Monday, October 3, 2016

Life Goes On

4 years later......

In addition to our biological daughter Madison (now 6), we've adopted two kids (Justin 15 & Racheal 9) who are biological brother and sister.  We added one more biological daughter as well (Jordan 1).  We went from a family of 3 to a family of 6 in a matter of just a few months.  It was the hardest year of our lives but after a whole lot of hard work, some sleepless nights, and lots of support from family and friends, our lives have seem to have come back to an equilibrium.  Being a family of 6 feels normal, just more expensive.

For anyone out there that has helped us, supported us, prayed for us, or played any part in the expansion of our family, I want to extend a very heart felt Thank You!

I (Chris) really enjoy writing and learning to process life through my writing.  I think when we are open, vulnerable, and thoughtful about our experiences people can learn from each other.  It helps me to hear that other people have gone through similar experiences.  I hope to share some of our experiences (the good, bad and ugly) to help me process them and for the benefit or edification of anyone who might want to read them.

It won't all be family stuff. It might be some theology, politics, social issues or some other random thoughts that I have on a regular basis (just ask Christina some of the random things I make her listen to). I'm excited to write again and I hope you enjoy!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Adoption Process Update

(This is really just an email sent out to our family and friends, but I thought it would give some insight into what we are up to)

Family and Friends,

I hope you all are doing great!  We had a wonderful thanksgiving in Connecticut seeing Belinda, Chris, Charleigh and Shirley. It was such a blessing to be with family!  

I wanted to give everyone a little update on where we are at in the adoption process.  We finished our "classes" last Monday.  We basically have taken 8 weeks of classes learning information about the adoption process, trauma and how to work best with kids from "hard places".  We have an intake interview with the social worker that taught our classes this Tuesday, and there she will give us all our paperwork. That will take a bit to finish, as we have to do background checks, fingerprints, medial examinations and other stuff.  After we finish the paperwork, we start our homestudy. This is a 3 part interview process, one together as a family, one separate and another together.  During this process we work with our social worker to identify what type of kids we can best parent.  After the homestudy is complete, we can start to contact state social workers, who have "custody" of the "kids in waiting".  We put our profile in for any kids we want to be considered for, and they do interviews to determine who is the best fit for each child.  We don't know how long this will take, what age our kid (s) will be, what issues they will specifically have, and how many we will take into our home.  

What we do know is that we will foster them for 6 months, and then the final placement paperwork will make them officially our kids.  

We also know that our children will come from a background of trauma (physical, emotional, acute, and/or ongoing) and most likely neglect. These are usually kiddo's who parents have lost the right to parent them. The biological parental rights have been cut off.  So, needless to say, these kids need a lot of love and have a lot of learning to do.  At some stage in their development (often in the very beginning) all the teaching and loving that normal parents do, was stopped.  They did not learn the attachment, social skills and society norms that us and our kids have grown up knowing. They really didn't have a loving parent teaching them that they are worth loving and precious, they way most parents do! 

Let's be honest, all of us have some great kids!  They all have their little issues (like we all do) but our kids are really well behaved and love other people. So, these new kiddos are going to be quite different from what we are used to as aunt's, uncles, and grandparents... at least for a while.  Chris and I will have a lot of work on our plates to form an attachment with them, to love them unconditionally, to parent them through the tough times as they are still stuck in their survival mode from their past.  They are going to act out of survival for a while, until we teach them new ways to coping with their feelings and anger.  They will exhibit the behaviors at times that seem inopportune or inappropriate.  They will most likely exhibit behaviors that are typical with a child about 1/2 their chronological age.  Imagine a 10 year old having a tantrum like a 4 or 5 year old might!  It could/will be quite the scene.  But, we are in this for the long haul!  We are in a marathon of parenting, not a sprint!  We are more than excited and know that God has called us to this challenge to give these kids a glimpse of redemption and love.  

I tell you all of this to give you a chance to prepare emotionally, as you will be a big part in these kids lives!  I know most of you probably won't see them a lot, since we live far away, but that doesn't mean you can't know what is going on and pray for them.  

