Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Our Fault Requires Our Action

Oklahoma is a great place to live.  When my family moved to Ardmore in 1994, we had no idea the amount of valuable friends and family we would gain over the last 20 years.  In fact, it was 20 years this month that we started our new Damon family adventure in Oklahoma.  I spent many of my formative years in Oklahoma.  And while Minnesota will always be my home state, I'm proud to be part Okie.

However, Oklahoma is also a very dangerous place to live for countless children.  In fact, this last summer, we had over 10,600 children in out-of-home care through OKDHS.  (You can find these statistics published on the www.okdhs.org website.)  And the number increases every day.  Those 10,600 children are children that have REPORTED cases of child abuse and/or neglect as of June 2013.  (Those are the children that we actually know about.  We have no idea how many are still in dangerous homes.)

This is shocking considering 88% of the 359 Oklahoma cities have less than 10,000 people TOTAL.  LESS than the total number of children in out-of-home care.

The 2012 US Census Bureau's recorded number of Oklahomans under the age of 18 was 922,832, (24.6% of total Oklahoma population).  That means that the report from OKDHS in June 2013 denotes that 9.78% of Oklahoma children are in OKDHS Child Welfare custody, (in out-of-home care).

Compare those numbers to a much more populated state like New York.  In 2012, New York Office of Child and Family Services reported a DECREASE in "In Care Population Permanency" to 20,450.  (That included children 0-21 years of age.)  In 2012, the US Census Bureau reported a total of 4,267,595 (21.8% of total population) children under the age of 18 years old.  That means that less than 0.5% of New York children are in NY OCFS custody.

How can a state that is so small, has thousands of churches, and considers itself to be a family-oriented state have such a horrendous problem with child abuse and neglect?

It makes me sick, fellow Okies.  And I blame us for the problem.  I have a theory how this happened.  Granted, sin is the real cause for child abuse and neglect.  But we human beings are the perpetrators of this sin.  After all, if we aren't a part of the solution, aren't we part of the problem?

My theory is that when churches don't get involved in caring for their neighbors and therefore allowing ourselves to hide in our nice homes and pretty new church buildings, we get caught up in keeping up appearances.  So, we are less likely to share when life gets really challenging and more likely to take up harmful ways of coping with the pain and stress.  That's why as a Child Welfare caseworker, most of my permanency planning cases involved substance abuse and/or domestic violence.

I posit that if people that believe in and follow Christ were to support each other when life is tough, let each other in and be honest about the pain and fear, and then take steps with each other to survive it, we would not see as many children in out-of-home care.  Less people would feel the need to choose drugs or a dangerous significant other in order to cope with life.

Had I not had a supportive family and a church that rallied around me at some dark times, I may have been part of this statistic.  It's tempting to run away from pain.

That's how we ended up with with over 10,600 kids in custody as of June 2013.  This week I saw some of the pain in the lives of the biological parents I have worked with and the children currently living in a shelter.  One mother has had an extremely difficult time walking away from the abusive father of her children.  Her children have returned to foster care and she became so desperate that she attempted suicide.

Teenagers at the shelter, no matter how hard they work, have little to no hope of ever being in a foster home let alone adopted by the time they turn 18.  Think about yourself at age 18: about to graduate high school, planning for college or a career, maybe even starting a family with your new husband or wife.

Who helped you to study for your SAT or ACT?  Who encouraged you to apply for college?  Who took to you to tour college campus and move in once you were accepted?  Who did you call when you were terrified of your first midterm or final exams?  Who helped coach you when preparing to interview for jobs?  Who helped you get copies of all your vital records so that you can even apply for jobs?

Ladies, who walked you down the isle when you got married?  Who did you call when you got pregnant or had a miscarriage?  Who did you call when you had your first big fight as a newlywed?

