Worth Reading...

Having gone over a month between blog posts, I'm trying to get "back on the wagon" this week and post every day.  I don't know that I've ever made it an entire week, but we'll see.   Today, however, being Wednesday (and having written *verrry* long posts the two previous days!), I'm going to "cheat" a bit by posting a list of others' posts worth reading today. :)  

Before I do, however, I want to mention (particularly those who read in a feed reader and don't see the sidebars...) that there is also a new list near the top of my sidebar...a list of posts "from the archives" that are particularly meaningful to me, or good for "catching up" if you're new here, or perhaps just my favorites for whatever reason. :)  

Now for today's link list...

Consecrated for Holy Plans ~ Another excellent and thought-provoking post by Sally Clarkson.

James Montgomery Boice Testimony ~ I read an excerpt from this testimony, given just weeks before Boice's death, in Randy Alcorn's If God is Good this morning, and wanted to read the rest of it.  Love what he says about "Would you change it?" and the fact that if we would change what God is doing in our lives, we'd make it worse.  Ponder *that* a bit...I need to!

Ann Voskamp's Series on Journaling ~ I've linked to this before, but looked it back up after my post on prayer yesterday.   Wonderful stuff on the spiritual discipline of journaling. 

Are We Raising Daniels? ~ Another one I've linked to before, but I ran across it again this morning and was as convicted by it as ever.  



In "Other" Words...Prayer

“Prayer invites us to rest in the fact that God is in control, and the world’s problems are ultimately God’s, not ours. If I spend enough time with God, I will inevitably begin to look at the world from the point of view that more resembles God’s own. What is faith, after all but believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”   
~ Philip Yancey: "Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference?" 

Putting up the Christmas tree at our house is one of those "not as simple as it sounds" propositions.  Six people in a rather small house with no attic, garage, basement (or even very many closets!) means that every inch of floor space is carefully utilized.   Creating space for a Christmas tree (other than in the middle of the floor or hanging from the ceiling) is somewhat like the engineering problems my dad used to try to explain to me. :)   This year, in preparation for "decking the halls" (or at least the living room :)), we needed to move some bookcases.  And before we moved them, they needed to be cleaned out and reorganized.  So...one afternoon during the Thanksgiving weekend found the girls and I cleaning out bookshelves.  (I'm not sure how Peter managed to get out of that task...;-))    Bayley was pulling books off a bottom shelf when she held up a stack of thick notebooks.  "What are these, Mom?"  

I realized that what she held was a stack of prayer journals...dating from sometime in high school to my young adult years.  I had stashed them in the bottom shelf of this bookcase intending to find a better spot for them later...and completely forgotten they were there.  

As I dusted them off and found a spot for them within easy reach so that I could peruse them later, I thought about my prayer life in those days, and how it has changed since then.  Those notebooks represented hours of prayer for myself and others, carefully maintained lists of prayer requests for family and friends, our church, Bible Study groups, missionaries, etc.  There are also pages and pages of prayers written out in longhand over those years, most following a formula such as "ACTS" (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication), with other, more freeform prayers during times of great joy or crisis.  

It would probably take a bit more digging to find them, but somewhere there are similar, although somewhat more simple, prayer journals from my childhood.   My mom taught me from a young age to keep a prayer journal, a heritage for which I am thankful.  Those journals are filled with prayers for a baby brother or sister (I was an only child for almost ten years), prayers for unsaved family members (who are still on my prayer list all these years later), and prayers for sick friends and family members, among other things.

Faith was an easy thing in those years.  It never wavered.  I had complete trust that God would answer those prayers...although I had learned early on that His answers aren't always "yes"...sometimes they are "no" or "wait".  Even when the answers weren't what I wanted, it was somehow still easy for me to trust that this was His will and everything would be okay.  I saw many wonderful answers to prayer in those years, and God used those years to grow and strengthen the faith of a young, innocent girl as she grew into a young, still-pretty-innocent young adult. 