Ok, that's all for now!  If you have any questions, please feel free to shoot me an email or call.  Chris no longer has his cell phone (just his work phone), so feel free to call my phone to get a hold of him too.  Please pray for us and our future family as we seek to grow.  We look forward to sharing more with you as we continue in this process.  

Christina and Chris

Monday, October 15, 2012

I Don't Follow Jesus Because It's Easy

I have been a follower of Jesus as long as I can remember.  My parents did a wonderful job of teaching me about Him and modeling His values in many ways.  At the point where I could choose for myself what my life would be about, I followed His calling to make my life about service to him.  But I must admit, my calling has lead me into a career that is very comfortable.  There are, no doubt, incredible challenges that my family must face because of my service to God as an Army Chaplain.  We do not, however, face many of the challenges that others who dedicate their lives to his service face on a daily basis.  We live on a very comfortable salary, have housing provided for us, have virtually free health care, and have access to a plethora of benefits that come along to serving both God and Country.  We have been blessed beyond what I could have anticipated when we started this journey 8 years ago. 
Yesterday at Chapel I preached on the “Sermon on the Plain.”   It’s the lesser-studied version of Jesus’ teaching that Luke 6 recounts for us which carries many similar themes to Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.  Luke has a special way of reminding us of just how Revolutionary Jesus’ message truly was and still is today.  Fully immersed in a world that values wealth, independence, competition, and pursuing self-interest—Jesus’ words rub me the wrong way.  Here’s a few excerpts that are exceptionally frustrating. 
Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied [by God].
But wow to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. 
But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn the other also.  If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt.  Give to everyone who asks you and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back… because He [God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Jesus shows us that the values of his kingdom are different from the values He holds.  Poor people are “blessed” by him because they don’t have wealth standing between them and God.  Remember the story of the Rich young ruler who wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus informs him that the cost of following him is to give up everything.  The young rich man leaves Jesus with sorrow because he was wealthy and didn’t want to part ways with all his stuff.  In Luke’s passage here, Jesus doesn’t say that rich people are sinning, He just recognizes the fact that the more we have, the harder it will become to follow God’s call when/if he asks us to give it all up.  The poor are blessed because they don’t have that barrier between them and following God’s call. 

Jesus also informs us that we have a duty to help those who are in need—to give, to bless, to pray for and to love.  That means that if we have the ability to help someone in need, we are called to do so without conditions.  I’m the type of person who loves to put conditions on my giving.  Jesus gives us no such right.  How frustrating.  Perhaps you’ve used the same excuses I’ve used hundreds of times to convince myself that I don’t have to give anything to someone who asks of me.  “I can’t give to everyone.”  “I only have so much to give if I still want to take care of my family.” “If I give him money, he’s just going to waste it.”  And my list goes on and on.  Jesus doesn’t put conditions on his imperatives.  It is not a “if…. then…..” statement.  Help those in need and give without expecting something back.  Why would Jesus ask this of us?

He says the reason behind his command is that’s how He works.  That’s how God works.  God is kind to the unjust and the wicked.  He sent his son to die for the world because he loved the world, fully knowing that many would never follow him.  If God knows that there are people who will never follow him, yet He still sacrificed his son for them, how much more should I be able to give without knowing the results of my giving, without putting conditions on my giving? 

If you want to see this lived out, look at Acts 4:32.  Luke shows us how the early church took this seriously and there was not a needy person among them. 

As if attacking my wallet wasn’t enough, Jesus moves up to my heart.  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.  I don’t even want to be around people who hate me.  I’ll generally make an attempt to get along with everyone.  But occasionally there is that person who I’m just not going to get along with.  My reaction is to keep clear of them or interact as little as possible.  Jesus informs me that my attitude is not going to cut it in his kingdom.  Jesus calls us to give up our right to hate, to retaliate, to curse, and even to avoid people.  He doesn’t call us just to give them up though; he calls us to replace them with his opposite values.  To love enemies and do good to those who hate us. 

