Monday, May 18, 2015

Those Arguing Voices in My Head

This is not a blog post that I'm going to put a link to on Facebook, or even tell anyone I'm writing.  If people find it, they find it., but it's more for me than for anyone else.

I find it ironic that my supervisor suggested on Friday that I take the whole weekend off and not work.  He said I needed time to regenerate.  Little does he know that unlike his home, my home is not a place of regeneration right now.  We have 7 boys living at home and one girlfriend that comes often not necessarily without our permission.   Their ability to get a rise out of me has waned because I'm tired, but there are times  when I get sucked into a stupid argument.  This last one with the person whose name I never mention on the blog but who always brings my blog up when he is mad was the one who I ended up arguing and it didn't end well.   Actually, it didn't end.


I mean it ended -- he stormed out and left me in the wake of his fury.  But it hasn't ended in my head.   Come backs to every comment he made have been running through my head for the 40 hours since the argument.   I can't stop the madness!


I haven't read Cindy's blog regularly for a couple years -- time constraints and not taking time to do anything that's only for me -- but I went back to check it out this weekend.  Her post Yelling Weeds means that for 10 years now we have been living parallel lives.  The stage of inconsiderate entitlement are upon us, and budgeting our money to help supplement the needs of underemployed or unemployed adults may be the most frustrating stage of all. 


Today I don't have lots of nice answers.   In fact, I'm asking a question of all of you who have gone through this:   How do you stop the voices in your head??




Friday, May 15, 2015

What if they don't?

If you used to read my blog 5-10 years ago you would have heard the day to day dumpings of my over-filled brain in multiple posts a day.  Even now going back and reading it brings back some of those same emotions and the anger and frustration that accompanied me day to day during the darkest period of our lives.

But right now I'm at a different place.   Back then I was grappling with a consistent need to fix things and I repeated in my head-- "They WILL heal.  They WILL get better.  They WILL change."   But then we came to a point that I had to ask myself the question, "What if they don't?"

And in several cases, they didn't.  They got worse.   So here I am, my last child with special needs 2 weeks from graduation (hoping and praying it will happen) and only one more child in school.  Our kids, as you know, are now 16-28.   We have 5 grandchildren, one that was born to married parents.  And I think I can answer that question for you ... at least from my perspective.

If they don't heal, get better, or change and if things don't get immediately better but actually get worse before they get better, this will happen:

1)  You will continue to love them and whoever they are connected to.   You will find the strength to keep loving them.

2)  You will forgive more easily and more quickly each time.  You will find it in your heart to have the grace you need when you need it to keep on forgiving . . . way beyond 70 times 7.

3)  You will stop getting sucked in every time.   You will get to the point that you realize that kids, especially teenagers, argue for sport... and that you don't have to take the bait every time.

4)  You will stop worrying so much.  Everything you worry about will happen and you will make it through all that stuff you worried and the result will be realizing that you DO have the resiliency and the strength to deal with whatever comes your way.

5)  You will get tired and start budgeting your emotional energy.  You'll realize that getting all worked up takes way too much energy and so you will choose not to go there whenever possible.

I know some of that sounds a bit cynical, but that wasn't my intention.  My intention was to give you a "light at the end of the tunnel" boost.   But my message is ... hang in there.  If they heal, if they change, if they get better -- that's awesome.  But if they don't, you're still going to be fine.

Older.  Tireder.  Wiser.  Stronger.  But fine.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why YOU?

I just got back from a meeting and in that meeting there was discussion about the changes in the law in Minnesota regarding Child Protection.  These changes are causing the numbers of children coming into foster care to grow quickly.

Years ago I would have blogged about 591 of my opinions about these change, but because of many reasons I will keep them to myself.  However, I do want to address the fact that children have been removed from their birth families and there are not enough foster homes to go around.  This means that sometimes there are kids sleeping in sleeping bags on office floors.  There are kids way too young for this kind of experience being placed in group homes or other kinds of institutions until a foster home becomes available.   Foster homes are full in many counties and there is no place to put the children.  We need to do something.   There is a reason why there is a lack of foster families out there -- recruiting people to do something this selfless and hard isn't easy.  But I am determined to do just that --  because this isn't just a professional thing, it is very personal.