Oklahoma is suffering.  The impact of our lack of action to help one another is profound.  Judge OKDHS all you want.  "The system" is not perfect.  But if you aren't part of the solution, you are part of the problem.  In Mark 2, friends of a paralytic man actually took the roof off of a house so that their friend could get closer to Jesus and be healed.  Do you know anyone that would do that for you?  Would you do that for someone else?

1 Corinthians 10:24 - "Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor."

Mark 12:30-32 - Jesus talks about the greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength.  The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.

Friends, this is as much a calling on me as anyone else.  So, I am burdened to do what I can to help.  Please pray that God shows you what to do next.  What roof does He want you to tear up so that your neighbor can be healed?

Thursday, January 31, 2013

anger can be holy

i'm angry.  really angry actually.

i'm angry that every day there are children beaten by their parents.

i'm angry that every day there are parents who rape their children or let others perpetrate on their children.

i'm angry that every day there are parents who choose drugs over their children.

i'm angry that every day there are foster parents that choose to abuse/neglect already abused/neglected children.

i'm angry that every day children find themselves starving and barely surviving.

i'm angry that the effects of this evil lasts a lifetime.

i'm angry that the effects of this evil can not only ruin the lives of the abused but often has severe effects on any children abuse survivors will have someday.

i'm angry that every day children get moved from shelter to foster home and back so often that living on the streets sounds more attractive to them.

i'm angry that every day children are born addicted to drugs.

i'm angry that every day child welfare workers feel more and more like case managers rather than social workers.

but i'm most angry that not enough of us Christians are BROKEN about this.


how in this day and age can we continue to turn a blind eye and let others handle the "problem" because "it takes a special kind of person" to be a foster parent, adoptive parent, shelter volunteer, case worker or even prayer warrior on behalf of these kids?

i didn't ask to be broken over this.  but i am.

tonight i spent two hours trying to calm down two teenagers on my caseload.  they live at the shelter for many different reasons.  but it all boils down to several of the items on the list above.

and you know what they said over and over again?  "i just want to go home!"  and "i just want A home!"

and the most incredible thing about all of this is that adoption and foster care are the most clear pictures of what God has done for us:

God has taken us in to His family; no matter what our history is, where we've been and what kind of crap we carry around with us and can't seem to shake.  He loves us even though we feel loyal to people  and things that abused and damaged us.  He nurses us back to health when we are severely (spiritually) malnurished.  He forgives us and takes us back every time we go AWOL.  He never ever gives up on us even when we try to push Him away.  We can yell and scream and blame Him for our pain.  But He never stops loving us.

so, how in the world are so many kids waiting to "just go home" when we Christians know best what it's like to be adopted?

yes.  i'm angry.  but it's the kind that comes from a God-given burden.

i pray that God breaks the hearts of His children over the abused and neglected children of the world.  i pray that He WRECKS each one of us over this.  and i also pray that we will support each other as each one of us takes the steps to do our part in the healing of families and children.

one way to do this in tulsa is to participate in Fight Night Tulsa:

Tuesday February 19, 2013 @ 7 pm.

it will be at liberty church: 7777 s. garnett rd, broken arrow, ok.

watch the video promo here: Fight Night: Tulsa

prayer is free and when done collectively has more power.  i hope to see you there.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

we love you. we're just not IN love with you.

okay, so maybe it isn't those exact words.  but that's the general idea when you're turned down for a job.  when the dreadful email shows up in your inbox, you read the same sentiment of rejection: "thank you for expressing interest.  and while you have many valuable qualities, we have decided to move forward with other candidates."

i know i'm not the only person who's experienced this.  it's really tough out there!

you put your time, money and emotions into finding the right job...or even ANY job these days.  when you find one that responds positively to your resume and application, it gets exciting.  your level of hope rises.  you start imagining your self in that position.  it may mean a new city, new place to live or a chance to pay some things off.

when you read those words, (or even hear them if the employer is old school), you may feel like you've been dumped.  as if the employer is saying, "you're a great person.  and i've enjoyed our time together.  but it's just not going to work out.  i'm really sorry.  but i'm sure you'll find someone else that is better suited for you."

