My name is John White, and I had the honor to serve four terms in the Ohio House of Representatives. During my service, my focus was to encourage Ohio’s faith communities to partner with state and local governments to help solve the most difficult social problems facing our state. The following experience gave me a fresh clarity on the opportunity we have to engage those communities that are ready to tackle the issues surrounding returning citizens.
I had my reservations about traveling two and a half hours to Marion Correctional Institute in central Ohio. I had plenty of reasons not to go. It was icy — in fact, black ice lay on the road that morning, and it was cold. I was just going as a favor to the warden who I admired and heard much about. However, I, already disdainful about the inconvenience, turned around after slipping a little…
“I am two steps away from poverty,” Stacy Mitchell begins. “I have savings. I have a good job, but I’ve been on welfare before and had a hard time taking care of myself and my family. Awhile ago, I wondered why I was going through those things, and God said, “You will help people with this.”
Trading Economics posts results from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the close of August 2016, they reported 7.8 million people in the US unemployed. 2 million of these had been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. 6.1 million people worked part-time, not from choice but because they could not find full-time work. A survey done by Bankrate.com showed that 63% of Americans don’t have the savings they’d need for a $500 emergency.
Stacy has a Master’s degree in Instructional Design. While she was earning her second Master’s in Leadership Development, she raised a teenage son and worked a full-time job. She was tired. I would be, too. But she was really tired. She wasn’t just busy, the stress was making her ill, and she was forced to slow down. It was then that God gave her what might have seemed counterintuitive—another task. “I felt it. I said, ‘Lord, I’m ready to help,’ and that Sunday someone walked up to me after church and said, ‘Go to the Circles meeting at 4:00.’ I never read the bulletin, so I wouldn’t have known about the meeting, but God knew.” Instead of one more demand on her time, Circles has become an outlet, something Stacy is excited to do each week. “When they matched Leaders and Allies, I didn’t know if anyone would want to pair up with me, but two people requested me.”
Circles USA works through community groups to help people exit poverty and create self-supporting, sustainable lives. Each group can host up to 25 participants who are ready to step off the crisis ride and onto solid ground. Each participant goes through training and makes a personalized Economic Stability Plan. After training, he or she becomes the Leader of a circle which contains two Allies like Stacy. She describes an Ally as “The Guide on the Side,” listening and helping the Leader think through and accomplish that personal plan. They lend a hand with the aim of building financial, emotional and social resources that will stabilize the Leader’s life.
“This one girl had a lot of credits toward an accounting degree, but life had gotten in the way. She started school in her twenties, but then her parents had died and her life was turned upside down. She dropped out and struggled to survive. Ten years later, she didn’t even have a computer to apply for school. I took my laptop to a meeting and hooked it into the wifi at the church. I helped her set up an email address and apply for college and financial aid. We got her enrolled before her credits expired.” Stacy found out later the girl had been on the verge of suicide, afraid she’d never get her life together. Now, she’s finishing her degree and laying the foundation for a manageable future.
Small circles also participate in the larger group, where skills and connections abound. “One of the Leaders asked me to come to a Saturday session, which was dedicated to helping Leaders build resumes. She works in a factory and is the sweetest person you’d ever want to meet. Some Allies and I talked to her and asked questions about her likes and dislikes. She enjoys helping people and has great ideas. We said, ‘You need to be in social work.’ She said, ‘I have a felony.’ I’d never have guessed that.”
A felony? What for? How did Circles help? Come back next week and find out.
Meanwhile, are you wondering how much you need in your emergency fund? Is your stable foundation washed away like a sandcastle every time you think it’s solid? Click here for tips from Forbes.
Wisdom – Better than Wishing is nearly done at the publisher. While we wait, I’ve begun planning the second book in the 1 Month Wiser devotional series. You can help. Nominate a hospice worker who inspires you, and who might participate in an interview. I would like to discuss what inspired them to work in hospice, how those first days felt and what keeps them going. I’d also like to hear about their most difficult case and the client or family they felt closest to. Names may be changed before publishing in order to preserve confidentiality.
The hospice worker who is chosen for the book will receive his or her choice of a digital or paperback copy of the book which contains the interview. The interview may also be published as a series in my blog, and the hospice for which he or she works will be advertised in my blog for one month.
