Monday, August 31, 2009

A Sheepish Reminder

“Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Today, if you hear his voice,”- Psalm 95:6-7 NIV

I’ve seen this verse a few times today and until just now, I’ve simply skimmed over it. I didn’t really think it applied to me, today. I thought to myself “Yeah, yeah, I get it…He’s our Shepherd and we are his flock.” It’s a message that kids start hearing in Sunday school very early in life. You can picture it now…the painting of Jesus carrying the sheep. It’s drilled into us – the metaphor of Christ and the Church being like a Shepherd and the flock of sheep. I know it well. A shepherd will not leave any one of his flock alone or lost. He will seek them out and bring them home safely. He ensures that all are fed and cared for equally and with love. Being a shepherd is his whole life – those sheep are his life! Without the sheep, he wouldn’t be a shepherd and that’s a big deal to him and to his family.

So, why is this verse suddenly a big deal to me? As I read it again, my eyes are drawn to the words “we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care” over and over again.
My husband and I have definitely had our share of times in the valley, and several of those times somehow started in our wallets. In 2002, we filed bankruptcy because we had simply overextended ourselves and we didn’t see any other way out. We were young and had made lots of really poor decisions in the two years we’d been married. At the advice of our attorney, we included our home and our car in that bankruptcy and lost both. We worked hard to rebuild our credit and we were able to buy a house again in 2004, but we quickly got selfish and greedy and wanted a “newer” house (you know – like the Jones’), so we sold and bought another home 1 year later…with a deceiving adjustable rate mortgage. It was a house we couldn’t afford, but we fooled ourselves into thinking we could “make it work” and “refinance” in the two years the mortgage guy had suggested. Boy, were we stupid! We pretty quickly started struggling to make ends meet on one income alone and got behind. In order to avoid a foreclosure, we sucked it up, put on our big kid pants, and accepted the consequences of our decisions, and knew we had to try and sell it. Thankfully, a short sale was finalized before the bank foreclosed and we’ve been renting since late 2007.

In the time since, we’ve paid stuff off and gotten out of collections, but every week is still tight. We often wonder if we will ever be able to own a home again and we wonder how long it will be before we can breathe, financially. So many days, it feels like we’re drowning in our own financial pool of quick-sand! We go to the store and wonder if this check will hit the bank before the paycheck does. We scrape every last drop of gas out of our cars before we fill up and pray that we don’t get stranded. We check the account every day to see if we’re still in the black or not. We’ve had our utilities shut off and somehow always manage to make it through (perhaps with a few extra “fees” in place”).

Our marriage has struggled, too, and there were times when we actually had thoughts of what life would be like if we weren’t married anymore. Would it be easier? Would it be cheaper? Would the kids be happier? Were we just too young when we married (we were 20)? Could we make it work and still be friends, for the kids? What would it do to our family? How would our friends react? All the questions…none of the answers were right. It would cost way too much to split up, the kids would suffer too much, and we would not be happy apart. It would all be way harder if we were dealing with it alone.

So, today, I’m reading this verse. Psalm 95: 6-7 and it occurs to me…we are under His care! Right now. At this very minute. Even as I am worried, again, about our finances and I’m stressed about all we have to take care of. Kids’ sports are expensive. Fundraisers are coming out of my ears. The cost for the church activities is increasing each year. We still haven’t had a birthday party for our son, who turned 9 in July. Christmas is coming soon. Rent is due next week. The kids are growing out of their jeans and the weather will cool off soon. It goes on and on. But, WE ARE UNDER HIS CARE!

He IS our Shepherd! That means HE WILL NOT LET US GET LOST! He will continue to take care of us and He will continue to provide for us! We, his sheep, can totally count on Him to lead us exactly where we NEED to be in order to have all the things we NEED. He will NOT let us die or be hurt, but He will let us learn…perhaps, that is what He’s doing now.

I spend so much time worrying about how God will provide and where this dollar or that dollar will come from, that I am forgetting to pay attention to the first part of this verse: “Come, let us bow down in worship, and let us kneel before the LORD our Maker”. I need to have a worshipful heart! I need to praise God for his provisions and his leadership. I need to be grateful that He has always given us a home to sleep in and food on our table. We have what we NEED. Our Father, Our Shepherd is completely and totally taking care of us – each and every day!