When we follow Jesus, we are volunteering to give up our earthly values and embrace the values of His kingdom.  If doing this seems crazy to you, you’re right.  It’s impossible for us to do.  To do this requires us to open our hearts to Him, be transformed by the Holy Spirit, and encouraged, helped and offered accountability by his followers who hold the same values (the Church).  I can’t do it on my own.  I need daily fellowship with Jesus and accountability from brothers and sisters to live this kind of life.  The great news is that we know how the story ends.   Spoiler alert, Jesus wins.  Since I know who is going to win, I am going to do what it takes to get my values and my life lined up with his.  It’s not easy, but I don’t follow Jesus because it’s easy. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

LIVERPOOL (how I became a fan)

I have long been a fan of the English Premier League (EPL).  Every chance I get I’ll watch just about any game.  Being a soccer (football) enthusiast, I love their style of play and the intense competition.  However, over the past few months, I’ve taken my love for the EPL to a new level.  I’ve mastered FIFA ’12 on Play Station 3.  There is an option where you get to be a player/manager, which allows you to set line-ups, sign players, buy and sell players, and develop youth squads.  I’ve used a number of different teams and won with all of them. 
However, the time has come for me to stop being a league generalist and become a true fan to one team.  I’ve never been to England (though I hope that changes in the future) and picking a team seemed like a daunting task.  How could I possibly know which team I want to throw my support behind?  So I decided to make a point system and rank all the eligible teams (more about that in a second).  After looking at a number of factors, it turns out that from now until forever more, I will be a fan of Liverpool (a.k.a. The Reds).    
This is my weird, completely subjective, and maybe crazy way of ranking each team.  I looked at 4 categories for each team and gave them a point value (1-5).  Here’s what I wanted in a team:
1) Team Uniform: Since I will probably buy a jersey, it has to be something I would wear.  Factors were color, sponsor, and design. 
2) Home Stadium: Eventually we will make it to Europe.  When we do, we’ll be making a trip to whatever team I pick and going to their game.  Their stadium had better be worth the trip. 
3) Their Team Logo: This might seem to overlap a little bit with the jersey, but the logo is vitally important.  It will go on hats, tee-shirts and just about anything else.  The logo has to be good. 
4) Players/Team Identity: How many players do I know on their team?  Are there any American players on their team that I could really root for?  Or is there any historical player or something special about that team? 
Now, I said I would do this for the “Eligible Teams.”  One of the things I really dislike in sports is the bandwagon fans.  Therefore, I had to throw out the top 4 teams in the league: Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, and Chelsea.  In my estimation, they are the top 4 most popular (trendy) teams right now—and for good reason, their good!  However, I am looking for a long term relationship, not a one year fling. 
Second, I have experienced enough pain as a Chicago Cubs fan to last a lifetime.  I can’t support another team that will consistently be at the bottom of the barrel.  And in the EPL that means you get relegated down to the next lower league (the Football League Championship).  So I need a team that isn’t  going to get relegated anytime soon.  Therefore, I eliminated Norwich City, Queens Park Rangers, Reading, Swansea City, West Bromwich Albion, and Wigan Athletic. 

After all this, here is how the points shaped out for the eligible teams:
#1 Liverpool with 17 points.  Uniform: 4 points (here), Stadium: 4 points (This is Anfield), Logo: 4 points (here), Players: 5 points (Gerrard, Carroll, Cole, Carragher, Skrtel).  Icing on the cake: slogans like “You’ll never walk alone”, songs about their players, Iconic figures like Ian Rush, Beatles Museum in Liverpool and founded in 1892. 
#2 New Castle United with 12.5 points. Uniform: 4 points, Stadium: 3.5 points, Logo: 5 points, Players: 0 points.  Kick ‘em while their down: Nickname: The Magpies? 
#3 Sunderland with 11.5 points.  Uniform: 3, Stadium: 3.5, Logo: 5, Players: None
#4 Everton with 10 points.  Uniform: 2, Stadium: 3, Logo: 3, Players: 2 (Phil Neville & Tim Howard).  Kick ‘em while their down: Nickname: The Toffees (and your next to Liverpool).
#5 Aston Villa with 10 points. Uniform: 2, Stadium: 4, Logo: 3, Players: 1 (Eric Lichaj, US defender).  Icing on the cake: Nickname: The Villains.    
#6 Southampton with 9 points. Uniform: 2, Stadium: 4, Logo: 2, Players: 1 (Rickie Lambert).  Icing on the cake: Nickname: The Saints (which would be cool for a Chaplain to like the Saints).
#7 Tottenham Hotspur with 9 points. Uniform: 2, Stadium: 2 Logo: 2, Players: 3 (Friedel, Dempsey & VanderVart).  Kick ‘em while their down: Nickname: Lilywhites.
#8 Fulham with 8 points.  Uniform: 3, Stadium: 4.5, Logo: .5, Players: 0. 
#9 Stoke City with 7.5 points.  Uniform: 2, Stadium: 3.5, Logo: 2, Players: 1 (Geoff Cameron, US Defender). 
#10 West Ham United with 5 points.  Uniform: 1, Stadium: 1, Logo: 1, Players: 0, Iconic: 2 (Green Street Hooligans and the famous GSE given them 2 bonus points). 
There you have it.  While I will continue to be a general “fan” of the EPL, I will now always have a rooting interest in how the game effects my Reds.  Next purchase, probably a Steven Gerrard Jersey.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Changing the way we view PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)

