A light at the end of the tunnel

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)

The phrase “let not your hearts be troubled” has been in my mind a lot recently, mostly because my heart has been troubled. We had to take a 7 year old, who we love like one of our own, to an inpatient psychiatric facility to address issues including self harm and highly destructive behavior. When we dropped him off, he was terrified and sobbing, and honestly, so were we. It’s not fair, it’s not right, but it’s what was needed for him at the time. He’s back in our cottage now, but I think I’m more nervous and concerned about him now than I was when he was in the hospital. I hope and pray that he learned something from his time there. I really want to see him improve and stay with us, but I know that if he doesn’t change or gets worse, he needs to go somewhere that can help him more than we can.

I recently heard that a friend was going through an impossibly difficult situation and the phrase “a light at the end of the tunnel” popped into my head. Then I began to think about some of my wife’s family and some other friends going through similarly impossible situations. The more I thought about it, the more it developed itself something that I hope can be helpful. Too often Christians like to use notoriously cliche verses and phrases in a good hearted attempt to help those who are hurting. “All things work together for good,” “Death has given way to victory,” “Death, where is thy sting,” “Let not your heart be troubled.” Those are just a few of the ones I thought of, I’m sure you could come up with more. Yes, there are times when those are helpful, but when an unexpected tragedy comes along, death stings. Your heart is troubled. You feel like nothing is going to work together for good and the situation is a total loss.

As a disclaimer, this is the voice of observation, not the voice of experience. I am incredibly blessed to still be on earth with my immediate family and close friends. But I have spent a lot of time around grieving families. One of the privileges of working in EMS is the invitation into the most vulnerable and difficult situations a person can ever encounter. To think that as a complete stranger you are allowed to be the first to comfort the loved ones of a person who has just passed on or been injured is a tremendous honor. It’s a very strange experience to tell a wife that you did everything you could for her husband, but it wasn’t enough. You learn to balance empathy with efficiency. You learn helpful phrases like “They didn’t suffer” “We did everything they would’ve done in the hospital” and “You did everything that you could to help them”. That last one is big, because invariably family members will feel guilty and wonder what they could’ve done differently. That’s a very normal reaction, but it can be harmful if it lingers.

I feel like this has been scatterbrained and heavy, but that has been me the past week or so. I hate that, because I try hard to be a positive person. Here is the encouraging part. This is the happy ending: There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Going through life can feel pretty dark. It can feel like you’re in a tunnel and there’s no way out. The tunnel is dark, and it’s long, but it will end. Jesus is the light at the end of the tunnel. At times it’ll be easy to see the light, through friends and family, through nature, music, memories, or whatever ways you connect to God. Other times it will feel like darkness is all around you, and there’s no way out. That’s when you need to be intentional about seeking the light. You won’t want to. You’ll want to sit and wallow, you’ll be tempted to let the darkness win. But the only way to get through a tunnel is to keep moving forwards. I love how David Crowder says it in his song Come As You Are.

Come out of sadness
From wherever you’ve been
Come broken hearted
Let rescue begin
Come find your mercy
Oh sinner come kneel
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal

Come as you are. Angry, confused, bitter, miserable, depressed, lost, broken, hopeless, desperate, doubtful, alone. Come as you are.

Lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face
Oh wanderer come home
You’re not too far
So lay down your hurt
Lay down your heart
Come as you are

Jesus loves you. Jesus wants to hear from you. He knows what you’re going through (Hebrews 4:15). He doesn’t care if you yell, scream, doubt, blame, cuss, ask questions, or anything else. He wants you as you are, not as you think you should be. Jesus’ whole ministry was meeting people where they are, as they are. It’s no different today than when he was walking on the earth. Don’t feel ashamed. Don’t be embarrassed that you’re mad at God or just cussed in a prayer. He knows what’s in your heart, so it’s no use hiding it from him with your words.

There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You will get there. It might take a while, and it’s definitely going to be difficult, but you will get there. The light is always there.

Come as you are.

–Mr. Jon

Loving When It Hurts

Not that I haven’t been honest before, but I need to be honest. The last month has been a struggle for me. We have an especially young group of kids. This makes things fun, more energetic, a little more chaotic, but lots more hugs and kisses. Ms. Heidi is completely okay with that! But when the fun, cute part of ‘six kids 6 and under’ starts to become realistic, it can be pretty overwhelming. Not only is that a large number of car seats, tons of water for baths, lots of food to cut up at dinner, and many spills and tears; in this job, it means six kids who don’t comprehend what is happening in their family. Six little minds that are confused, lonely, and scared with no answers to soothe them. Six most precious babies that don’t want a strange lady to hold them, but only their mom. They don’t yet realize how much they cannot control their lives; that they are at the mercy of the Courts. All of these small people who need so much take a toll on this heart.