As I entered my mid-twenties, life began to get a bit crazy, and my prayer life began to change.  I don't have as many prayer journals from those years...rather than an hour early in the morning in my favorite chair with my Bible and notebook on my lap, due to a very uncertain schedule in those days, my Bible reading was  often done in my office as I ate a quick breakfast or lunch, and much of my praying was done in my car as I traveled all over the state for my job.  

As I married and had children, the schedule didn't get any better, and while I do have prayer journals from those years, they are anything but consistent.  Again...not that I wasn't praying, but my prayers were often while rocking a baby or standing at the sink washing dishes (in fact, for years I kept a list of prayer requests in a plastic page protector hanging by my sink so that I could have a focused prayer time while doing dishes...perhaps I need to pull out a new page protector and start that again!)

And then we come to 2004.  2004 was an amazing, incredible, tremendously difficult, faith-building year for our family.   In February, our Ammah Grace was born 10 weeks early, necessitating 6 weeks in NICU and causing all kinds of dire predictions from her doctors.  Not only did we pray...hard and often...but our church, town, and even people all over the country and the world prayed for her.  We saw miracle after miracle after miracle...even our favorite NICU doctor, one of the top neonatologists in the country, proclaimed her a miracle.  

Just as we began to breathe a sigh of relief and thankfulness that it appeared our Gracie would be completely "normal", we were hit with the second major crisis of 2004...my dad's health, which hadn't been good for the previous five years, went into steep decline.  A second round of cancer was first suspected, then confirmed, in the midst of other quite serious health issues that made treatment complicated if not impossible.  In November we realized that barring a miracle, we were entering our last holiday season with Daddy, and on December 9 of that year, we stood around his bed in the hospice unit as he took his last breath and went to be with Jesus.  

Although our prayers for Daddy's healing weren't answered in the way we would have chosen, we realized that even in that, he *had* been healed...in the most glorious way possible...and in those last months of his life, we saw incredible answers to prayer just as we had with Ammah Grace.  Again, there was an army of prayer warriors praying for him and for our family, and God sustained us in awesome ways through those prayers.  

I grieved hard for Daddy...but amazingly, even in what was up until then the hardest experience of life, God shored up my faith and allowed me never to question His goodness and sovereignty.  How could I, when I had watched my dad, in horrible, unrelenting pain, look up with tears in his eyes a few days before he died and say, "God has been so good to me."  

As we closed 2004, my heart was grieving, but my faith...and my prayer life...was stronger than it had ever been.  

Sometime in that next year, though, I began to slack in my prayer life.  Not because of any bad feelings or turning away from God...I still confessed sin, I still thanked Him for His blessings and provision, I still praised Him...but as far as supplication, I had hit a place of confusion.  I had learned much during that time about God's sovereignty, and while I still prayed for specific requests when asked, I began to feel a "What's the point?" attitude creeping in.  It's hard to even explain, as it wasn't a bitter or angry "What's the point?", but just a truly questioning, "If God is totally sovereign and His plan is sure from before the foundation of the earth, He is going to fulfill that plan regardless, so what difference is my prayer going to make?"  

Quite a change for the girl with shelves full of prayer journals.

As 2004 ended, we felt that we had been through the fire.  We felt that we had been through the "great year of testing" and we had survived, through God's grace.   We had learned and grown more than ever that year, and had seen God work in marvelous and amazing ways.   2005 and early 2006, in addition to being a time of confusion in my prayer life, were still a time of growth through deep grief.  By the summer of 2006, though, I was beginning to emerge from the valley of sorrow, and feel like we were headed into a "new normal".  

And then on July 2, 2006, our world exploded, as we discovered that one of our precious children had been abused by someone very close to us whom we had trusted completely.    Life as we knew it literally shattered into a million pieces...and my prayer life took a dramatic turn again.  

