Stand Sunday {EIGHT things YOU can do to take a stand for foster children and foster parents}

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Next time you are at church, take a look around at the empty seats.  Imagine if those seats were filled with foster children who were being taken care of by members of the congregation.  Wouldn’t that be an awesome sight to see?

This coming up Sunday (November 12th) is “Stand Sunday”.  Stand Sunday, an initiative of Orphan Sunday and The Christian Alliance for Orphans is designated as the day where churches are asked to take a stand for foster children.  Ultimately, the goal is for there to be an abundance of appropriate foster homes to meet the diverse needs of every single child in the system.

Not everyone is able to be a foster parent, but everyone can do something to help.  There are many ways that you and your church can take a stand for foster children.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Foster care is a mission field and the church should be involved.  As a church, reach out to local child welfare agencies and request ways that you can help them out.  Do they need volunteers for special events?  Donations of certain items?  What needs could your church fill?
  2. If foster parents attend your church, offer them a “parents night out” by providing childcare.  Each state may have different processes for approval; however, this is not an impossible task to achieve and the families absolutely need it.
  3. If you are a foster parent or work in the field, ask your pastor about guest speaking.  Eek!  I know that sounds really scary but only you can provide the kind of insight needed to get the message across.  (You can do it!)
  4. Sometimes, all it takes is for people to be aware of the magnitude of an issue before they get involved.  Ask your church if it would print a little blurb about the facts, numbers, and needs of foster children in US foster care system and add it to the Sunday morning pamphlets that are distributed when people walk through the doors.  Knowledge is power!
  5. Start a meal train for new foster families.  There is nothing more chaotic than the first week or so of a new foster placement.  Often, these families become instant parents to two or more children of different ages and with varying needs.  Cooking dinner (unless you count boxed mac-n-cheese/not judging at all) is the last thing on their minds.
  6. Think about your own talents.  Are you a great photographer?  Do you have a teachable skill set?  Are you a retired teacher or coach?  If so, use your talents and experiences to tutor and mentor youth in care.
  7. Just be present.  I know that sounds a little cheesy and all but nothing feels better than knowing one is heard, loved and supported during the good days and the bad.
  8. Pray!  Seriously, Church.  Pray without ceasing for children in the system, for their biological parents, caseworkers, Judges and juvenile authorities and for the foster and relative homes who are all on the front lines of battling child abuse and neglect.

I’ve worked in child welfare for close to 17 years.  I fostered for four years, as well.  I sure wish the demand for my job did not involve child abuse and neglect.  I’ve worked with far too many kids who have said, “No one cares”.

Church, it’s time we show them we care. 

It’s time we take a stand.

Hey, Pastors. It’s Time the Church Talks about Infertility.

pexels-photo-27633

Hey, Pastors,

Did you know that one of out of eight couples in the US has trouble either getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy?  One out of eight.  The numbers are even bigger when you consider those struggling with it throughout the world.

While you are preaching this Sunday, count the families in your congregation.  For every eight couples present, there’s a very good chance that one of them is either infertile or has miscarried.  It is possible that your church has numerous couples who have been walking through infertility with barely speaking a word about it.

We have come so far in our history as souls walking on this Earth, yet, we still do not talk about infertility; especially in the church setting.  I’ve always wondered why.  Is it because it involves sex?  Or, maybe it’s just awkward?  Could it be that advice is hard to give and take when dealing with infertility?  I suspect it might be all of these things.

I reached out once to a big national church – like huge – with a very well-known and eloquent Pastor.  I asked them, “What are you doing for people in your congregation who are struggling with infertility?”  They told me that they refer couples/singles who are infertile to their orphan care ministry.  Okay.  That is fine but adoption is a completely different experience than infertility.  Sure, they touch each other but the experiences as whole both require full attention.  They both involve lots of tears, courage, and resilience, but, orphan care, while wonderful, does not equate caring for the infertile.

Here’s the ugly truth, though.  Infertility impacts spirituality.  Let me repeat.

INFERTILITY IMPACTS SPIRITUALITY. 

Case in point:  Several years ago, a Pastor’s wife emailed me via this blog and poured her heart out to me.  She was angry at God for not answering her prayers for pregnancy.  She was confused and felt she could not say anything out loud due to being the Pastor’s wife. Instead of turning to those within her church who know her and love her, she sought me, a complete stranger who just happens to “get it” when it comes to infertility.  I did my best to encourage her and let her know that she is free to vent to me via email anytime she needed to.  However, this is not how it should be.  Infertility should not be a secret that is kept away for fear of showing to others that none of us are spiritual warriors all of the time.

Hey, Pastors.  It’s time the church breaks open the seal of secrecy when it comes to infertility.