My life has been impacted greatly by foster parents -- the foster parents who, for a time, took care of the children who are now legally mine.  We hear many horror stories about bad foster homes in our society -- and I have children who reported less than ideal situations while they were in foster care-- but I also have kids that had great foster parents.  The children who will one day become adopted children are being impacted this moment day because of a lack of good foster parents. 

I'm excited that Bethany is offering this program and I believe that we will be able to do a great job of preparing, training and licensing families.  I talked about that in this post.  But most importantly, I am passionate about kids having a good experience in foster care across the country, whether or not families use Bethany to license them.

So, I'm asking you, if you're between the ages of 21 and 80 to ask yourself (and God if that is something you do) if you should be a foster parent.   You may be asking, "ME?? Why Me??"

Here's my answer.
  • You would understand what you were getting yourself into and would do it anyway.  You would do the research, pay attention in training, and have a clear idea of how difficult the task is.  But you also know that just because something is hard doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, and you would head into it with eyes wide open.
  • You would put your needs behind the needs of the kids and love them.  You would let them attach to you because you knew it was good for them even if you knew you would hurt when they had to leave.
  •  You would understand the value of birth family connection and work hard to make sure that these people that the kids love, imperfect as they might be, are their people.
  • You would treat them just like your other kids.  You would let them be in sports and celebrate their birthdays and bring them with you on family vacation because you would understand that even if it was only for a few days, weeks or months, that they were a part of your family.
  • You would make a commitment to them that would last a lifetime, even if they were only in your home for a while.  You would make sure they knew that they were welcome to contact you and that they always had a home away from home, wherever they would go.
  • You would arm yourself with a circle of supportive friends who could help you so that you had everything you needed to practice self-care and remain resilient for the children.
  • You would understand that it might be impossible to fix the children, but that you could change your response to them and thus help them in their journey.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea.   You may have a long list of reasons why you couldn't, shouldn't, wouldn't be a foster parent.  One of those reasons might be all of the things you have heard about bad foster parents.  But you should do it because you wouldn't be like that.

Another reason that you may have being saying you can't do it, is that you have concerns about working directly with your county.  But now that excuse is gone and I can assure you that working with Bethany you would have the support you hope for in being a foster family.

Scared kids, being removed from their birth families, need a place to go.   Your home could be that place.  

Meetings are being held where I personally can tell you more.  Come.  




Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Embracing that Scary Sacred Place

We call Abraham “father” not because he got God’s attention by living like a saint, but because God made something out of Abraham when he was a nobody. Isn’t that what we’ve always read in Scripture, God saying to Abraham, “I set you up as father of many peoples”? Abraham was first named “father” and then became a father because he dared to trust God to do what only God could do: raise the dead to life, with a word make something out of nothing. When everything was hopeless, Abraham believed anyway, deciding to live not on the basis of what he saw he couldn’t do but on what God said he would do. And so he was made father of a multitude of peoples. God himself said to him, “You’re going to have a big family, Abraham!”
Abraham didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, “It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child.” Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up. He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong, ready for God, sure that God would make good on what he had said. That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God


Those paragraphs are from Romans Chapter 4 and I used them with my staff during devotions yesterday. Before I go further let me give you some context.


A year ago at this time Bethany lost a state contract and we were in the middle of a financial crisis.   Things were not in a neat little package that I could handle.  I challenged my staff to believe with me -- to have that kind of faith that Abraham had.... and we prayed and we worked hard and God did miracles and we ended an impossible year in the black.


Skip forward to now.  We have all kinds of awesome things going on at Bethany.  Staff are busier than ever.  We have just received a different kind of contract that will allow us to recruit and train families for foster care.  We have started a very different approach to expectant parent advocacy (formerly known as pregnancy counseling) that we feel is so much better for the baby and also for expectant parents and adoptive parents.   We are placing more kids than ever before from foster care into adoptive homes.  We have more work than we can handle but because of several factors, we are once again behind budget.