Dr. Edward Tick spoke last week to a large group of Army Chaplains at the Chaplain’s Annual Sustainment Training in Norfolk, VA concerning the ongoing problem of PTSD.  Dr. Tick is a clinical psychotherapist, has been working with American Veterans for over 30 years, has authored the book War and the Soul, and has done extensive research into the history of war and the way societies throughout history have dealt with returning warriors and the wounds they carry.  His findings challenge the way that our modern mental health care system is attempting to treat PTSD.  From what I can tell he is a Theist, not a evangelical Christian.   Below you will find some of his most insightful comments and my attempt to interact with his ideas.
PTSD is a “Soul Wound” that manifests itself with physical symptoms.  Those symptoms (here) are the outworking of an internal wound of the soul/spirit. 
Dr. Tick is directly challenging the assumptions of our mental health system.  He argues that returning veterans who have been exposed to the horrors and brutality of war, do not have a head problem, they have a Soul problem, a Soul Wound.  Modern psychology has chosen only to focus on the symptoms of PTSD that manifest in physical problems.  In all my experience of seeing suffering soldiers attempt to get help in the Army Mental Health system the answer is almost always the same—prescribe drugs to deal with the symptoms (anti-depressants, sleeping aids, anti-anxiety aids etc…) and occasionally some one on one counseling.  Mental health providers only attempt to control or inhibit the PTSD symptoms that plague returning veterans.  Doing this ignores the underlying cause of the symptoms.  Dr. Tick explains that from the beginning of time PTSD (or the observed equivalent) has been known as a spiritual wound.  What the warrior has experienced has hurt him at a level much deeper than the physical, and his soul must be tended and made whole again.  Treating the symptoms does nothing to answer the deep hurt, confusion, and anger often felt by the warrior. 
What if PTSD is the cost one must pay for wisdom? 
This is a question no one in the helping community is asking!  Everyone assumes that PTSD is only a negative condition that must be treated and fixed.  But what if we ask the question, “what can be gained from PTSD?”  In the old testament it seems clear that King David had PTSD.  In Psalm 22 he says that he has no rest at night (vs 2), he feel impending doom (vs 12), he sees himself as a worm, not a man (vs 6), he has no strength left and his body is withering away (vs 14).  Yet he goes on to be the best kings in Israel’s history.
Looking to American history, by all accounts, General George Washington had severe PTSD.  He barely slept and when he did, he heard the screams of his men who were killed in previous battles he had brutally lost.  He was quiet, withdrawn and usually depressed.  Yet his “disorder” led him to become the man who untied 13 armies to fight the British, and later on become the President who willingly stepped down after two terms in office.  He used his previously painful experiences to ensure he did the right thing at the present moment.  He accepted what happened (with great sorrow) and moved forward with a determination and fortitude of the rarest kind.  No one believed he needed to be “fixed” because he had nightmares of his soldiers dying. 
You see there is a certain wisdom that can only come through extreme pain.  Once you’ve experienced it, you are different.  Your outlook on life is different.  Those who recognize their wound, engage with it, accept it as the price of wisdom, and lead with that knowledge and wisdom become leaders of incredible strength. 
PTSD- Post Traumatic Soul Disorder and/or Social Disorder
