It’s Messy

There’s mud on the floor.

Not just in one spot, but spread throughout the house.

There are dead leaves from over the winter that blew into the garage and got tracked into the house.

There are so many shoes in the mud room, it’s not possible to walk neatly through them.

Smudges on the doors.

Dog nose prints on the windows.

Scratches on the door where the dog wants to get out.

Crumbs on the table.

Dishes in the sink.

You get the picture, right?

But when we walk into the dining room, what do we see?

We see a table with people relaxed around it.   Dinner dishes are still there, though dinner is long since gone.

But no one moves.   No one rushes to get up.

They sit, they talk, they share.

They share life.   And life is messy.

It’s messy and it’s painful and it’s hard to navigate.

Especially when you are trying to help someone else. 

Whether that someone is family, friends, neighbors or someone you don’t know but want to help.

It’s messy.    It’s hard to measure.   It’s hard to quantify.

But it’s love.   It’s love the way God want it.   It’s love the way  He gives it to us.

Life is messy, life is painful – but God tells us, don’t worry about the messy.

It will all get cleaned up eventually – and now we need to focus on what really matters.

The child with the skinned knee.

The teen who is feeling alone and battling depression.

The parent who is questioning their parenting skills as their kids struggle.

The homeless down in the inner city.

Those who have lost hope due to feeling like the “system” is stacked against them.

The teen mom who got kicked out of her parent’s house when they found out she got pregnant.

The kids in foster care.

The parents who aren’t sure they can hang on and keep their kids.

Those who are working to help them keep their kids.

It’s messy.

But in the end, maybe not in our lifetimes here on earth, but in the end,

God will make all things beautiful.

Pick Two of Three

So, earlier today, I was talking to Lisa Anderson, a friend of mine.   Lisa Anderson, of Grace’s Table – a ministry that is walking alongside teen moms and helping them in a very lonely, scary and difficult time.   If you haven’t checked out Grace’s Table yet, please do so.

I asked Lisa, what are the three main “issues” that would cause a teen mom to face the difficult choice of either putting their baby up for adoption (their difficult choice) or losing their baby to foster care (not their choice).   She said that there are three things:

  • Economics – no one to provide for them, no dad who is willing to step up to their responsibility, parents who either aren’t willing or aren’t able to help and no job.   It’s a tough road to walk even if you have income, even more so if you don’t.
  • Homelessness – if you have no where to live, it’s hard to care for a little one.   If you have no where to live, it’s hard to get a job.   If you have no where to live, it means you have no one who “has your back.”
  • Depression – If you are dealing with either economic stress (see above) or homelessness (see above) or even worse, both, then you are more likely to suffer from major debilitating depression.   The kind of depression that makes it very difficult to care for a baby.   The kind of depression that makes it very difficult to find and keep a job.

Lisa said that if the teen moms she works with have two of the three, that puts them at high risk of losing their baby to the foster care system.    If a teen mom has all three of them, that puts her at a very high risk of losing her baby to foster care or deciding,  “I can’t do it” and giving their child up for adoption.

Now I want you to listen very carefully.   I am very much pro-adoption.   I have two adopted children.   But I am only in favor of adoption when it is absolutely necessary.   I know there are situations where adoption is absolutely necessary – then let’s find a new family for the child as quickly and as well as possible and move on in the process of healing their wounds and growing and achieving their potential.

But it makes me really sad to see children go through the trauma of abandonment and adoption if they don’t have to.   If their parent(s) could have kept their family together with a little help, then that’s what we should be doing.

If Mom could have kept her family together if someone had provided them with a roof over their head while she found a job, then that’s what we should be doing.

If Mom could have kept their family together if someone had helped her learn a skill and get a job so she could provide for her baby, then that’s what we should be doing.

If Mom could have balanced all of the responsibilities of being a teen single mom because she had the help of a counselor who was willing to walk with them through the valleys that they are in, then that’s what we should be doing.

Unwed teen moms, let’s be honest, they have made mistakes.   But haven’t we all?   And if I recall correctly, Jesus doesn’t tell us to just love those who are perfect.   He doesn’t tell us to only love the church leaders.   Nope, He tells us to love the prodigal son, the IRS agents, the street women.    It doesn’t matter to Him and it shouldn’t matter to us.

Two out of three – imagine would it would be like if we could drop that to 1 out of 3?   Or none out of 3?

Tom

Do you like coffee?

For the last few months, I’ve essentially put The Vulnerable Project on hold.   What is the Vulnerable Project?   It’s an effort to help those who are vulnerable by helping organizations who truly make a difference.