I realized yesterday, and told my staff, that this place -- this sacred scary place -- is where God wants His people to live.  He doesn't want us stuck in that safe spot where everything that we have to deal with can be easily handled by us.   Lysa TerKeurst said this when I heard her speak a couple years ago and it stuck with me:  "Most of us want to be people of faith without living a life that requires any."


Parenting my kids is very hard -- I really can't do it without Him.  Managing our family finances is very tricky when we are helping out so many of our adult kids, so without God's provision we won't be able to make it.   And my job at Bethany is so stretching, so challenging, that it requires miracles on God's part to give us the strength, the power, and the financial resources to push back the darkness on so many levels.


The temptation is to flee from this place, or to resent it when we find ourselves here.   "I never signed up for this" is a phrase that has gone through my mind many times.   There times when I fantasize about letting it all go and finding a life where things are neat, and tidy, and I can handle it all on my own.


But the older I get the more that I realize that very few people of faith are living in that nice, neat, tidy place.  God stretches us -- suffering, perseverance, character, hope (Romans 5) -- because He wants us to learn reliance on Him.


Today you might be at a place where you feel like you are at the end of all that you can do.   It's too hard, to challenging, too difficult, too uncomfortable and you just want it all to stop.   It's at that point that God can jump in and do the cool stuff.


I am confident that now that I, and many of our staff, have reached the end of our own strength, that that is where God is going to start showing us HIS strength. 


Two songs come to mind.  One you may have heard -- Strong Enough by Matthew West.


Well, maybe
Maybe that's the point
To reach the point of giving up
'Cause when I'm finally
Finally at rock bottom
Well, that's when I start looking up
And reaching out
I know I'm not strong enough to be
Everything that I'm supposed to be
I give up
I'm not strong enough
Hands of mercy won't you cover me
Lord right now I'm asking you to be
Strong enough for the both of us.



The second you probably have never heard.  It's by Annie J. Flint and it's called "He Giveth More Grace."  Verse two says:

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Like Abraham, I am committed that when everything seems hopeless, I'm going to believe anyway.  I'm going to DECIDE to live not on the basis of what I see I can't do, but on the basis of what God said He would do.

That's the scary sacred place -- that place when God steps in to do the things that would not be called miracles if we could do them without him.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Just because you're heading down the road to crazy doesn't mean I have to come

Just recently I have become very aware that the subconscious goal of everyone who is heading down the road to crazy is to take someone with them.   I've known this for a while and expressed in different ways after a 2007 seminar that I blogged about in a post about Inducement.  The link in the blog post is broken but you can read the concept here:   Inducement.  The idea is that we subconsciously want the people around us to share the feelings that we are having.  We don't try to do it -- it just happens automatically.

Think about this scene. Dad comes home from work and he is not happy.  Long day.  He's anxious, irritated, and just mad at the world.   He walks in and without saying a word, throws his briefcase into the recliner, kicks the dog out of his way, and marches up the stairs to change his clothes.  He mutters under his breath. 

As he goes upstairs everyone in the house is now sucked into his feelings.  Kids and Mom, who were perfectly happy just moments before, are now anxious.  They are irritable, Even the dog is on edge (of course he is, he just got kicked :-).

Today I was having a conversation with a young woman who has been doing foster care since she was twenty one.  So she's still young, but has been caring for kids in care for over 20 years.   She's got the perfect personality to be a foster parent because her face is calm, cool and collected no matter what is going on.   She said these words to me in regards to her 13 year old adopted daughter:  " Just because she's going crazy doesn't mean I have to join her."

That reminded me of something I've been saying over and over again to myself (not often outloud)  about the people I love.    "Just because you're heading down the road to crazy doesn't mean I have to come."   Tonight we did a little informal marriage counseling session with a couple where I said those same words.

Now that I 'm over 50 it takes way more energy than I have to get worked up.   It used to be that if someone wanted to suck me in to their own emotions, I would dive in. My approach to people was basically,  "You're angry?  That makes me MAD.  You're sad... wow, that depresses me.  You being worried about something?  Well that makes me anxious."   But now I realize that I don't have the emotional energy to head down the road to whatever brand of crazy my kids, my friends, my coworkers, our clients, or even my husband happens to be on.