The symptoms of this “disorder” are the souls way of crying out.  So rightfully, Dr. Tick refers to PTSD as a Soul Disorder as we’ve already seen.  However, he also calls it “Social Disorder.”  Through his research he has discovered that it takes an entire village to reintegrate a warrior into a society.  The contract that society has historically entered into with its warriors is a simple one—the warrior fights for the village and risks everything he has and the village, upon his return, will tend to the warrior in every way possible.  Many soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are by-in-large experiencing difficulty reintegrating themselves back into our society. 
Dr. Tick discovered that PTSD was defined by the Native Americans as having too many rocks in your pack to carry on your own.  The village would welcome the warrior back home after battle and help him remove the rocks out of his pack and the village would collectively carry the rocks.  They had ceremonies and rituals to show this process within their village.  We in America, unfortunately, do not know how to celebrate correctly returning warriors.  More on that later.
Mr. Tiger: “The wounds of war are in the heart, not the head.  Feel sorrow, not survivor’s guilt.  The bullet is the messenger of karma.  To prevent PTSD, Stay Home!”
These words were spoken by a veteran of the Vietnam war.  He fought for the North Vietnamese against the American Army.  Dr. Tick led a group of US Vietnam veterans on a return trip to Vietnam to visit various battle sites in an attempt to find healing for their wounds.  They met with “Mr. Tiger” who fought against them in numerous battles.  Mr. Tiger now runs an organization that helps their Veterans.  He offered these four gems of wisdom to our veterans.  He, like countless cultures before him, understands that War causes an inner wound.  First he say, these wounds are not often visible and are not usually strictly mental in nature.  Second, as warriors, we must feel deep sorrow for those who did not make it home—not guilt!  Third, while I do not believe in Karma, I do believe in God’s Providence.  I don’t have the room in this post to fully develop this idea, but if I lived through combat, it was by God’s Providence that I made it through.  All three of those ideas are powerful for veterans, but it’s the last phrase I want to fully address.
“To prevent PTSD, Stay home!”  This was not said out of anger or frustration on the part of Mr. Tiger.  He was getting at a much deeper truth.  He went on to explain that PTSD is almost non-existent in Vietnam Veterans who fought to defend their homeland.  They experienced atrocities and probably carried some out as well and we would expect their PTSD rates to be similar to our veteran soldiers.  Mr. Tiger explains that he has worked with their veterans since the end of the war in all parts of his country and the rates of PTSD from soldiers who fought in that conflict are miniscule.  However, he goes on to tell another story. 
When innocent civilians were being slaughtered in neighboring Cambodia, the Vietnam army came to the aid of these civilians.  They entered into Cambodia and fought against the soldiers who were killing innocent civilians.  It was, by all accounts, a noble and just reason to go to war.  However, when their Army returned, the rates of soldiers with PTSD skyrocketed.  As it turns out, when we fight a war on our own soil, in our own country, against an invading army, the PTSD rates are minute.  Inversely, when warriors go to foreign soil to fight a war, no matter how just the cause, the warriors will experience PTSD at exponentially higher rates.  It would seem that the human Soul has no problem fighting a truly defensive war in its own land against an aggressor.  The implications of this reality could have an astonishing impact on our foreign policy, the use of force and the mission of the US Department of Defense. 
When there is a justified and necessary use of force on foreign soil, we will have soldiers return with PTSD.  The question we need to ask is how do we (both an internal question for the Army and an external question for the general society at large) help soldiers come home?  So how do we welcome them back home?  Coming next in part II.  Check back tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Views Are My Own