One of the things that The Vulnerable Project has done is sell coffee.   This coffee is grown in Haiti, it’s purchased directly from the coffee growers at a substantially better (higher) price than the big coffee makers pay.   It allows the coffee farmers an opportunity to make a “decent” (Haitian decent, not US decent) wage.

Since my work with The Adoptive Family Support Network has switched the majority of my efforts to helping adoptive families, I haven’t done much with The Vulnerable Project.    But I’ve had a number of people ask me lately if they could get more of that really good Haitian coffee.

To quote one avid coffee drinker,  “Where has this stuff been all my life?”

I contacted the people who are exporting the coffee and they are running low but we should be able to place an order and still get some rather soon.    Once their current order is done, they don’t know the exact timing of the next order.

So, if you want some wonderful Haitian coffee and you want to help some people in Haiti be able to afford to feed their families, here’s the details:

  • Each bag is $12 for a 12 oz bag.   I believe they have enough that’s ground and that is whole bean but I can’t guarantee that.
  • It’s first come first serve – so if we run out, the orders placed first will be filled first.
  • To place an order, see that little “Contact me” form on the right side of the blog at http://tomvanderwell.net?   Fill that out with your name, contact info, how many bags of coffee you want and your address.   If you live in West Michigan, I’m sure we can arrange delivery.   If you are outside of West Michigan, I’ll ship it and contact you about shipping costs.
  • All orders that are delivered will need to be paid for at the time of delivery (or pick up).   Shipped orders will need to be paid for via Paypal – we’ll coordinate those details at that time.
  • All orders must be placed by next Friday evening, May 8 at midnight Eastern Time.

I was told they “should have enough” and “they don’t know for sure when the next shipment will arrive.”  So, my recommendation – don’t just buy enough coffee to get you through the next month or so.    Buy enough coffee now to last so that if it’s 6 months until they get the next shipment in, you’re not in a caffeine shortage.

Oh and remember, this is really good, I mean really good Haitian coffee.   Not only are you giving yourself a coffee “bonus” by drinking Haitian coffee but you are also helping people in Haiti keep their families together.

Any questions, hit up the “contact me” form and let’s talk.   If you know anyone who runs a coffee shop and wants to try some, send them over and urge them to buy some and see what their clientele thinks.

Thanks for drinking really good coffee.

Thanks for caring about those who are struggling, those who are vulnerable.

Tom

 

A Broken World

If you haven’t seen signs of the brokenness in the world recently, then you obviously haven’t been watching the news or listening to people online.