Please email your favorite hospice worker’s contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org
Coasting the Van Gogh hills of southern Iowa, I could have been Rip Van Winkle in the blink of an eye. I had chosen to drive home at night from Des Moines to Tulsa. I ended one class Wednesday afternoon and planned to teach another on Thursday morning. There are no direct flights—everything goes through Dallas or Chicago—and the recent Midwest flooding made it likely I’d miss my connection if I flew. I looked forward to the cool summer air and starlit Kansas countryside. My stereo held a playlist of songs to practice for my Friday night show. I was packed and ready to go…
I was so tired. I’m a high-energy teacher, and by the end of the day I’m ready for a nap. Rip can keep his twenty years—a twenty minute reboot was all I needed, but the only place to rest was the road. I asked God to wake me up and bought a mocha to help Him out. After an hour or two of singing, I called my friend Nicole. I met her at a blues festival in Kansas, where she was raising money for a mission trip and I was dancing like a hooligan, high on music and summer air. She got a Goliath Down cd and I began sponsoring her ministry. She calls me once or twice a year and asks how she can pray for me, so I decided to surprise her by calling and praying for her. Excitedly, she told me about her work in Orlando and recent trip to the Philippines. “The students barely need us to help—they’re so passionate about reaching out to others at their school.”
“That is so cool! Hey, can you stop for a second and pray for me?” I had reached Kansas City, and from three directions, cars raced in and slid to a halt. Go, stop, go stop. I-35 intruded, I-29 wound over and under slick twists of interchange. The GPS spat swift orders: Keep left on I-29; stay on US-71; keep straight onto I-70/US-40/US-71; keep right on US-71, take ramp right for 670; take right for I-35. I-70 siphoned off a few cars. The rest of us edged onto 670 and pressed down on the gas, but the rain was a traffic cop holding us back.
“Do you need me to let you go?” Nicole asked after praying.
“No, you’re keeping me calm.”
Five minutes later, the rain was so fierce I could barely hear, so we said goodbye. The clatter of hail hit my windshield. I drove a little further, telling myself I’d soon be past it and I didn’t want to get stuck in a Missouri flood. When I saw a sign for Chili’s, I took the exit. Relying on my instincts, I turned right. Wrong. I wound around, gave up and returned to the highway. The hail wore itself out during my detour.
Dark met the storm for a date, and the three of us traveled the winding, two-lane country road. I realized I was no longer sleepy and smiled wryly at God. Lightning flashed and lit the way ahead just before a car rounded the curve. Its headlights turned the horizontal rain into a firework bursting on my windshield. It was exquisite, but it was the only thing I could see. I recalled the strip that had been lit and drove. Another strike displayed another half-mile before another car approached. The rain blossomed, a chrysanthemum of light and drops, and my car sketched the path from memory. After a few miles of this, I relaxed into the routine. I was two hours from home when the clouds clocked out. They hung around, obscuring the stars I’d hoped to see, but I was glowing from the show they’d put on. Even writing this now makes my heart flutter.
God is creative and powerful. “Easy” is for lesser beings. When we ask for what we know, He gives us so much more. If we relax into what He’s doing, He’ll show us enough of the map that we can follow it blind and still make it home. Now, instead of a pleasant drive completed, I have a memory that will give me good goosies forever. Happy sigh.
Be blessed this week with at least one unique experience into which you can relax, trust and appreciate the creativity of the One who loves you.
She has my forehead and talks like my sister. Her hair is the blue of my mom’s eyes. She’s creative, brilliant, fun to talk to and knows how to manage her energy.
I have a recording app on my phone, which I’ve used when interviewing people for this blog. Did I think to use it, during my very first conversation with my daughter? Nope. I was busy pacing a circle in the carpet and periodically squealing. She does that, too. I would love to replay our conversation a hundred times, but instead I raced to write as many notes as I could after we hung up.
She’s real. She exists, she doesn’t hold it against me that I gave her away. Did I mention that she’s really fun to talk to? She is. Her dad thinks so, too.
I don’t even know what to say. God never ceases to impress me with His timing and behind-the-scenes prep. This past month has not been my standard blog material, but I appreciate you being here for this process.
Those are the first words my daughter has ever said to me.
This is gonna be short because I can’t sit still. I either keep dancing or start to cry.
Thank you, adoptive parents, for taking care of my little girl. She sounds like a fabulous woman now. Oh my goodness. Seems so impossible.
So, you know what I say about God’s timing? It’s always perfect.
She put herself on the registry of adoptees a few weeks before my friend prayed, which was a few days before her father found me, which was only a month or so ago. Thank, You, God. Thank you, Jennifer for listening to Him. Thank you, daughter of mine for forgiving me and understanding.
OMIGOODNESS! OMIGOODNESS! I can’t wait to meet her!!!!
