those assessments provided a lot of insight into my personality, but they didn’t give me a solid foundation for my identity.

Why?  Because:  Identity isn’t grounded in who we are; it’s grounded in who He is.

I invite you this February to join me in this excursion into truth.  I can’t promise it will be easy.  The greatest change and insight come when we are pushed beyond our comfort zones.  What I can promise is that you will not be alone.  We will travel this road together.

Here are the details:  You will need to purchase a copy (digital or hard copy) of I Am:  A 60-day Journey To Knowing Who You Are Because Of Who He Is by Michele Cushatt.  We will be carrying out the bulk of the study online in a private Facebook group.  You can click on the link below to join OR you can search for “The Refinery – I Am Online Experience” in the Facebook search bar.  This study is open to any woman over the age of 18.  Although you will have the option on three separate occasions to meet with us in person, you do NOT have to be local.  Our goal is to make this a study you can work through with friends and family anywhere there is internet access.  Invite them to join you!  This is great for any woman with a schedule or life circumstances that would make an in-person study difficult.  We will be kicking off the study on February 3rd but make sure to join the group before then as we will have some connecting time in the couple weeks leading up.

I am so excited to have this opportunity to grow with you and share with you!  Please feel free to message me with any questions.  Let’s go!

Bullet Points:
  • Starts February 3, 2018
  • Study takes place online in private Facebook group
  • Any woman over 18 can participate
  • You will need a copy of the book
  • In-person meet ups for local participants
    • Saturday, Feb. 3 @ 10 am
    • Saturday, Feb. 24 @ 10 am
    • Saturday, March 10 @ 10 am
  • Follow link to join Facebook Group


Monday, January 01, 2018


January 1, 2018

This is what GOD says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, The God who summons horses and chariots and armies— they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards— Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.
Isaiah 43:19 MSG

Originally, I thought my “word” for the year would be redemption.  It was a word that resonated heavily with me during one of our pastor’s sermons in December.  Things being made new.  Pain being given purpose. But then, this morning, this “verse of the day” appeared in my Inbox.

“Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out!”

Be alert.  Be present.

I think this encompasses exactly why I was captivated by the word “redemption”.  He is doing something new.  Brand new.  Water in the desert. Rivers through the sun-baked earth.  I need to be alert and present to this new thing that is erupting. 

As I’ve been sitting here mediating, musing over these words several other things emerge.  I believe that I am that wild animal.  At times, I am coyote.  Territorial.  Preferring the dark.  Paradoxical. Playful. Defensive.  Ready to attack.  Then I am buzzard.  Hovering over past regrets, hurts and failures, spending too much time with dead things.

And yet, coyote or buzzard, doesn’t matter to my God.  He is still going to quench my thirst, provide a road right through the ocean, waters in the desert place.  And he still chose me.  What grace is that?!

2018.  My “Be Alert. Be Present.” Year.  He is doing something brand new and while I may not yet see it… I will.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Ground Zero

September 8, 1997 ranks as one of the worst days of my life.  A day I had to face the darkest parts of myself and admit my deepest failures.  A day I’d rather ignore, pretend never happened and bury under smiles.

Here’s the thing.  If I deny the moment, rebuff the memories and hide behind time, I lose the miracle of what happened.  The miracle of rebirth.  Restoration. Redemption. 

That Monday signaled our marriage’s Ground Zero.  It was the day that, dazed and broken, we made the choice (and really, was it a choice? Maybe a spiritual shove…) to be a team… partners…family no matter what.  Despite the pain.  Despite the brokenness.  Despite the despair.

In the years since I am sure we have each wondered at times, “What was I thinking?”  Trauma doesn’t stop once the tragic defining moment is passed.  It carries a ripple effect through each day, month, year until the ripples get further and further apart and you realize you are still afloat and the swells are softer, smaller and safer.

This was no bootstrap accomplishment.  This was divine intervention.  Make no mistake. I am still the damaged, difficult person I am. 

But God.
But grace.