Just wanted to take a minute and make it clear that all views expressed in this blog are my own and in no way do they represent any official Army position or Chaplain Corps position.  Therefore, I've changed the name and created a new home for the blog. 

Thanks for reading and in a day or two I hope to have a new post done on PTSD in combat vets.  I want to help people understand it and know what can you do to help in your local community. 
Spoiler alert, PTSD is a Soul Wound, not a head wound.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Why the Battle Over Same Sex Marriage is a Lose Lose Battle for Christians

The recent outpouring of support for Chic-fil-a on Wednesday led my wife and I to a conversation last night about the role of Christians and the church in our society.  Why should Christians care if the government permits individuals of the same sex to marry?  Will it have any real, tangible impact on believers, ministers or churches as a whole? 

Why do we as Christians expect those who are outside of the church, outside of a relationship with God, depraved, and dead in their sin—why should we be so concerned with their actions?  Our aim as followers of Christ is not to get them to stop sinning, is it?  I thought our aim was to love them and find meaningful opportunities to compassionately share the gospel.  Why then do we see so much energy and focus aimed towards getting people to outwardly obey God’s law when inwardly they are separated from him? 

If we successfully prevent same sex couples from attaining the government recognition of their commitment to each other, called marriage, what have we won?  Will our society will earn bonus points with God and receive his favor for upholding his standard of marriage?  Perhaps.   Will we alienate an entire segment of the population from ever being receptive to the Gospel?  Most certainly. 

And why do we treat this issue so differently from others?  The Bible says that drunkenness is a sin, but I don’t go around trying to bring back prohibition.  The Bible says that fornicating is a sin, but I don’t see people protesting a person’s freedom to do so.  We may teach our children it’s a sin (and a really bad idea) and we will teach our church that it is a sin, but why would we expect non-Christians to save themselves for marriage.  The biggest sin of all, the one that Adam and Eve committed, what D.A. Carson calls the “de-godding of God”, placing ourselves on level with, or above God—we don’t seek to create laws against that. 

These only become legal issues our government is willing to restrain when they endanger or harm another individual, such as drinking and driving, or sexual assault/rape.  The truth is, if we stop and think about what we’re doing, we should think twice before we ask the government to legislate morality for us.  The government’s job is (or should be) to protect individual liberty and ensure that other’s actions don’t harm me or take away my liberty.  The government should not be telling me what is moral and what is immoral.  And I certainly don’t want them legislating it! 

So if we “win” this fight, we’ve not only badly hurt our ability to be effective witnesses to people who need the gospel, but we also opened the door to a government who feels free to tell us what is moral and immoral.  Someday, when Christians become the minority (if we’re not already), we will find ourselves on the receiving end of governmental laws aimed taking away our religious and personal liberty.  A “win” today will turn into a curse 20 years from now.  Indeed a few more “victories” like this one and we’ll lose the war in no time. 

So what about losing this fight?  Well, not what you think.  The answer is that we’re partly in the same spot we would be in if we had won the battle—we’ve alienated the vast majority of same sex couples from ever having an interest in the contents of this gospel we say we live by.  In addition, we’ve put so much stock in this anti-gay marriage agenda, that if we “lose” we show our ineptitude to organize politically.  I don’t want to see the entire Christian world get involved in an issue only to lose.  I’d much rather see us put our efforts into issues that save lives and restrain evil (i.e. abortion, human trafficking etc…).

So if we “lose”, we’re weakened in our ability to fight for more significant issues and we alienated the gays.  If we “win”, we have a government extending well beyond a role I’m comfortable with and we alienated the gays.  That’s a lose lose fight. 

All of this being said, there is one other area that I want to touch on.  If you haven’t noticed yet, I am arguing for a libertarian government.  However, I realize that there are those in the pro-gay movement who don’t want to see that form of government in power.  They don’t want me to be able to say that I think homosexuality is wrong and it’s a sin.  If I say that, then I’m a bigot or I’m hateful, or I’m something worse.  But I’m not.  I’m just saying what I believe to be true.  I’m not saying it in a mean or hateful way and I’m not attempting to encroach on your liberty to live your life how you choose.  But I still demand the right to teach my family and my congregation that homosexuality is wrong and against God’s desire for their lives. 

Now that I’m sure I’ve made everyone on both side of the debate very upset, I’ll rest my case.  Let me close with this: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Live your life in such a way that you honor God and show him to the world by your life, not your stances on external issues.