I'm going to stay right here thanks.  When you're ready to return from crazy land -- or angry land -- or anxious land -- or depression land -- I'll be happy to hang out with you.  But loving you doesn't mean I have to go with you.  In fact, it might be that my best expression of love would be to remain immovable and steady.

Today was a hard day at work and I didn't follow my own advice.  I'm annoyed right now because I am exhausted.   Someone hijacked my world and headed toward crazy and I jumped right into their vehicle and went there with them.   It's been happening more often than I want it to lately, which probably means I need more rest... or more space... or more self care.

Or maybe I just needed to blog.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

FOSTER CARE!!!!



Ever since we adopted our first older children out of foster care, I have seen ways in which foster care is not being done right.   From a county or agency stand point, there seem to be more failures than successes.   And I've always wanted to do something about it.

Right now in Minnesota there is a huge need for foster parents.   I could go into detail as to why, but I'm running out of time.   But the fact that there is a huge need has given Bethany -- and hopefully many of you -- an opportunity for something unique.  (if you don't know anything about Bethany, check out the new website, just revealed this past week.  www.bethany.org)

Bethany right now is recruiting people to do foster care for Bethany.   That's right, Bethany will be the licensing agency and we will work with counties who will place kids in Bethany licensed homes.  Bethany social workers will be here to support foster families throughout the journey.

This is brand new and we are very excited.   We are beginning with the Metro Area and Mankato, but are looking to expand to the Willmar area and possibly even Duluth.    We have met with some key individuals, have a contract to provide the services, and now all we need is for families to sign up.

Here are the options (cutting and pasting from a Bethany document I wrote):

Shelter Foster Care - We are building a program to offer foster care to children immediately after they are removed from their current home situation. This care can extend anywhere from 72 hours to 90 days and will involve transportation to school, visits, doctors appointments and possibly court hearings. Preferably famiies would be within 45 minutes of the metro and need to be open to placements at very short notice.
 
Respite Homes - Adoptive parents sometimes need a break to rest, recover and regroup when parenting challenging children. Respite homes develop a relationship with a family to provide care for their children on an as needed basis, typically a weekend a month or possibly a night of the week on a weekly basis. For Respite Home Care, there is no requirement that one of the adults be a stay at home parent, so this provides flexibility within your family structure.
 
Traditional and Therapeutic Foster Care: Traditional and Therapeutic Foster Care are longer term placements and can last anywhere from a few days to a few years.
 
There is no financial cost to be licensed for any of these programs and there is a stipend that varies depending on length of stay, type of care given, and the needs of the child. Interested families will be required to attend training that fulfills the statutory requirements of the MN Dept of Human Services as well as the State of Minnesota.

I am sure many of you are thinking that I'm nuts to even think that people would want to do foster care, especially after they have adopted.   But those of us who have BTDT are the best.

Here is what will make Bethany foster care unique from working directly with your county:
  • We recruit and train in a Christian environment
  • We have adoption-competent, well-trained, trauma-informed Christian staff
  • We aim to support our families better than anyone else
  • We want to offer a continuum of care for kids in Bethany homes from time of removal to reunification or adoption finalization.
  • We will work to engage the churches our families attend to supporting our families

You can be cynical in your comments if you'd like, but I hope that some of you might actually join me in getting excited about how powerful it would be to have excellent foster homes throughout the state with training and support guided by me and my awesome staff, which now includes Brenda Benning (not like I"m name dropping or anything).


Yeah, I'm kinda excited.  We are having meetings at our Plymouth Office on May 21st at 7 and in Mankato at New Creation World Outreach Center on May 28th at 6:30 (see brochure above).  Let me know if you have questions.  You can comment here or email me at cfletcher@bethany.org.

Time

I have decided to start writing down a few of the things that I am learning at this stage in my life.  I am recognizing that many of us who started blogging together ten years ago, are also in this stage, so maybe even if my blogs aren't always about IEP meetings and juvenile detention hearings, some of what I might right resonate.