Today I thank God for Ground Zero.  I hold it in my heart with a somewhat uneasy, but gentle recognition that Ground Zero was our kairos moment.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Who You Say We Are

My heart is breaking today.  One of our children is in crisis.  This child, through no fault of their own, struggles with the neurodevelopmental and behavioral effects of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as well as co-occurring mental illnesses.  The inability to reason effectively or make wise choices has added drug abuse to the list of issues.

Today I cried out to God.  We love our child.  We want the absolute best and we will continue to advocate for our children even if we are rejected because in this case our child cannot advocate on their own.  This child was adopted into our family “No Matter What”.  That is how we operate.

This is my lifeline today.  I am clinging to its message and clinging to the truth that is we are not our diagnoses.  We are not what others may label us.  We are not our past.  Hallelujah, we (and our child) are who HE says we are.

Oh how great is the love
The Father has lavished on us
That we should be called The children of God
Oh how great was the cost
The Father was willing to pay
So we could be called the children of God
And all that we can say is thank you, Thank you
And all that we can say is thank you, Thank you
We are your sons
We are your daughters
Hallelujah, we are who You say we are
So we lift our hands
And cry Abba Father
Hallelujah, we are who You say we are
Hallelujah, we are who You say we are
Oh how great is your amazing grace
That took us as orphans and slaves
And made us your heirs, And gave us Your name
There's nothing more we could ever do
You finished it all on the cross
Then rose from the grave
And brought us with You
Written by Steven Chapman • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Open Letter to Jen Hatmaker

I have been a fan and a reader for some time.  I loved the threads of grace that I glimpsed in your writing and I felt a kinship with you in that I am also raising home-grown kids as well as adopted kids.  Your Facebook post today and the subsequent “hero stories” you requested from your readers and then applauded in your own replies really has me questioning that kinship.

You started your post with an amusing anecdote about a difficult day with your son and the ensuing battle of wills.  But it then deteriorated into a celebration of parenting stories that featured manipulation, abandonment (albeit temporary) and shame.  It concluded with a call for other similar stories. Many of your readers obliged.  Tales of more shame, rejection and humiliation under the guise of natural consequences followed.  And you commended them.  Repeatedly. 

First of all, I am completely aware that sometimes it is good, even necessary, to find the humor in hard circumstances.  However, laughing at and hailing destructive discipline "techniques" as positive is completely different and, in my humble opinion, is what you and a large majority of your readers did.

There is also a difference between “natural consequences” and consequences that a parent imposes to “teach a lesson”.  I believe that in your post and the resulting comments that difference was ignored.  A fellow adoptive parent once said, “A natural consequence is a consequence imposed by nature, like burning your finger when you touch a hot stove. No person decides that your finger ought to be burned to teach you a lesson. The laws of nature ensure that your finger gets burned, whether you need to learn that lesson or not.” (Mark Vatsaas)  If you need to “come up with” a “natural consequence”, it is NOT one.

What concerned me most, as an adoptive mom, was that these methods of shame and repudiation have been scientifically proven to be detrimental and ineffective for kids with backgrounds of trauma.  To champion them can quite literally be dangerous for these kids and threaten to emotionally, psychologically and neurodevelopmentally destroy them.  A survey of current neuroscientific studies validates this information.  The best resources for connecting with and disciplining (which can be defined as an activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill) kids from hard places can be found in the writings of Dr. Karyn Purvis from Texas Christian University’s Institute of Child Development and Dr. Dan Siegel (clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine).

I do not have perfect children.  I struggle with parenting them everyday.  Before I knew the scientific data regarding trauma and its effects on the brain I parented the same way your readers were encouraging and lauding.  Sometimes I still struggle.  Parenting is not an easy job and parenting a child with trauma is even harder and messier.  But I am daily encouraged by the progress I have seen in my children when I connect first and correct last.  When I look behind the behavior and find the need.  When I go through the natural consequence with them as opposed to delving out my own created consequence.

I encourage you and other adoptive and foster parents to attend an Empowered to Connect conference (usually sponsored by Show Hope and Focus on the Family).  You will be emboldened by the hope that can be found in connected parenting techniques.