I grew up attending a Southern Baptist church.  The Pastor and other members of the church were warm, kind and spiritually mature (at least, that is what I thought of them). However, after my hysterectomy in 1983 (age 11), I do not recall one single person with “authority” in the church reaching out to me about what had just happened.  While they provided some support to my parents, they did not really discuss at all the impact of infertility on my life and where God was in all of it. My mom recalls that “no one asked” when referring to how she dealt with it.  Instead, our family heard lots of “She can always adopt” and “God must have a reason for this”.

I’m sorry, but this is just wrong.  While I know now that adoption was the plan for my life and I absolutely adore my children, these types of comments from other Christians did not comfort, nor did they draw me closer to the Lord.  If a wife were to lose her husband, would the church say, “She can always remarry”?  I don’t think so.

Take a look at the story of Hannah:

1 Samuel 1-15

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LordAlmighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah, he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house.  In her deep anguish, Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying,

Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth.  Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk, and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

“Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.” 


Hannah was in anguish.  She was provoked until she wept.  Yet, she was misunderstood. Her pain was not clear until she bravely told of her grief.

Hey, Pastors.  There are a lot of Hannah’s in your congregation.  

You may not know it.  You may even be surprised by who they are, but they are there. They attend week after week.  They are some of your most dedicated volunteers, teach Sunday school classes and host small groups, pray for you and everyone else, and they are in pain.

Growing up with barrenness, I understand all too well that it can be a stinging arrow heading right into one’s heart.  It does not invite feelings of thankfulness.  It certainly does not create a sense of wholeness; physically or spiritually.  If the church is responsible for growing spiritual beings and encouraging the faithful, why does it do a good job at ignoring the infertile?  Scripture talks about it, so why doesn’t the modern-day church?

Hey, Pastors.  This is my challenge for you.  Learn about infertility.  Read my blog and the multitude of other blogs whose writers whisper their tears via the written word.  Talk to doctors who work with infertile couples.  Read and re-read the stories of barrenness in the Bible, and then, create an open dialog so that the Hannah’s (and spouses) in YOUR church can feel like they are not forgotten children of the Lord and that their church home is a soft spot to land in the midst of their struggle.

Hey, Pastors.  It’s Time the Church Talks about Infertility.

 

 

 

Voice of Truth

The song titled, The Voice of Truth, by Christian band Casting Crowns is one of my favorites.  I love this song.  Each time it comes on the radio, I crank it up.  The words of the chorus are quite simple:

But the voice of truth tells me a different story.  The voice of truth says, “Do not be afraid.”  And the voice of truth says, “This is for my glory.” Out of all the voices calling out to me.  I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.

-Casting Crowns

There was a time in my life when I did not know what truth was.  I heard many “voices” but none of them were comforting.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that there were moments in my growing years that whispers of darkness, cruel thoughts, and hurtful words were a part of my psyche.

I remember wondering after my hysterectomy if I had done something awful to cause it to happen.  I thought that perhaps I should have been born a boy…yes…being a boy would have been much better than a girl who could not have babies.  I also thought God surely knew I would make a terrible mother.  He must have wanted to spare a child my mothering.  Or, perhaps I was a child killer in a past life…even though I did not think past lives even existed.

As an adult, I wish I could say that these notions faded, but they did not.  I found myself thinking that God did not want me to be a parent.  If He wanted it, then it would have happened miraculously, quickly, and without any additional strife.  I do not know if anyone who reads this believes in spiritual warfare, but I do.  The fact that these horrific, cruel, depraved thoughts lingered in my mind as a child and an adult prove to me that spiritual warfare does exist.  Not one adult ever said these things to me.  Not one child, no one.  Yet, I “heard” them.

Back in 2000, I started going to church again.  As I began to do so, those hurtful words and  notions took a backseat to the Truth that is found in the voice of God.  The written Word became magnified.  In Him, I began to hear “You are beautiful”, “You have purpose”, “Your life was worth saving”.  Even more awesome though was the clarity I received from worship and reading the Word.  I was able to recognize that the voices bringing me down were not of Him. They were flaming arrows of the enemy and I was the target.

His Word and the hope I found in Christ became my shield.  The following verses spoke to me in ways that drowned out the cursed thoughts I once carried:

Jeremiah 29:11 “For 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.”

Psalms 139:16 “Your eyes saw my unformed body.  All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”

Psalm 139:14 “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

Romans 5:2-5 “Through him we have also obtained  access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the  glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in hope of the  glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that  suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character  produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been  poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to  us.

Silence and suffering comes along with infertility.  It can dishearten the strongest of believers.  It can eat at the core of one’s relationship with the Lord.  The enemy whispers “you don’t deserve to be a parent”, “you must have done something wrong”, “it must not be God’s will for you”….and many more things.

I can tell you that when in the pit of despair over barrenness, it is hard sometimes to hear anything but the words of the enemy.  It is hard to see outside of the strife and beyond the pain.  It is hard to hear the voice of Truth calling out.  IT. IS. HARD.  