It would take a book (and I realize I have already written a chapter here...eek!) to tell all that happened during that time and all that God did in our lives as a result.  But as far as my prayer life went, I entered a period of desperation...gone were the acrostics and neatly organized prayer journals and carefully worded prayers.   I had prayed some desperate prayers when our tiny baby's life hung in the balance, but even those prayers were nothing like these.   I've since realized that with Ammah Grace, although we prayed constantly and hard, there were no decisions to be made, there was nothing we could *do* but sit and wait to see what God would do.  We could ask for healing, but it was all completely out of our hands. 

In this situation, however, there were decisions to be made, and there were small people (a situation like this can't help but affect the whole family) with desperate needs that we had to figure out how to meet...and at that point, there was really no one else to ask for counsel.  Billy and I realized that it was us and God, and that we were going to be making the biggest decisions of our lives, with long-term, even permanent, consequences for our children and our family as a whole.  One small misstep, the slightest mistake in judgement, could cause devastating repercussions.  

Our prayers were definitely desperate.  Prayers for wisdom, prayers for direction, prayers for God to somehow heal the trauma our children had experienced.  Prayers just to survive the days of horrible emotional meltdowns of a traumatized child and severe sleep deprivation brought on by night terrors.  Prayers, often, that couldn't be uttered at all...when there were no words, and all I could do was cling to Romans 8:26 ("Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.")

"Prayer time" became a thing of the past, as life became a continual breathing of prayer to God moment by moment.  Billy and I made a determination from the very beginning that we would not take a step, that we would not make the slightest move or decision in this situation, without total, complete certainty that it was what God was leading us to do.  If we didn't have that total certainty and peace, we did nothing until He gave clear direction.  "Waiting on God" took on a whole new meaning...we felt as though we were taking a master's level class in waiting.  But every step of the way, God did, truly, answer our prayers that He would not give us a choice as far as the next move to make.  At each point, not a minute early, but just at the right time, He would clearly show us what to do and how to do it with really no other choice when the time came.  Looking back, I am amazed to see His hand orchestrating it all...although as Philip Yancey says, it "only make[s] sense in reverse".  

Somewhere in the midst of the many lessons God has taught me over the past 4 1/2 years, and the wrestling He brought me through as I struggled with true doubt for the first time in my life, He brought me to a realization about the issues I'd had about prayers of supplication.  Those prayers are not for God.  They aren't to let Him know our needs or those of others around us...because He already knows.  They aren't to beg Him into changing His mind...because His plan is perfect.  They are for us.  First, as an act of obedience.  He tells us to pray.  He tells us to bring our needs and the needs of others before Him.  And second, as a part of building our faith as we see His answers...whether those answers be "yes", "no", or "wait"...and as He makes us more like Himself and brings our prayers more in line with His will. 

Although we will be dealing with the consequences of what happened to our children for the rest of our/their lives, things have finally begun to settle into a bit of a new normal for our family.  God continues to heal and comfort and teach us through it, but as we've moved into a period of relative calm...for however long it may last...the intensity of the deep, desperate, groaning prayer has eased.  The challenge now is to realize that even though our circumstances don't seem quite as desperate, our need for "continual breathing of prayer to God moment by moment" is just as necessary.  It's that "abiding" that John 15 talks about...the "pray without ceasing" of 1 Thessalonians 5.  

I've realized recently that as that season of desperate, almost autonomic or involuntary prayer has moved into a more peaceful season, I need to in an intentional way weave together all that God has taught me (and continues to teach me!) about constant prayer-breathing and structured, focused prayer, and not only practice it in my own life, but teach it to my children as well.   I've gone back to a somewhat haphazard prayer journal in the past couple of years, but I need to become disciplined in that again.  I want to move back to keeping an organized prayer list...both to help me on those brain-foggy, hard-to-focus days, and to keep a running, written record of God's faithfulness.  

I'm so thankful for Debbie of Heart Choices, who is today's In "Other" Words hostess, and who chose today's quote.   I needed this time to reflect on and pull together the things God has been teaching me in the school of prayer.  I have realized for a while that I need to become more "intentional" again in my prayer life, and Debbie's quote and the writing of this post has helped me sit down and really focus on where God is leading me in that right now.  