it's brutal out there.  if you have a job, be thankful.  you see, someone else will always be willing to take your job if you don't want it.  make sure you work hard to keep it.

but if you don't want to stay there, it will take an enormous amount of resolve to survive the job hunt.  God is fully aware of what you need.  it's incredible that He is so familiar with us.  but that doesn't change the disappointment you can expect at least a few times before He presents the right job.

dealing with the rejection is pretty hard.  i myself am bruised and recovering from two big disappointments.  therefore, i know that the healing is slow.  but i'm certain it comes eventually.

dear friends, now is not the time to doubt our Creator and His faithfulness.  (i have to remind myself of this all day, every day.)  it's the confidence in our Savior that keeps me going.  my circumstances have not changed.  in fact, they seem worse.  but, somewhere, DEEP down inside, the Holy Spirits still urges me to persevere.

so, persevere with me.  we will someday overcome all and our occupations will not matter.  whether we can pay our bills will not matter.  whether or not we marry and have children will not matter.  and we'll be face-to-face with the only One that matters.  someday, dear friends, someday.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Proverbs 13:12

hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
proverbs 13:12

i love this verse.  i know the book of proverbs is known for its quips of wisdom.  line after line, it plainly states truth about the human nature and admonishes real fulfillment. 

it calls out the dangers of a naive/foolish heart while also pointing out the source of real joy.  when discouraged, this book offers peace.  when joyful, it reminds one why they have joy.  it's powerful in its bits of poetic verse.

over and over again, it references the danger of deep sadness (i call this depression) and the tole it takes.  (prov 15:13, 14:13)  i love this because of its honesty.  "Hope deferred makes the heart sick..." (prov 13:12a)

but then offers, "but desire fulfilled is a tree of life."  (prov 13:12b)  This portion reminds me of psalm 37:3-6:

trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
delight yourself in the Lord
and He will give you the desires of your heart.
commit your way to the Lord,
trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
and your judgment as the noonday.

i've had hope deferred for lengthy periods of time.  it is heartbreaking and it felt like i had a broken spirit (prov 15:13).  and often times, as the time drags on, i loose sight of what i really desire.  was i thankful for what God had supplied for me?  definitely.  but was i joyful and excited about life?  no.  sometimes i was merely in survival mode; just pushing through each day. 

and then God surprises me with a gift.  something i hadn't considered or it never occurred to me to request of Him.   that is the "tree of life" in verse 12.  like the spring each year, life begins to bloom! 

the word "hope" is mentioned in my NAS bible 146 times.  in the NT, it is a hope based on Christ.  that if we have hope in anything, its surely Him. 

as a follower of Christ, i never lost hope in the salvation of Christ or that someday i'd be with God in heaven.  that foundation is not shaken.  but somehow, it's so easy to be convinced that God doesn't love us a much as other people or that we don't deserve good things.  but He promised His love for us while we remain on earth. 

the Lord your God is in your midst,
a victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quite in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
(zeph 3:17)

so, how then can anyone think they are exempt from His tremendous love?  

when life is taxing, dark and depressing for lengthy periods of time, we can lose the hope for a fulfilling future.  sometimes this is a physiological issue.  and sometimes its the result of a painful time in person's life.  either way, i know it's temporary. 

...His favor is for a lifetime.
weeping may last for the night,
but a shout of joy comes in the morning.
(psalm 30:5)

for any of you that a hurting, may i remind you that it's temporary?  hope that is deferred will return when God presents to you your own tree of life.  we must keep encouraging each other.