However, as the song says, THE VOICE OF TRUTH TELLS ME A DIFFERENT STORY.     

The stories of those of us who have struggled or are currently being challenged with the spiritual confusion of infertility are not written by the enemy or anyone else for that matter.  Our stories have been written by the One whose voice is true; the One whose love is everlasting; the One whose shield is strong; the One who breathes life into the most destitute of situations; the One whose grace saves; the One who created us; the One who set our limits; and the One who has declared our future.

What’s the voice of truth telling you?  

For those of you who are battling your way to parenthood, stay strong in your faith.  Know that you are loved by a God who is bigger than your doubts.  Know that He is not done with you yet.  Know that your story is just unfolding.   Take delight in the hope of His promises and the mystery of what He has in store. 

Listen to His Voice of Truth.  Be Blessed.

Samples for Jesus

the joy of my little boy
         www.sarahcarterphoto.com

A few Sundays ago, my almost six-year-old son asked me “Do you take samples for Jesus?”  I had no idea what he was talking about.  Samples for Jesus?  I asked him again what he said to make sure I did not misunderstand him.  “Do you take samples for Jesus?”  I finally told him that I had no idea what he was talking about.  In frustration, he said, “You know…those pieces that Mr. Richard passes out in that plate.”  Aha!  He was talking about communion!  After laughing for quite a bit at the joy of my little boy, I explained that, yes, mommy takes “samples” for Jesus.

As what seems to be commonplace lately in my life, the Lord used my son to deliver a message that provoked my thoughts about my life as a Christian.  Do I fully live out a life that is reflecting of Christ in me?  Or, am I just sampling the Christian life?  What can I do to show my children and others around me that my walk with Christ is more than showing up to church, saying Amen, and taking communion?

I want my children to see that being a believer requires full attention.  One cannot just pick and choose pieces of it as if sampling the foods at a local deli.  It is the choice between living as if this is the only destination or choosing to live with the full belief that there is life beyond this world.  It is the notion that everything and everyone matters to God.  It is the hope that only comes from salvation.  It is the faith of the glory of Jesus Christ.

Once again, I love that the Lord delivers quick, simplistic, and innocent messages through the words of my children.  I hope that their eyes and their hearts see their mommy as a faith-leaning, Christ-believing, and people-loving Christian.  I pray that my life reflects to them that their mommy is more than just a “sample-taster”.

Strength Training

I love cycling!  I just started a few years ago and thoroughly enjoy it. I have been able to meet an eclectic group of fellow cyclists, make some new friends, see parts of my state I would otherwise over-look, and witness in small ways about my faith in Christ.  A lot of issues have been worked on and prayed for while out riding in the country.  I really enjoy riding in local charity events and end my “season” with completing a 150 mile ride to bring awareness and raise funds for Multiple Sclerosis.

There are numerous hills dispersed throughout my corner of the state in Missouri.  Oh, I love going down them, but climbing back up is a whole other issue.  Often, I just want to unclip my shoes, get off the bike, and walk up.  But, I don’t (okay…well maybe a few times).  Instead, I huff and puff my way up these “Ozarkian” hills.

The bike is not to blame.  It doesn’t change.  The suffering of the ride really has nothing to do with the bike, but instead, my lack of focus, determination, and training….oh yeah….and those darn hills.  I am now realizing that perhaps my cycling journeys represent my walk with Christ.

I’ve found that when being challenged by a major hill that feels more like a mountain, I’ve struggled with the instinct to just keep my focus on the Lord.  It can be hard to stay determined to make it up that mountain.  I have wanted to do it all on my own and not allow the Lord to help me up it.  Then there are those times when life is good and I’m just flying along.  I fail to notice or acknowledge sometimes the One who gives me those moments where I am carefree, content, and not having to work very hard.

Like cycling, I think that walking with the Lord takes practice.  Let me explain a little further. Before I fully committed myself to the Lord, I did not realize how important it was to stay active in faith.  I just assumed that I could be “immobile” and the Lord would take care of it all.  I did not pray that often, barely cracked open my bible, and never went to church.

Through the past 12 years since I have surrendered it all to Him, I have learned that being active in my faith requires daily “training”.  Prayer, acknowledging His good works in my day-to-day life, trusting Him daily, reading the Word, tithing, being active in church, serving others….the training regiment goes on and on.  I do not want to be a lukewarm, out-of-shape Christian.

When I am out on my bike and really feeling every muscle in my legs burn, I start to recite to myself “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).  

If I look up the road and see what seems like a monster of a hill coming, I recite “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).  

If nearing the end of a long ride and I am just worn out, I tell myself “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13).

Just like training rides build up my strength and endurance, my daily walk, or run for that matter, with the Lord builds up my strength to face the mountains in life.  Christ strengthens, Christ builds up, Christ refines, and Christ declares the victory.