Thank you, God, for always keeping my family safe from harm. Thank you for always making sure we have food and shelter and clothes. Thank you for reminding me that we are loved by you and that our family is valuable. Thank you for my husband who works so hard for our family – even when he feels like he’s on a treadmill. Thank you for not letting us give up on our family. Thank you, Father, for my kids. Thank you, Lord, for my friends, who are always there to remind me just how good and faithful You are to me and how much You love me. Thank you God! Thank you God! I will worship you all the days of my life! I will trust and have complete faith in you and Thank you God for showing me this verse so many times today so I can remember to worship you because you will take care of me!!!!!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What I Learned from Break-Apart Cookie Dough

For the past two days, I've baked some fresh cookies for after-school snacks and I freely admit that I've used the break-apart cookie dough. After all, it is by far the easiest way to make cookies, and as a busy mom of 4 - I need easy and fast. I have noticed, however, that the cookie dough pieces are not always uniform and, because I'm a little anal, that always bugs me. At least two of the "rows" are always bigger and some of the "chunks" have more chips in them than others, sometimes a corner breaks off the cookie-dough piece and sometimes the edges are real jagged. Yesterday, though, I tried not to get hung up on how each cookie would be a little different from it's neighbor and I thought to myself "These little pieces of cookie-dough are a lot like life."

Each morning I wake up and create a plan for how that day will go. I have a morning routine that occurs each and every day. After I check email and my calendar (okay - I'll admit - facebook and twitter, too), I balance the checkbook to see how much money we have that day and I create a mental checklist or a "to-do" list for that day. Often times this lists includes phone calls, household chores (laundry is always on there), errands to run, emails to write, people to see, etc. I have just made my cookie dough and separated it into chunks.

Then I start to break it apart and tackle each piece. I get the kids up and remind them, several times, to get through their routine. "Get dressed." "Brush your teeth." "Get your shoes on." "Eat your breakfast." (I think I should just put this on a recording of some sort and play it over and over each morning - I would save myself some major energy!) I start a load of laundry, do my hair and makeup and then my daughter's hair, make breakfast, and get the kids to the bus on time. I clean up from breakfast, fold laundry, sweep the kitchen, make a phone call, write some emails or update my status lines, and the day has started.

As the day goes on, inevitably, some part of life's cookie dough breaks off in a funky way - that phone call doesn't get made or this errand doesn't get ran or there isn't enough money to go do that thing today. The kids need a little more cuddle time or it occurs to me that I haven't sorted through that closet in months. My predetermined little chunks lose their shape! The kids start fighting or a friend calls and needs to talk about a struggle she's having - there's more chunks in that segment of my life's cookie dough. We can schedule our days and make plans every day, vigilantly, but sometimes things change.

Then it occurred to me that God said this would happen. He wasn't talking about cookie dough but he did forewarn me that things would happen beyond my control and that there's no benefit to me by worrying about what I don't get done each day.

Matthew 6:27 (NIV) says "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? " Isn't this God's way of telling me not to freak out if my cookie-dough chunks aren't all the same size or if there are an uneven amounts of chips in each little square? Really, what difference does it make? There are still only 24 hours in a day (oh, and only 24 chunks in my break-apart cookie dough!) and that's all I have to work with. Is it enough? YES! God knew all that we would try to accomplish. He knew that we would worry about our schedules, our "to-do" lists, our children, our spouse, our friends, our checkbooks, our errands, and our chores. He knew we'd worry and He reminds us that this worry is useless!

He gave us all that we need to accomplish what we need to. He provided the perfect amount of time each day - 24 little chunks. He provides us energy and strength each morning. He provides us with friends who care and family who loves us. He provides us with the houses we clean, the laundry we wash, the car we drive to run errands, and He can provide all the money we need to make it work. All He asks is that we give Him 1 little chunk of our day. (By the way, He doesn't even say it needs to be a full hour...just a little time with Him.)