I'm not sure when it all happened... I think maybe some time in the last year, but suddenly I am aware of the precious value of time.   I never ever have enough of it.   I used to think that I was busy, and I have always been a busy person, but never before have I had to make choices between so many things that I love to do and having time to do them.   Time has become way more precious than money.


There are so many people now in my life that I love to be with .... but not the time in our schedules to see each other.


There are so many projects I want to work on, personally and professionally... but not time in the day to get to them.


There are so many dreams to dream, so many ideas to pursue -- the world is wide open with opportunity... but the days are too short.


I remember tapping my finger on the table, not being able to wait to get to the next thing, and wishing that things were over.  Now I just tell myself that I'm half way through life now and the last thing I want to do is speed it up.


I want time to be able to spend with people I love.. time to influence my children and grandchildren... time to expand Bethany in MN, SD and WI, time to build programs and plans, time to sort through old photos, organize my digital music and photo libraries, create slideshows, do a little digital scrapbooking, sit in the sun, get my body into shape, etc. etc. etc., and yet time speeds by, marching more quickly by the day.

I realize that I'm getting old.  But one of things that I didn't imagine as I was aging was how much I would love life and how many things out there I would want to do at an age where energy and time were more limited than any.

This morning my mom said she was looking for ways to fill her morning and I was thinking how I had ten times more to do this morning than I had time for.   Somehow I wish she could give me some time. 


Time and weight.  Too bad we can't willingly share it between ourselves huh?  I know several people who could use a few of my pounds.    And I would love to have the time that some folks have that they appear to be trying to fill.


Anybody else at this stage of life?



Youth Camp Let Down

I came back from my week in Nashville feeling like I felt when I got home from camp as a teenager.  I was so sad it was all over and knowing that coming back to the real world was going to be hard.

I had been at two events in one week:  The Bethany Annual Leadership Conference and CAFO (Christian Alliance for Orphans).   I left feeling so incredibly blessed.   Here's why:


1)  I love being a part of something so big (Bethany) that is doing so much good in the world to serve God and children.  Over 100,000 children served each year in 15 different countries and 36 states in the US.  A team of over 1400 people work together to pursue our vision with vigor:  Bethany envisions a world where every child has a loving family.   Hearing the stories of coworkers around the world and how lives are changed daily is awe-inspiring.  And it is clear that it is done for the glory of God.


2)  Even if it was just for a few minutes I had a chance to connect with people from my past and present who I love very much at CAFO.    Friends from college, friends from here in Minnesota, my friends who I have gotten to know through REFRESH (a conference in Redmond Washington every February).  I could tell you stories about each of these people, but when I come to a place where so many people I know and love gather together, I am reminded me of the incredible relationships that have colored the tapestry of my life over the years.  Daily I am amazed at God's blessing to me in the form of friendships and incredible people over the year who are still a part of my life.


3)  I recognized how much I have changed over the past year.   A very new Regional Director a year ago, I have learned so much in 12 months.   I have studied leadership, learned through hard times and good times, and continue to be amazed at how much more I have to learn.   Being able to see progress is a good thing.


4)  I hope he never sees this, but my Assistant Director at Bethany, who is also one of my best friends, made the trip even better.   I had been excited for him to meet people we had talked with, about, and to over video conferences and phones for the last six months.   I knew that he would impress him and that they would love him, and I was right.   We had a great time and it was fun for me to watch others recognize the brilliance that I've seen in him for a long time.  (and if you know him, and happen to be reading this, please don't tell him I said any of this or it will totally ruin my reputation :-)


5)  Finally, I am feeling blessed by the incredible depth of love that I have for my coworkers at Bethany.   Both here at the local office, and Bethany natural, there are people who I have grown to love so quickly.   I know there are many folks who have jobs where they work hard and too much.   I have one of those jobs.  But I also have four things on top of that:  I have a job where God is first and where everything that we do we do for Him; I have a job where I get paid to do what I am passionate about;  I have a job that changes the world, and I have a job where when I say goodbye to my co-workers I hear the words, spoken or unspoken depending on the person, "I love you."  