You guys might want to buy ear plugs. There’s gonna be lots of squealing, I’m sure🙂
I have a double standard. I believe I can survive anything and that I should have a ribbon for making it this far in the obstacle course of my life. Not having a ribbon doesn’t phase me, because I am that tough. Ruff!
At times, I’ve gotten perturbed at God, even less than polite.
Not for myself. For those I care about.
Getting everything we want prevents us from becoming who we want to be. I know that. I know God protects us from some trials and carries us through others. I love being stronger, wiser, more determined and more understanding when I step out of a dark tunnel into the light. But that’s me. Watching other people suffer just kills me.
The other night, I visited a friend. He’ll be singing at a coffeehouse in a couple of weeks and asked me to sing harmony. He’s picked out some beautiful worship songs. After one particular song, he told me a story. Several years ago, he had a wife and family. Then came the day when instead of a house full of joy and love, he had child support and court dates and a small apartment for one. That January, his one-bedroom apartment had no heat or lights.
One night, he was bundled up in this place he was forced to call home. In his coat and gloves and boots he began to sing this worship song, the same one we were practicing. He let himself go, his voice breaking the darkness, his spirit a candle, flickering and then growing brighter. Every square inch of space was filled with an awareness of God’s love—permanent and unconditional.
I need to be reminded that spiritual truth works for everybody, not just me. I don’t have to bully God into pampering people. He’s better than that.
The Happiness Project and other scientific studies have uncovered the spiritual law of gratitude. Just as the natural law of gravity is true whether you’re in a basement or jumping out of a plane, the spiritual law of gratitude applies regardless of your position. These studies have shown that happiness is not the result of our circumstances—it’s a way to transcend and even change them. Gratitude is the key. People who make a habit of expressing gratitude are happy people.
You absolutely must watch this video. It’s the best one you’ll see all week. In a happiness test, subjects wrote a letter describing someone who made a positive impact on their lives. Afterwards, their happiness scores increased 2-4%. Other subjects wrote a letter describing that someone, but then picked up the phone and called those special people to thank them. These subjects saw a happiness increase of up to 19%. The person who experienced the highest increase had been the least happiest person at the beginning of the test.
This is what my friend had known, that icy January night: we don’t wait until the situation turns around. We give thanks and voilá! Our hearts lift.
We don’t have to make stuff up or be fake. In this life, we get a lot of really special blessings. None of them are permanent, not even the body we inhabit. Our spirits and our relationship with God last. So let’s compare our relationship with God to marriage, the other relationship we all hope will be long-term. If a spouse focuses only on a disappointment or on something they want the other spouse to do, intimacy dissolves. When at last that partner reaches out, the bruised heart is tender and distrustful. Happy couples whose marriages last a lifetime don’t have some unusual history of perfection. Instead, they decide repeatedly that their relationship is important enough to preserve, above anything that might try to divide them. They hold hands, express their love and find ways to laugh together.
In our relationship with God, worship gives us that intimacy. It takes us past our list of wants and into a place of handholding and companionship. In times when we feel as though our hearts have been ripped out completely, worship causes the raw connections to bud and bloom. When our thoughts circle nervously around our struggles, worship puts God back into the center of our focus and we feel steady again. And when everything is great? Well, worship should be automatic! Find 10 minutes today, maybe during your commute, to worship. Tell God how awesome He is, sing along with a worship song or just make up your own. Notice the scenery, take stock of how far you’ve come, and just enjoy the embrace of the eternal.
Yesterday, before I left Connecticut, I had to turn in the shiny red Mustang convertible I’d been driving. I think this past week may have been the first time I’d truly felt what people mean when they say a car “hugs” the road. I wanted to hug the car, but the shuttle driver loaded my bags and was ready to go before I could even pat the rump of my valiant steed. I get my love of cars from my dad and my grandpa, who worked every evening in Grandpa’s detached garage as I was growing up. Dad liked anything with an engine, if he could make it go fast, and when I felt those tires gripping the Connecticut curves, I thought, “Hey Dad, look at me go!” Grandpa had a special appreciation for Mustangs. When I passed the garage with the people painted on it, I turned around to get a picture, happy as I thought of Grandpa. He sat outside, double garage doors wide open, every day for nearly 60 years. There was always a bicycle, car or lawnmower for sale—almost as much for attracting conversation as cash.
Back on Father’s Day, I asked you to complete a survey about being a dad. I appreciate those of you who took the time. I know guys aren’t always big on surveys and quizzes, but you gave something of yourself and that means something to me. The survey included a list of 10 possible priorities for a father, and a few consistently came out at the top of your lists. You believe it’s your job to protect your family, be a spiritual leader and demonstrate a healthy romantic relationship with the other parent in the house. Helping your kids make good decisions and build skills came next.