To see Debbie's post, and read others' thoughts on today's quote, visit Heart Choices.  


Bugs Bunny, Facebook, and Stewarding the Story ( or "Quite Possibly My Most Important Blog Post Ever")

I've always thought of myself as anything but a rebel, but in the last few years I realize more and more that there is a part of me that seriously balks at the thought of doing something...anything..."everyone else" is doing.  There is a part of me that enjoys being just a bit different.  Not "dye your hair purple" different, but swimming upstream a bit.  If a curriculum is really popular, I tend to shy away from it....and it's going to have to work extra hard to convince me it's head and shoulders above the rest.   I tend to ignore "popular" musicians unless I happen to hear a song I think is just fabulous.  Thinking back, I was that way even in high school...my dream car was not the brand new sports car my friends were ogling, but a candy apple red 1973 Karmann Ghia (which I actually owned :)).

So, whenever a status starts popping up on my Facebook newsfeed..."copy and paste this to your status if you support ________________", I start feeling a tad hive-ish.  I don't think I've *ever* copied and pasted such a status, no matter how much I may agree with the cause (or at least the ideas behind it).   I hate cancer.  I've watched it ravage two of my grandparents, my dad, and various friends through the years.  It's a terrible thing.  But I can't bring myself to post a "copy and paste this if you've lost someone you love to cancer" status.   I love my children...but when I see a "copy and paste this to your status if you have a child you are thankful for",  it doesn't cause me to think "Oh, yes, I must post that!"

I guess it shouldn't have been a huge surprise, then, that when I began seeing cartoon characters popping up in my newsfeed over the weekend, I began to feel a bit antsy.  I actually did have some favorite 70s cartoons.  The Jetsons, Yogi Bear, etc., were great!  And of course, Looney Tunes are timeless. :)  My FB friends may yet see a Hanna-Barbara creation or Bugs and Taz on my profile.  I certainly have nothing against anyone else posting...it isn't like some of the "awareness" campaigns that have been little more than titillating sensationalism.   And, again, I can't guarantee I won't post one myself.

But frankly, I struggle with understanding how a thumbnail image of a cartoon character is really going to make a difference for those who have already been devastated by child abuse or prevent children from being abused in the future.

"Awareness" seems to be the goal these days, no matter what the issue.  And while in one sense, I understand that, in another, I just don't see the point.

Are there really that many people out there who aren't aware that child abuse happens?  I look over my friend list and can't find anyone I really think would be shocked to know that child abuse exists.  I suppose that there are people on Facebook somewhere who aren't aware...but really, is making that (relative) handful of people "aware" that there is such a thing going to stop a child from being abused, or help heal a child who has already been traumatized?

Please understand that I am not saying there is anything, at all, wrong with posting a cartoon character profile pic this week.  Having written this post, I probably actually *will* post one later today, just because. :)  Many of my dear friends have posted photos of characters that bring back feelings of nostalgia (or in some cases, a "did we actually WATCH that??? reaction :)).  I appreciate the caring hearts I know are behind those profile pictures, some of whom I know have been directly affected by the horror of abuse and/or active in the fight against it.

I just don't think it goes far enough.

I don't think it gets the really necessary info out there.

I don't think it helps us differentiate between the frivolous, petty things some call abuse, and the truly horrific acts that actually are.

Child abuse is a hot button issue for me.  I've talked about child protection on this blog before, and those who have read those posts know that child protection is an issue about which I am passionate.  What may not have been clear in those posts is the fact that I tend to distance myself from things labeled "child abuse advocate."  My pre-SAHM career was in the social work field, working with foster children, their families, and their foster families.  I saw a lot of true abuse in those years...and I saw things labeled abuse that frankly weren't. (And while this blog post won't deal with that particular issue in detail, I must say that that is a *dangerous* thing, as it detracts from true abuse issues on so many levels.)  I saw many false allegations and the devastation they caused to the families involved.  I saw many caring people trying to help children and their families...and I saw a flawed system that sometimes caused as much trauma as the abuse itself.  And I've seen some of the most caring folks of all devastated by the very system through which they were trying to make a difference.