There are three types of brokenness in the world today:
  • Events – natural disasters, terrorist attacks, deadly viruses, political malfeasance, criminal activity to name a few…….
  • Our reactions to those events are often broken as well.   More on that later.
  • Systemic brokenness – there are issues and challenges at the systemic system wide level that cause and have a huge impact on the brokenness we see in the world.
Let me elaborate – the broken events – this needs very little explanation – besides for the fact that the broken events can happen in one individual family or can happen in a city, state, nation or world wide.   A parent getting cancer – a broken event.   A child being the victim of a violent attack.   A nation at war.   Police brutality.   An incident of racial discrimination.  Gang warfare.  We could list the events for hours and hours.
Our reactions to those events – I’m going to pick two recent events and point out two different ways to look at those events:
  • The Riots in Baltimore because of the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.   Two ways to react:
    • “Those people are stupid evil thugs.  They are burning down their own city, what a bunch of ………”   No grace, no love, no looking at the lives impacts.
    • “Wow, to get to that point, these people in Baltimore must really be hurting.   What a show of rage, disappointment, anger and hopelessness.   Are they feeling that way because of choices they made?   Or are they feeling that way because years of structural and systemic challenges have simply gotten to be too much?
  • The terrorist attacks by ISIS in the Middle East.   Once again, two ways to react:
    • “We’re over here, they are over there.   It’s their problem.   I don’t want my nice pretty life poked at because of the brutality of terrorists on the other side of the world.”    “Oh waiter…..!”
    • There are thousands if not millions of people who have been affected by this terrorist movement.   We can not be quiet.   We can not stand still.   God’s children, whether they are Christians or not, are being horribly tortured and worse.   We must be involved and do something.
Systemic brokenness – two points that come to mind that are best illustrated by two different men:
  • Martin Luther King Jr. – he spent his life and he literally spent his life fighting the systemic effects of racism in this country.   Is our country less racist than it was then?   I believe so, but I also believe that the racism that is in effect today is more quiet, more subversive, harder to see.   Racism today doesn’t post a “whites only” sign over the bathroom door – but the statistics show that racism today still impacts countless people ever day.    The systemic effects of racism, the constant difficulties that are in effect for people who don’t share the white privilege that I have, the struggles they face are ongoing.  In some ways because of their own choices but more often because of government rules and regulations that were put in effect many many years ago, dismantled during Martin Luther King Jr.’s time but still have impact today.   An example of that, there were rules that the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) had in the early 20th century that effectively created black ghettos.   Those rules no longer apply – but the effect of them did and it is still extremely hard for those in the “ghetto” to get out and move up.
  • Gary Haugen – International Justice Mission – Gary wrote a book that changed my life.   “The Locust Effect” is, in my mind, a game changer.   The premise of the book is that over 90% of the poverty in the world could be alleviated by implementing an improved justice system.
    • People are in poverty because the justice system they live under prevents them from getting out of it.
    • People are in poverty because the lack of justice in their neighborhood allows gangs to control their community and prevent economic growth.
    • People are in poverty because they have lost hope of ever getting a fair “shot” at life.
    • People are in poverty because the government won’t or can’t enforce fair labor laws.
    • People are in poverty because inequities in the system haven’t been adequately addressed and therefore they have lost the hope for improvement.
Ask yourself, would the riots in Baltimore have occurred if the people who see themselves as associated with Freddie Gray felt that they had a voice and hope?    Would they have occurred if the government truly treated everyone equal?   If there were opportunities where the people who “blew up” felt like they had a chance and had opportunity?
No, they wouldn’t.  If they felt like they had a chance for a fair opportunity in the world,  I believe Baltimore would look significantly different today.   If those who caused the problems this past week had felt they had a hope and a future, I believe the protests would have remained peaceful like they started.
This is truly a broken world.    It will remain broken for the rest of our lives.   We can’t fix that entire brokenness.
But we can make a difference.   We can make a difference by how we react to the brokenness we see.   We can make a difference by looking past the “what” and looking at the “why” and then trying to impact the “why” of the brokenness.
Yes, those who do the evil and the bad things need to face the consequences of their actions.   But at the same time, we, as Christians and as those who aren’t part of ISIS and aren’t part of the rioters who lost hope, we need to work towards peace.   We need to work towards understanding.   We need to work towards healing.
A friend of mine who is also a transracial parent said the other day,  “Aren’t transracial families the model of the way the world should be?  We are blending races, blending cultures and blending colors inside our families every day.”    While I believe there are some “holes” in that idea, I think he raises a valid point.
I’m going to end this with a direct quote from a friend of mine, Carissa Woodwyk.   She’s a transracial adoptee and does amazing work with adopted kids and their families.   She wrote a wonderful response to the “Why God?” question relating to all of the brokenness.    Thank you Carissa.
“WHY?

why does my spouse keep doing that? act like that? say that?

why did my friend betray me?

why when i do the right thing does it not bring the results i want?

why does the place i work for never change?

why the miscarraige? divorce? addiction?

and the answer i usually hear to the WHY is usually this: because God is testing me.

oh, my friends…i wish we never learned that answer. it breaks my heart to hear people say this. WHY? because it’s so unhelpful. it takes us away from the heart of Jesus. it implies things about him that aren’t true.

bad things happen because we live in a broken world. i have to (GET TO) tell people this EVERY week. bad things don’t come from God. he’s not “up there” figuring out how to “test” us to see if we’ll choose what he wants us to choose and then if we do, we’re better “Christians” who have a better “testimony.”

testing is about performance and one thing i know is that God is not into performance. or striving. or achieving. or obligation. or duty. or making us be somewhere or someone we’re not.

he grieves that we’re hurting.
he grieves the fractured places.
he grieves that people aren’t living the way he designed.

no testing. only joining…in the suffering, in the silence.

and then, as we open ourselves up and experience his presence, his heart for us, he invites us…

to new life. to new places and spaces…

holding the reality that on one hand, this hard thing or hard person or hard system, feels awful. pains us. we feel resentful and slighted and disgusted. maybe even despaired.

and then on the other hand, at the same time, we can believe deep in our bones that this really hard thing or hard person or hard system has the ability to be used for good, to change us, to change them. that we are ALSO dust and blood and bones who are capable, restorative, kind and calm and grace-filled.

i think it’s then when we awaken to how the WHY (is this happening) can turn into a YES (this is happening)…and we’re gonna make it. we’re gonna get through this. it’s gonna be OK.

keep “holding” my friends…the reality that more than one thing can be true at once.

it’s not a test. it’s called life. it can be broken and beautiful at the very same time, in the very same breath, in the very same home.

‪#‎bothand‬
‪#‎therapistthoughts‬