Protecting family was most important for those with little ones in the house. When asked how you make your children feel loved and respected, you answered, “Being there,” and “Listening.” One father of teenagers said, “I teach them what being respected and loved is.” This is important. Gangs and pop artists are perfectly willing to teach your precious ones that respect must be demanded or earned with violence. Neither method earns anything worthwhile. Dating relationships and magazines will teach them that to be loved, they must lose their self-respect. As a father, you have an inexplicable power to instill lessons about love and respect simply by existing. It’s up to you to be intentional with that power and choose what lessons you’re teaching. It’s worth it to listen to fathers who’ve gone before you, because we don’t always know what adjustments we need to make until it’s too late.
On the survey, dads with grown children looked back and noted the importance of being there for important moments. Yesterday, I flew with an interesting gentleman, who has opportunities to travel all over the world for his job. I’d take those London and Mexico City trips in a heartbeat, but he has decided to sign up as a soccer coach for his little girls’ team. He knows these years fly by, and he’s not going to miss them. That’s impressive. While it’s important for Dad not to give us unrealistic expectations of how a man should treat us, we women make crummy relationship decisions when our fathers are absent or cold. It can be a challenge to be there, if your kids do things that simply don’t interest you. As a father, you’re working on your own career and interests, and by the time your children are teenagers, they’re finding their own wings and they’re interested in music and activities that may feel like a waste of time to you. When asked what throws you off your game as a dad, one of you said only one word: “Teenagers.” I laughed out loud. My dad didn’t know what hit him when suddenly his teenage daughter moved in, and he was not even remotely interested in spending work nights at school plays. It’s easy to drift away—or be shoved away—from your teens. But show up; be there for those important moments. Down the road, they won’t remember the friends who were there, even though they act embarrassed of you and want some cash to go off with the posse afterwards. They will always remember that you were there. They will know you care about what’s important to them.
When your kids are in their 20s and 30s, and you’re somewhere in your fifties or so, things slow down and regret catches up. I’ve known a few good men who weren’t perfect dads. They made mistakes, because they were growing up themselves. Around this period, their kids let them know about everything they did wrong. They started looking back and got mired in regret. God made this crazy choice to give us a frame and let us help build our own lives. Sometimes when we’re young and think we know it all, we grab the tools and close him out of the garage completely. Without a clue, we saw and weld and screw on parts. At some point, if we choose to let Him in, He fixes the things we’ve really botched, but other things He leaves alone. Eventually, we drive out of the garage in Johnny Cash’s ’49, ’50, ’51, ’52, ’53, ’54, ’55, ’56, ’57, ’58’ 59′ automobile. This is not the slick Cadillac we set out to build. We can’t start over. It’s disheartening.
Why does God let us raise others while we’re still learning? Shouldn’t there be a certification exam and a license? Both younger and older parents have things they wish they’d done differently or things their kids hold against them. Parents can do everything right and raise spoiled kids or do everything wrong and raise world-changers, and there are a million variations of these scenarios.
If you’re living in regret, you’re giving the keys to the only one who wants to keep you from going anywhere. The devil is known as the Accuser—don’t let him steal your ride. God doesn’t care what your car looks like. He knew it would be wonky when He gave you your first toolkit. Your children are actually God’s children, and their Father knows that like you, they have lessons to learn. He’s right there, ready to teach them. He’s not done with you, either. When asked, “If the next generation heard only one thing you said, what would you like to say?” The father with the most years of experience gave the best advice: “Make closeness to God a top priority all day, every day.”
The best parents encourage and empower their kids. They raise adults who know when to ask questions, what kinds of questions to ask and where to get answers. My seatmate on yesterday’s flight said that is exactly how his own father made the biggest impact in his life. His dad didn’t force rigid religious habits on him, but every day, he observed his dad reading the Bible and spending time in prayer. The humble honesty of this example taught him to go to God for answers and strength. If your Bible is a dust magnet, start by joining me Monday through Friday for 1MinuteWiser on Facebook or YouTube. I post at 6pm CST, but you can watch the 1-2 minute videos any time.
Maybe you’re not a dad. I bet you had one though, and present or absent, he made an impact. Parents are people, too. I pray today that you’ll make better choices than those who’ve gone before you, and that you will choose to forgive your parents for any way that you feel hurt by them. Let God help.
There’s something I stopped telling people a couple of years ago, not because it’s a secret but because the words carry responsibility. I wasn’t ready to be responsible. One birthday passed, then another, then another.