Friday, December 30, 2011

2011: the year of the nomad

it's been over seven months since my last post.  most of it has to do with lack of inspiration.  but as another year comes to a close, i'm finally inspired. 

the past few weeks have been confusing and challenging...just as the entirety of 2011.  it's normal for a person to reflect on the past year as a new one approaches.  personally, i contemplate important events; how they affect me and my relationship with God.  and i also think about how those events affected relationships with people i care about. 

i believe the overwhelming theme for 2011 is one word: nomad. 

dictionaries define nomad as:
1. A member of a group of people who have no fixed home and move according to the seasons from place to place in search of food, water, and grazing land.
2. A person with no fixed residence who roams about; a wanderer.
this definitely defines me.  i say this with both humor and honesty.  i lived in four different places this year.  i was an independent contractor for three different employers and held one "steady" job at starbucks most of the year.  the post office has probably lost track of me completely!

i've felt very disjointed and lost for so long.  this wandering is exhausting.  and humbling.  anyone who knows me well knows that home-making is therapeutic and fun for me.  therefor, not having a home of my own robs me of that joy.  and taking work just to pay the bills, (barely making enough to do even that), is less than fulfilling. 

so, how do i recognize God's goodness and faithfulness in all this?

most of those moves were really painful and difficult.  but i cannot make light of my friends, the Dores, who allowed me to take-over their guest room for two months.  this was a real gift.  and my parents have provided two rooms in their new home for me and my pesky cat, Shorty.  also acting in loving generosity.  
and working in four different environments did something special, too.  i met people in each situation that i will always regard as blessings in my life.  even if working together was short-lived.  

i really want to put down roots somewhere.  but i never counted on tulsa being that place.  and, honestly, i still hope it isn't a long-term home for me.  but saying yes to God is not conditional.  that's not obedience. 

so with each move, either in employment or where i slept, i did my best to follow God's leading.  some people disagreed with my choices.  they just couldn't understand what i was doing.  one of the hardest things was not putting my trust in them but God in all of it.  it sounds a little trite, but i'm sure satan did his best to use those situations to try and ruin relationships with my spiritual family.  

what i've learned as a nomad is that i must follow Him and Him alone.  even when loved ones believe they know what's best for me.  job's friends thoroughly believed that his crappy new existence was the result of sin.  and job asked God many, many questions.  but God did not allow that pain and hardship into job's life because he was a worse sinner than others.  no, God allowed job to endure for His glory.  and then, by His grace, was restored.
it's been scarey and lonely.  but i can also draw encouragement from the disciples.  none of them had comfortable lifestyles after they met Jesus.  completely the opposite.  many of them spent the rest of their lives moving from place to place or in prison.  yet, they finished their races with encouragement from other followers of Christ.  and their lives are immortalized in the Bible forever giving hope to the rest of us.

so i still wait EAGERLY for His restoration in my life.  i really hope i'm on the brink of something wonderful; something that i can rejoice in.  but until then, i know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God is so good and faithful.  He has never left me in any of this.  
i love one of job's responses to Him, "I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted."  (42:2)  and then confessed God's greatness and power with a spirit of repentance.  i must hold tight to this; behave in that manner. 

yes, for me, 2011 is the year of the nomad.  and what if that's the life He has in store for me always?  until He takes me up to my real home with Him.  until that day i know i'll always be discontent with what earth has to offer.  my heart was created to desire Him.  

i suppose it's fitting that my last name, damon, is "nomad" spelled backwards.  funny how that happened. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

3rd grade bucket list

just when i think i posses ALL of my childhood things after my parents have gotten tired of moving them...they find two more boxes for me.  one box was my barbie dining table with reversible seat cushions, my remote controlled barbie rolls-royce convertible, fisher price cooktop w/ pots and pans, and our much used fisher price cash register.

the other box was full of report cards, old projects and baby books.  it's funny how telling those items are of who we were to become later in life.  one of my favorites was a post-it we found stuck to a my sister's essay.  it gave instructions to my dad for where it was to be filed.  many, many years later, my dad and sister work together and she's still telling him where to file things.  

and then, as i paged through all those years of grades, homemade cards for my parents, and first essays, i found what appears to be my 3rd grade bucket list.  here it is:

1. finish elementary school - done
2. make lots of friends - can you ever have too many friends?
3. go to jr. high and then to high school at park high - went to jr. high...but not high school at park
4. graduate from high school - done
5. go to college and then get a good career - did the college thing...not sure yet about "career"
6. get married - that's still up to God
7. have a family - (see number 6)
8. make lots of money - now i say "enough to live on"
9. live in a big house and had a swimming pool - we had a pool when i was in jr. high and high school
10. own 2 rolls-royce convertibles - does my barbie one count?
11. be famous - just not INfamous
12. get great grades in school (from now to college) - i think i did pretty well
13. own a speed boat - my uncle had one.  that's where that came from
14. be successful - depends on the definition
15. meet the minnesota twins - not yet...RIP kirby pucket!
16. go to paris, france - someday
17. meet jerry seinfeld - saw him perform live
18. find the cure for diabetes and alzheimers disease - not yet
19. be a scientist - no, thank you.
20. be valedictorian in high school - nope.  my class was very competitive
21. meet the president - i have a picture of me and a cardboard cut-out of president ronald reagan
22. be tall - NOPE.
23. invent something to make people invisible - still working on this
24. be on TV - three times, actually
25. go to australia - amazingly...YES!

it's funny how some desires from childhood have changed and some haven't.  but either way, it is good to revisit old goals and aspirations when trying to figure out God's plan for your life.  what i seek at this point in my life may be a bit foggy right now.  but i know there are dreams deep down in my heart that started in childhood, waiting to reemerge and remind me who i am and how God has designed me.

but for now, i'm not sure that having TWO rolls-royce convertibles is necessary.  i'll just settle for my remote-controlled version.  it has great gas mileage and it's paid off.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

what i learned in the sunshine

i am a firm believer that sunshine makes a huge difference on a person's attitude and outlook.  and since we fort worthians were blessed with such splendid weather this weekend, i knew i needed to take advantage of it.  you see, darkness had set in on my heart and was weighing me down.  but i knew two things for sure: the sunshine would do me good and spending time dwelling on God's promises would lift that fog and renew my spirit.

so, what passage did i decide to dwell on?  a friend read psalm 18 out loud me this weekend.  and, (since i can't avoid this cliche), it spoke to me.  i believe God had a plan when He put that passage on her heart that day.  here's what i learned while drinking in the peacefulness of the outdoors and warmth from the sun.

psalm 18 
(in my own words)...

God is...
my strength
my rock
my fortress
my deliverer
my God
my shield
my salvation
my stronghold

What He does for me...
save me from my enemies (and the lies satan tells me)
hears me when i cry
pays attention to me when i call for Him
defends with great fury and power

(shakes the earth in His anger toward my enemies
smoke & fire flow from Him in wrath toward those who do harm
calls the heavens to thunder, bringing hailstones and fire to battle
sets lighting flashing
commands channels of water to appear
lays the foundations of the world bare in His rebuke toward my enemies)

pulls me out of deep waters, over and over again
rescues me
He is my stay, my stronghold
brings me into an open space...to gain perspective and clear my head
delights in me (astonishing)
rewards me for my righteousness (not said to be proud...just a promise He makes to all of His children)
shows kindness
lights up the darkness around me

because of Him, i can...
storm the armies that fight against me
leap over walls (conquering life's challenges)
have strength to fight
keep from sin
climb high places (for times of great joy and celebration)
train for battle (be prepared for the next challenge that comes along...the next time i'm tempted)
be saved
be great (great in His eyes...not the world's)
be sure-footed, trusting that He has outlined my path
face my enemies without fear
pursue my enemies (face my sin and weakness head-on and conquer it)
defeat my sin
lead others

my God...
subdues the evil ones
does not rescue my enemies
avenges evil done to me (and to all His children)
gives great deliverance
shows lovingkindness

i needed those words from Him.  and i needed that time in solitude and quiet to hear it from Him.  maybe someone else out there needs it too.  if they do, i hope this reaches them and that they are as encouraged as i am.