Being the empathetic person that I am, this has been particularly tough. When we had more middle school boys, the stories and trauma weren’t any simpler, but they could process it better. We could sit down and listen to their fears and questions and provide some source of comfort. They understand why their house isn’t safe or why they need to be removed. Not that age and the ability to reason helps anyone understand why people they love make bad choices, but there is some consolation in seeing why things aren’t safe. We can’t do that with our current group. We have some third graders who grasp much more than they should have to, but all the others, they don’t get it. They want their parents, their bed, their school, their familiar surroundings. All they understand is that they can’t have those. With my experience as a teacher, working with kids, and my own health issues at a young age, I’m pretty good at simplifying something in order to explain it. Give me the inter-workings of the cell membrane, the importance of thiamin and niacin in your diet, or why I don’t work right without insulin, and I can tell you. I can break it down, say it without the complexities, only tell you what is truly important to know. I would LOVE to figure that out and explain it to you! But this month we’ve had to explain why Mom didn’t call when she promised, why they didn’t have water in their house, why he wants to hurt himself at age 7, why his Dad put handcuffs on him. With older kids, they realize through our conversations that drugs make people do bad things or that being loved when there’s not money to feed them means they can’t live at home. Small children don’t get that. You can’t explain that to young kids. My non-emotional husband tried to explain to a child just yesterday that he experienced things at home that no one should ever experience. He couldn’t get it out. Jonathon couldn’t even say it without his voice cracking.

We feel the weight of their situation even when they don’t. We are so sad that we could not have stopped those horrible things or prevented the tragedy they lived through. I have always told the kids in our home that they are loved, that no matter what they do that we will be there for them. This month, this week even, I have offered myself as their Mom until they can live at home again. I’m learning that they just need to attach. They don’t need or understand the reasons. They just need someone to love them, unconditionally.

It’s all so hard to explain, but I have this great, wonderful gift from God to see His children for who they are. I rarely see our kids as the misbehaved, annoying children others see, but I see them as hurting and forgotten. I see them with great potential. I look into their lives and personalities, not just things on the surface. Hence, there are heavy burdens. It would make my job easier to be annoyed with them, to not truly love, to simply fulfill the daily tasks of parenthood. My heart would be lighter, but I would not be living out the call God has placed on my life, on our life. It sounds all very loaded and overwhelming, but it’s not. Some weeks, this week, it was. This month has been especially hard. But each day I feel absolutely and completely that we’re doing what we are supposed to be doing. Casting Crowns says it the best in their song “Love Them Like Jesus”

You’re holding her hand, you’re straining for words
You’re trying to make sense of it all
They’re desperate for hope, darkness clouding their view
They’re looking to you

Just love them like Jesus, carry them to Him
His yoke is easy, His burden is light
You don’t need the answers to all of life’s questions
Just know that He loves them and stay by their side
Love them like Jesus

Lord of all creation holds our lives in His hands
The God of all the nations holds our lives in His hands
The Rock of our salvation holds our lives in His hands
He cares for them just as He cares for you

Invictus

     Too often our kids, and foster kids in general, feel like they have no control. They (often rightly) feel like they have no voice, that they are just one part of a system that decides everything for them and doesn’t listen to what they want. Because of this, they look for any way to feel in control. We most commonly see this play out via defiance, running away, and occasionally violence, but there are a lot of things kids do to feel like they are in control of their lives. They are part of a broken system in which they have no choice. They want to be with their parents and family, but because of drugs, abuse, neglect, etc., that’s not possible. They want to at least be with their siblings, but instead they are put by themselves with foster parents who are commonly motivated by something other than the child’s best interest. It’s a no win situation, and it’s through no fault of the child that this is happening. I wish I knew a way to fix it, but unfortunately, it is what it is.
     Children need structure and discipline, but they also need control. If kids don’t have anything to control, they look for something to control. When they look for something to control, it rarely has a healthy outcome. They try to control what happens in their relationships with manipulation, shutting down, and pushing back. They try to control what happens to their body with drugs, sex, and food choices. They need to feel like their opinions matter, they need opportunities to choose what happens. But along with choices, they need consequences. One of the toughest things for us to teach is the concept that choices have consequences. I like to reference the Choose Your Own Adventure books when talking to the kids. They are a good visual and practical example of how choices affect outcomes. We preach to them that when they make good choices, good things happen, and when they make bad choices, bad things happen. Of course this isn’t always the case, but if our kids can understand that, it’s a strong base for us to build on. The Teaching Family Model does a great job of helping us teach this to our kids. If they make good choices, they earn positive points and can earn extra privileges, and if they make bad choices, they lose points and lose privileges. This even works for our little ones who are too young for the system. If they make good choices at daycare, preschool, and around the cottage, they can watch movies and play on the computer. If they don’t, they do timeouts and miss out on dessert.
     Currently our cottage is all elementary boys and younger. With the nicer weather meaning more outside playtime, I got out my copy of The Dangerous Book for Boys. It’s full of great projects and lessons for boys of all ages. This poem is in a part entitled “Seven poems every boy should know.” They’re all good, but this one struck me because of a conversation we often have with our boys. “Were you making a good choice or a bad choice?” Usually when we have to ask this, it’s because they made a bad choice. We are certainly quick to praise them when they make good choices, but we ultimately want them to get to point where they can recognize their own behavior and correct it as needed. We know that this probably won’t happen while they’re in our cottage, or even while they’re at Thornwell, but I keep going back to advice I was given during pre-service training. Think about a rocket aimed at the moon. If you alter the trajectory of the rocket by 1 or 2 degrees, it will miss it’s target by hundreds of miles. If you can make the smallest changes in the life of a child, that can result in big changes down the road. “Can” doesn’t always mean “will”, and there are times where a kid won’t change during his/her time at Thornwell. We’ve only been doing this for 7 months, and there have been a few kids like that. They are who they are, and nothing we do will change that. But for the majority of kids that have come through our cottage, even in the short time we have them, we see a change for the better. We hope and pray that those changes stick once they leave.
Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
 I am the captain of my soul.
[William Ernest Henley]