It just doesn't get any better than this.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

God is Good.... All the TIme

So it's been a while since I've blogged.  The interface for Blogger has even changed and is confusing  me.  But here I am.


And where is here?  I'm in a hotel room in Nashville, Tennessee.  The Leadership Conference for Bethany Christian Services just ended and I'm again basking in the goodness of God.


I haven't had time to blog for a long time... in fact, I've been lots of places since I last blogged.  I've been to Grand Rapids, Michigan three times . I did stand up in Seattle at Refresh the end of February and right in Minnesota a couple weeks ago.  I've been to Rapid City, to Sioux Falls, and to Waukesha twice.  I've been to Atlanta.  And I've been at my desk a LOT.


But I wanted to blog right now because I am so thrilled to be who I am and where I am.   I miss blogging and I am so busy I seldom do it.  I always vow to start again, and then I blog once, and then I disappear for six months.  But it's' funny how that works.


But I love working for Bethany.   The way that we work together to impact over 100,000 a year and all kinds of families is amazing.  We are getting ready to start a foster care program and are really excited about this venture.  We have a strong and growing post-adopt program with therapist who are adoption competent and who I think are phenomenal.  

And I love being a regional director, even though I referred to it in front of everyone today as being like the boob in the mammogram of life.  A bit risky probably, but it was received well.   I love to be part of something with such a great impact at a high level of management.


I am also going to blog this hoping that he will never see it, but I'm having the time of my life having one of my best friends as my assistant director.  I loved being able to show him a glimpse of "Big Bethany" this week and introduce him to so many people that I love.   Working with him makes every day an adventure. My administrative assistant/office manager has become one of my favorite people.  Just hanging out with her makes me smile.  I'm also so incredibly grateful for the rest of my staff.   They are hard-working, committed, awesome people. 


I'm also, as always, very blessed to have Bart as my partner in this journey.   We have been married almost 19 years now and every step has been an incredible adventure.  We have been through the unthinkable and survived again and again.


I suppose that you would like an update on the children.  I will use their initial so that these posts are ungoogleable at this point now that they are almost all adults.


K and C are doing great.   Their son, baby Silas, is now almost two.  They are both teachers and Bart loves being a nanny on Fridays.


R is living at home and working at Holiday.  He has reconnected with his birthdad and he and his wife are amazing people.  He is meeting other members of his birthfamily.


M is home some nights.  His life is still pretty chaotic at his own admission.  Aiden's mom brings him to church a couple times a month and it is always fun to see him.  He looks SO MUCH like M.


J lives at home as well and works at Taco Bell and a manufacturing company.  His son Isaac is 4 and a half (can you believe it) and we don't see him as much as we wish we did.


Jimmy who would never care if I blogged about him is now 23 and works at Culvers and still lives at home.   He pays rent and is proud to have more money in savings than we do.  He is helpful around the house and very seldom causes us any problem.


S and her two kids moved to Florida a couple months ago.   I miss Gabby and baby Carlos.  Rumor has it they are going to be moving to Puerto Rico to be with Carlos' dad for a few months any day now.


Ricky is in Mankato.  He lived with us for a few months after getting out drug treatment, and then moved back to Mankato, went to jail, and we haven't heard from him since he got out Easter Weekend.


Sadie is in her own apartment and working as a nanny and a PCA.  She has a great boyfriend that we really love.

T is living in Alexandria with his fiancé Taylor. We see them once every couple months and hear from him often.


L is in college and living at home but plans to move out this summer.  He works as a PCA.


D is graduating this year (we really really hope).  He has had a challenging year.  His OCD has been pretty painful for us as his current obsession is stealing our money, checks, credit cards, etc.  We are hoping he will be going to job corps this summer.


Finally, W is 16, a freshman in High school, gets good grades, wrestles and plays Lacrosse and has a busy summer of mission trip, camp, and driver's ed planned.


I work a lot.  Our church is doing well.   We are grateful to be in a place where even though there is occasional drama, we have a great deal of peace in our lives.


I'm very grateful.  This hasn't been an articulate post, but I have learned so much from the life God has given me.  I am beyond blessed.


Maybe I'll post again sometime soon.  Maybe.