When I was growing up, we regularly visited the most romantic couple in the universe. They loved each other, they embraced our family. They treated me like a person and not like a little kid. They played Scrabble with me and let me borrow grown-up books like The Hobbit. They would have made great parents, but they couldn’t have children. I was a high school surprise to my own parents, so I knew that pregnancy isn’t always planned. I was ten or twelve when I decided that if I ever became a teenage mom, I would let some wonderful would-be parents raise my baby. Of course, I told my previously teenage mom that I’d never be that stupid. Ah, the tactless innocence of childhood. Moms take so much crap.
I knew it the moment it happened. I was fifteen. I had planned to be a virgin when I got married, but at some point I chose the Cosmo girl for my role model and decided virginity was an embarrassment. After a wild year, I met a boy who actually treated me like a lady, even if I didn’t act like one. He wanted forever with me and made me feel so grown up, it seemed possible. He put my name on the windshield of his truck. I made him French toast, because that’s what I knew how to cook. We saw each other nonstop for three months, and then my dad broke us up. Well, he tried to.
“Mike,” my grandpa said, “Do you think this is gonna work any better than it did when we broke you and her mama up?”
“I know it will. She’s my daughter.” Ah, so that’s where I got my tact.
A couple of months later, before he crawled out my window one night, my boyfriend said, “I hope I didn’t get you pregnant.” I gave a convincing smile but knew it was too late. I cried for two months, until I decided I didn’t want my baby to be sad. I was sent across the country to live with my other grandparents, which turned out to be a blessing I’ll share some other time. A week after I finished 11th grade, I gave birth to this gigantic, precious little girl. In the hospital, they called her Valentine, because she was a gift of love to a family who had only one child and couldn’t have any more. They were ready to raise her and give her a life I could not.
It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, giving up my little buddy after nine months of talking and singing to her. At seven months, I went to a Chuck Mangione concert, and my shirt fluttered with the force of her strong legs dancing. Apparently, we both like Latin rhythms. At eight months, she took over the show in our drama class—everyone stopped to watch her kick. The law gave me 90 days to change my mind and keep her, but I couldn’t do that to this couple who were so close to finally having a child. Many of those 90 mornings, I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, deflated and alone, hoping I was doing the right thing.
I thought I’d have another baby some day, but I had bands instead. My oldest stepdaughter is four months older, and my stepson is eleven months younger than my Valentine. Every year since I met them, I’ve watched them grow and wondered about her.
She’s 28 now. Somehow, I lost seven years. I hoped she’d find me when she was eighteen, and then I was sure I’d find her when she was 21 and I was allowed to initiate a search. When she was 21, I hadn’t made anything of myself yet. I was ashamed of who I was. The year she turned 22, the first rocks fell in a landslide of loss for me. I spent three years watching people I love pass away.
When my heart healed a bit, I made a feeble attempt to search, but life got busy. I knew when I found her, I wanted to have time, to be there for her. I didn’t want to wave and run off. She’s 28 now. For the past year, I’ve had this image in my mind of her sitting on a curb, waiting for a ride after school. 5:00. 6:00. Night sets in. Where’s Mom?
Honestly, if she’s anything like me, she’s not sitting anywhere—she’s wrapped up in living every moment. But when you’re adopted and you have low times, sad times, you don’t realize everyone gets those. You think you’re different, the devil tells you you’re unwanted. It’s not true at all, Valentine.
I talked about it with my friend, Jennifer. She could not believe I’d kept this a secret. I didn’t think I had, but we met around the time I stopped telling people. Jennifer prayed for me. She didn’t say, “Lord, please light a fire under Kristi’s slow tushy,” but in her gentle prayer for God to do things in His time, I heard a heavenly Zippo go chhhk!
Three days later, the boy with the truck found me on Facebook. I called my mom, and she said, “Oh good! The ladies and I were praying for you to start the search!” I could almost hear God tapping his foot, so at midnight I emailed the adoption agency. They think they know where she is, so I’m hoping she responds when they reach out to her. I don’t have the right to expect anything, but I’m kind of excited.
Today, I am sharing this intimate story with friends and strangers. It’s a little awkward. I almost kept it to myself, but we learn about God and ourselves by watching others live. I’m determined to live visibly, in case I might help anyone else find hope, connection or forgiveness.
I’m also asking for a little inspiration. If you were adopted and got your first letter from your birth mother, what would you like it to say? What answers would you want? What questions would you want to answer?
Comment below if you’d like to give me tips for my first letter to Valentine.
Also, I don’t say it often enough, but there are children living with their own parents who don’t have food, shoes, education or hope. Please visit Compassion International and sponsor a child today.