If something happens as you move through your day and the cookie-dough pieces start to break out of their predetermined sections, see this as God's way of telling you He's got it under control and let it go! The cookies are still going to be warm, gooey, and full of goodness at the end of it all. If they get a little burned, consider them "crispy". Don't worry about it...let each day be a new batch of break-apart cookie dough provided to you from your Heavenly Father!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Mother's Day Story

I was honored and blessed to be asked to share my story for the Wichita Eagle. This story was printed on Mother's Day 2009 and written by a terrific reporter, Suzanne Tobias. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed and treasure the experience.



Sunday, May 10, 2009
Section: LOCAL & STATE
Edition: main
Page: 1B

WICHITA - Even during the bleakest moments of her childhood, Serena Hanson dreamed of motherhood.

As a young child, when she suffered physical and sexual abuse. In group homes and foster homes, one after another, where she spent her adolescence. And on her own at 17, in a tiny apartment she worked two jobs to pay for.

"To be a mom, a good mom," she says. "That's all I ever wanted."

This Mother's Day, Hanson is living that dream, nurturing her own four children and countless others as a social worker, teacher and advocate for adoption and foster care.

She teaches parenting classes at Youthville, a foster care agency, and is working toward a master's degree in social work at Newman University.
Her children are stairsteps -- ages 8, 6, 5 and 3 -- and her husband works 10- to 11-hour days as a driver for FedEx.

Friends and colleagues call her extraordinary. She says she has "instinctual faith," an optimism and purpose drawn from a childhood of insecurity and doubt.

"I would not be the person I am had I not been in foster care," Hanson said. "So I'm grateful for that. . . . Bad things happen, but that doesn't have to determine who I am or the path I take."

Hanson was abused from about age 5 until middle school, when a friend told a teacher what she knew about Hanson's home life. Authorities took her to the Wichita Children's Home.

That led to a series of group homes and foster homes -- eight moves in all -- for Hanson, who at 12 quickly got the message that she was "too old to be adopted."

She didn't believe it, though.

Still doesn't.

"She was very mature for her years," says Sarah Robinson, director of the Children's Home, who met Hanson when she lived at the home as a girl and has kept in touch ever since.

"She had of course suffered a lot, but she always seemed to have a plan," Robinson said. "She wanted to make the world better for children."

Hanson met her husband, Justin, at Northeast Magnet High School. She was a sophomore; he was a freshman. He saw her in the hall and told a friend, "I'm going to marry that girl."

"It really was like a fairy tale," Justin Hanson said. "She's an extraordinary woman, to be honest with you. She always was."

Her background didn't bother Justin, but it haunted Serena, especially when the couple started talking about marriage and children.

"I heard the statistics about (abused children) being more likely to become abusers or to have a partner who is an abuser," she said. "But I knew Justin, and I knew in my heart that he wasn't that way."

The couple married in 1998, shortly after graduating from high school.
They had their first child, Shawn, in 2000. Serena spent eight years attending classes at Barclay College in Haviland, and earned a degree in psychology and family counseling.

For more than a decade, she has juggled work, school and motherhood. One recent afternoon, she snuggled 3-year-old Sarah on her lap, fluffing the girl's blond curls.

"I want to be an involved parent, because I never had that -- at least not until foster care," she said.

She meets with her children's teachers. She volunteers when she can. She goes to school music programs and cheers from the audience.

And two evenings a week, she teaches MAPP -- Model Approach to Partnerships in Parenting -- to families who want to foster or adopt, and she tells them the effect they can have on young lives.

She and Justin want to become foster parents, too. And someday she'd like to do more, possibly lobbying for foster care reform on a state or national level.

"She can really understand the trauma of it, and I think that's very important in order to help others," said Robinson, the Children's Home director.

"She also has this resilience . . . a belief that you've got to get out of your past, no matter how terrible it is, and move forward."

The Hansons will spend this weekend moving forward -- from their Goddard twin home to a larger house where their children can play.

"She always wanted to be a mom, as long as I've known her. Always wanted to have a big family," Justin Hanson said.

And now, "She's the rock of our family."

Monday, August 17, 2009

First Day of School

This morning I sent 3 of my 4 kids off to school. Shawn is in the 3rd grade, Derek is a big time 1st grader and Chloe - one of my little princesses - went to her first day of Kindergarten (all day!). They were so excited that they all woke up early and came bounding up the stairs, got dressed right away, brushed their teeth with no arguing, and finished their breakfast with over 30 minutes to spare! I, however, was not so excited. It seems the summer went by so fast and we just didn't have a chance to do all the things I wanted to. It doesn't seem possible that Chloe is going to be away from home all day - she's only 5! AAAAAGGGGHHHHH! What's a mother to do?