Several years ago, though, child abuse became something much more personal when we discovered that one of our children had been victims of abuse by someone close to our family who we loved and trusted.  Our family was rocked to the core and there were times that we wondered if we would survive.

I can't begin to describe the trauma experienced  by our whole family.  The first two years were spent literally trying to just survive hour by hour and minute by minute some days.  It would take a book to even begin to tell the story of the last 4 1/2 years.  The important part is...God has worked and is continuing to work in our family in amazing ways.  He has taught us things through this that we could never have imagined.  Our journey is far from over.  We know that there will be new "layers of the onion" peeled away periodically for the rest of their (and our) lives.  The perpetrator of the abuse is currently in prison on other charges, and while charges have been filed in our case, legal loopholes mean that the case won't actually go to trial until his current sentence is over.  We know there are difficult and uncertain days ahead.

Through our experiences...years of combined experience of Billy and I both in the child protection field as well as our personal experience...true awareness of child protection issues is a subject close to my heart.  Billy and I were "experts" on child abuse/protection issues.  As a foster/adoptive parent trainer years ago, I taught classes in "signs of abuse" and "risk factors".  Billy and I knew that we couldn't protect our children from every eventuality in life...we knew we couldn't control accidents, illnesses, etc....but we were *sure* that one thing from which we could protect our children was abuse/m*lestation.  We were (and still are) hall of famers in the overprotective parents' club.

If the horror of abuse can happen to our children, it can happen to *anyone's* children.

Even yours.

Because of our experiences and my heart on these issues, I couldn't ignore this latest FB "awareness" campaign...but neither could I post a cute picture and be done with it.

We do need to be aware.  Parents, grandparents, and anyone who is ever responsible for the care of children NEED to be aware of the fact that child abuse is NOT just something that happens to "other people".

It is NOT something that just happens in disadvantaged families.

It is NOT something that just happens in bad neighborhoods.

Perpetrators are NOT just the scary-looking guy on the street corner.  They may wear nice clothes, have charming personalities, drive nice vehicles, live in the best neighborhoods, have a good job, and be well-educated.

There are perpetrators everywhere.  That is not said for dramatic effect, and it is not to say we should be looking at every stranger (or friend or family member) as a possible perpetrator.  However, more than likely, if you were to search the sexual offender registry, you would find at least one, if not more, registered sexual offenders living much too close for comfort to your home, church, or workplace.  And those are just those who have been caught, tried, convicted, and registered as sexual offenders.  There are many more who haven't been caught yet, tried yet, or convicted yet.  AFTER we discovered the situation with our children, we discovered that the perpetrator in our case had been under investigation for over two years by the FBI for crimes against children...during which time we had absolutely no idea such an investigation was going on.

Almost ANY time your child is not in your line of sight...there is a possibility of abuse.  That doesn't mean it is probable, but it is possible.  It can happen in under five minutes.  It can happen in a public place.  It can happen, quite literally, in your own backyard.  It can happen when they are with people you trust.

I am not advocating that parents never take their eyes off their children.  I am not advocating that parents never trust *anyone* but themselves with their children.    I am saying that there are often times when parents are lulled into a false sense of security that "it couldn't happen to us", and that can cause a lack of caution that can have devastating consequences.

We need to realize that allowing our child to go anywhere by themselves (*especially* public restrooms) puts them at risk.  This doesn't just mean at the mall or the grocery store...this means *any* public place.  I cringe every time I see a child allowed to go to the restroom by themselves at church.  At one time, at least four known sexual offenders lived within a mile or less (some within blocks) of our church.  As far as we know, they are still there.  Our church is not in a bad neighborhood by any means.  It is just down the street from a school.  I would guess that there isn't a church in our town that doesn't have a registered sexual offender living in the vicinity.  And again...those are just the registered ones.