I must choose to look on the bright side. My baby, Sarah (who's 3) is still at home and I love it when she says "Mommy, hold me like a baby." I love that she still loves to cuddle and wants to be told "I love you" all the time, dress up like Cinderella, and play tea party with her stuffed animals.

Beyond the joys (okay, and the stressors) of having a 3 year old at home, I also have to look forward to the older three learning and growing. They each love school and will make lots of new friends. Everyday, they get off the bus and remind me that the hectic lifestlye of the school year never changes. We will have after school snacks, homework, football, soccer and gymnastics practice, AWANA, and other weekly evening "to-dos". They will come home each day and tell me about all they did and discovered (which will stop one day far too soon when they no longer want to talk to me, I'm sure) and they'll tell me about their new friends. This is what I must focus on - not how sad I am that all of my babies are growing up! There is a time for them to be babies, a time for them to go off and be more independent and someday, they will have babies of their own; they cycle will start over. Isn't it amazing how God knew we would need a reminder of this...even on seemingly simple days like the first day of school.

Ecclesiastes 3 (NIV)
A Time for Everything

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Messages We Live

Today I had the opportunity to talk to a young lady that I love very dearly. She's been making some poor choices lately and struggling with some emotional issues. She's been dealing with way too much at her age and has really been forced to grow up way too fast.

In our time together, today, I had to be grateful for the opportunity that God was granting to me. I wanted to be sure that I was giving her the messages that He needed her to hear at that time, rather than whatever agenda I may have chosen. I pray that I used the right words and that I am a living example to her of everything I said. Reflecting back on our conversation, I am convicted to really look at the example I am setting, every day, for those around me.

During our talk, I shared with this girl how special she is and I told her of God's amazing plan for her life. I told her that God knew every single thing she would ever do before she was ever conceived. I told her that God knew what she had done and that He knew all these things before she did them. I also told her that God knew how it would all turn out and how her life would be tomorrow, next week, next month and next year - even when she was an adult with a family of her own. I told her how much God loves her and I told her that God loves her unconditionally. I also told her I love her more than she can imagine.

I tried to recognize and acknowledge her struggles, as a teenager - especially with her parents - and demonstrate some compassion, while not allowing her to make excuses for her decisions. I tried to tell her she isn't alone in her conflicts with the "parental units" and that all teens struggle with this. Heck, I even told her that parents struggle with this because it just sneaks up on us - even though we know our kids will someday be teens from the day they're born! At the same time, I had to remind her the importance of respecting and honoring her parents' direction over her life. Even if she disagrees with them she must respect them because they are her parents.

As I talked with her, it broke my heart to see that she feels so empty and to not understand why. I see her question her significance and her self worth. I see her reaching for the things of this world. I see her questioning her beauty, her intelligence, her ability to cope. It kills me to know that she is searching for some sort of connection and that she thinks she will find it in the wrong places. I reminded her of the people in her life that are willing to connect with her, if she will only let them in.

At this moment, right now, as I type, God is convicting me. I feel Him telling me that I too, question myself and try to fill voids. I question my beauty, my significance in the world, and there are times I doubt myself as a wife, mother, a student, a social worker, a daughter and a friend. I, all too often, resent my body and make excuses for goals not met and duties not fulfilled. I question my significance in the eyes of God, my children, my husband, and this world. So, I am really no different than this young person, am I?

God is telling me that I do not always live out a Godly example for her, my daughters, my sons, and other people I interact with on a regular basis. I need to ask myself "Are people really seeing Jesus in me?" Do I live out my faith every day - trusting that God will lead me and guide me in the way that I should go or do I fall back to relying on myself and my own understanding and my own will? When I am feeling fat, ugly, out of shape, irritable, under-appreciated, stressed out, frustrated, angry, hurt, sad - am I being a living example of Christ? No. I'm not being Christ-like in these moments. That's the truth and sometimes the truth really does hurt.

Funny what situations God will use to speak directly to us, huh?