We need to think long and hard about who we allow to care for our children in our absence.  Every family will have their own boundaries on this...but we need to realize that just because we have known someone a long time, or because they live next door, or because they have passed background checks, doesn't mean they are "safe".   I understand the need for background checks in certain areas, but they make me very nervous because they give us a false sense of security.  All a clean background check can tell us is that someone has never been caught and convicted (or had a child abuse allegation "founded" against them).

We need to be aware that teaching our children about "good touches and bad touches" only goes so far.  One of our children is, as far as we know, still unaware of the abuse they experienced for over six months (by the perpetrator's own admission).  The other was apparently not aware of the abuse until the last occurrence...again, after over six months.  The perpetrator said that they were always asleep...we believe, given the degree of the abuse and the lack of apparent awareness, that they were probably drugged.  "Educating" a child is not an effective defense in such situations.

We need to understand that no matter how hard we try to protect our children, we are not all-powerful, and there is no way we can guarantee that we can prevent abuse from happening to our children.  Our family is living proof of that.  I taught classes in preventing and detecting abuse.  Billy and I did everything "right" in that area.  And it happened to our family anyway.  As traumatic as our situation has been, however, I have to say that it would have been so incredibly much more traumatic for us as parents if it had occurred due to something we could have prevented.   We need to do all we can to prevent...while realizing that our prevention efforts are not guarantees.

And for individuals and families who have experienced abuse, we must know that as horrible and heinous and devastating as it is for a person or a family...it is not the end of the world.   It feels like it...often for a long time.  But there is hope.  God can and does give peace in the midst of the storm and bring beauty from ashes.  I have written much on this blog about God's work in our lives during the dark days of the last few years, and I am sure that I am nowhere near finished writing that story.  None of it has been easy, but He has shown Himself totally faithful through it all.  

This is by no means an all-inclusive "everything you need to know about child abuse" post.  It also doesn't begin to tell our whole story and what God has done in our lives and taught us through it.  I could...and perhaps someday will...write a whole book on the subject.   But hopefully it does take "awareness" a step further.  Perhaps this is an issue that tugs on your heartstrings and you want more information.  Feel free to email me by clicking on the "view my complete profile" link near the top of the sidebar, and then clicking the "email" button on the left side of the profile.  Or perhaps your family or someone close to you has experienced  the devastation of abuse and you are looking for support or encouragement or prayer...or you have encouragement to offer others.  Again...please email me through the profile link.  Or you are always welcome to post less personal questions or comments below.

This post has been sitting in my drafts folder for 3 days while I prayed and sought counsel about posting it.  It hasn't been easy to write, and it won't be easy to hit "publish".   God has brought us a long, long way in the past four and a half years.   In the beginning, we were dead set against anyone knowing our story but the few who "had to" know.   God has slowly changed our hearts over the last couple of years and caused us to realize that this story is not ours, but His.  He has given our family, including the child who is aware of what happened, a strong sense of the fact that He has a plan for our family as a whole and each of us individually and that the last 4.5 years were not an interruption in that plan, but a vital part of it.  God has given us a desire to minister to others who are walking this dark road, and to truly "raise awareness" about protection and prevention in a realistic way.

Mary Beth Chapman, wife of Steven Curtis Chapman and author of  Choosing to SEE: A Journey of Struggle and Hope
  (which is, by the way, one of the two best books I've read all year), says of her family that she wants them to "steward their story well."   That is my heart...to steward our story well.  Even more than "raising awareness" of child abuse, I want to "raise awareness" of the Hope that lies within us...the Hope that has carried us through the many dark days and sleep-deprived nights of this journey.  God is good.  He loves us with an everlasting, unchanging love.  He loves my children even more than I do!  He is working for our best, always.  His plan cannot be thwarted or changed.  He has carried us in the palm of His hand throughout it all.

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."
 ~ Genesis 50:20

"I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." 
~Jeremiah 29:11

"He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young." 
~ Isaiah 40:11

"That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
~Romans 10:9-10