Sep 18

Advocating for Rachel, part 3 – guest contributor, Crystal Amundson

(In this final post in the series, we see where Rachel is after the first nine years of her life. She is a survivor, but she’ll need a lot of help going forward. In case you missed the earlier posts, please go back to the first post, and learn just how much this young lady has been through. Once again, the bulleted points in the article suggest where interventions could have been made by the faith community that would have helped Rachel. Please consider your calling to the “Rachels” in your midst. Thank you, Chaplain Chris Haughee)

 

Through the tumult of the previous four years, Rachel and her sister moved into the third home and stayed there for a little over a year while her mom completed the requirements with social services needed to regain custody.  Rachel’s dad never followed through with his substance abuse treatment and a permanent order of protection was filed with the court.  Rachel & her siblings moved back in with her mom on her 6th birthday, and she was relieved that the singing and cake were forgotten in the hustle of paperwork and belongings and goodbyes.

Rachel was glad to be back with her mom, but wary of her ability to parent. Over the last four years, Rachel had been the most consistent person in her baby sister’s life.  Now that they were back with mom, Rachel would frequently fake illness to stay out of school and be home with her sister.  While Rachel’s mom wanted the best for her kids, she struggled with depression.  When she worked, she struggled to find safe childcare.  When she quit, she felt overwhelmed by financial burdens.  She isolated from others.  Stopped answering the phone when the school called about her son’s behavior concerns.

Her mother let Rachel take care of the cooking and cleaning. While the arrangement had its problems, it kept Rachel busy enough to avoid the anger, confusion, and fear that had built up over the last five years.  Rachel could keep it all bottled up—except around her birthday.  Then, the memories of mean daddy and restaurant police visits made the feelings too big to ignore.

By Glen Edelson from ATLANTA, USA (Birthday cake) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Glen Edelson from ATLANTA, USA (Birthday cake) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

On her 8th birthday, Rachel’s teacher lead the class in a round of “Happy Birthday.” Rachel began to scream at the top of her lungs, begging them to stop.  Confused, the well-meaning teacher stepped in to contain Rachel’s flailing and screaming and got an elbow to her face for her trouble. Sent to the principal’s office, Rachel refused to talk and remained silent for the next two hours.  During those two hours, the staff started to talk to each other about the girl who had flown under the radar.  Rachel wasn’t a behavior concern.  But she had no friends.  She didn’t make eye contact with adults.  She snuck food from the garbage during lunch. No one saw this outburst coming because no one really saw Rachel.  Rachel had become skilled at hiding her pain and trauma, and an overburdened school system cooperated in Rachel’s avoidance. What would have made the difference?

  • Write letters of affirmation to staff at neighborhood schools. The courage needed to advocate for a hurting child comes from the encouragement you feel from the community around you. Be that support system for the teachers and staff at your community schools.
  • Stay informed about voter initiatives and upcoming elections that will impact school facilities and resources. When basic needs are met, staff are more able to focus on the “under the radar” kids. Support school board members and administrators that want to join you in becoming “trauma informed.”

 

Instead of calling home, the staff called in the school-based therapist. And while Rachel didn’t talk the rest of the day, she did play.  She sat in the therapy office, diapering and feeding and cuddling the baby dolls.  The therapist didn’t talk either, but she did create space for Rachel to feel just brave enough to return to school the next day.  Rachel went home and told her mom about the baby dolls.  Her mom listened, and agreed to get Rachel on the waiting list for therapy.  That was a year ago.  Three months ago, Rachel finally started therapy.  It has taken so long for Rachel to start getting the type of help that will really bring healing to her deep hurts. What might have enabled Rachel to get that help sooner?

  • Locally, there are significant shortages of mental health therapists. Encourage social service careers within the members of your congregation by hosting volunteer and job shadowing opportunities with youth groups.
  • Support existing social service professionals by focusing mission opportunities on collecting supplies (therapeutic games or movies) or sponsoring activities (like summer camp).

Today, Rachel turns nine and still hates her birthday. But hopefully, by working hard in therapy, she’ll begin to understand why.  She will learn what it means to battle Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how to feel her anger and worry and sadness without being consumed by them.  Her mom will work in family therapy to learn about parenting an angry, worried, and sad kid instead of a perfect, quiet, sneaky kid.  The ending to Rachel’s story isn’t a happily ever after.  But it is an opportunity.  For her and for each of us.

 

crystal-242x300Note: Crystal Amundson LCPC, RPT-S runs a private practice in Helena, Montana, where she works as a child play therapist.  Crystal specializes in Play Therapy, working with children ages 2-12, alongside their caregivers. She is a previous employee and current board member at Intermountain.  Her passion and expertise is in the field of early childhood mental health.

Sep 06

Advocating for Rachel, part 2 – guest contributor, Crystal Amundson

(In a previous post, we met Rachel and followed the first part of her journey. In this second installment, we will continue to look at Rachel as a case study and interject ways in which faith communities can reach out to these precious children that are slipping through the cracks. There is a great deal that the church can and should do to “stand in the gap” for those that are most vulnerable in our social service and mental health systems. God is calling us to do more than assume the State or some governmental agency will take care of our children. Think about how strongly you would advocate for these children were they your own children and grandchildren! Thank you, Chaplain Chris Haughee)

Rachel and her siblings were placed in foster care, alongside 1,800 other Montana children. Her brother was six, she was four, and her sister was not quite two.  Her parents were given a court ordered treatment plan to address their substance abuse and mental health needs.  Rachel remained in foster care for two years.  During this time, she had 3 different caseworkers.  Each time the worker changed, phone calls went unreturned, court deadlines were delayed, and a bit more of Rachel’s story was lost.  How could the faith community have helped Rachel while she was brand new “in the system?”

  • Learn about challenges facing Child Protective Services and current legislation to address training andcasa_v_redblue_JPG financial shortfalls.

While waiting for a decision to be made about her future, Rachel lived in 3 different foster homes. She was in her first foster home for 2 months before her dad showed up one night in the yard.  He was clearly intoxicated or high on drugs and was threatening to kill the family for “stealing his kids.”  Rachel was immediately placed in a new foster home, and stayed there for 9 months before the foster family moved out of state.  Her third foster home only had room for Rachel and her younger sister.  Her brother was placed in a group home.  How might have the church made a difference for Rachel and her siblings during these tumultuous years?

  • Promote opportunities for foster family training by offering your space to local agencies and posting fliers about local trainings. Even existing foster parents are often unaware of training available and find themselves unequipped and overwhelmed by the children in their home.
  • Create dedicated bible studies or small groups for adults who are foster parenting or raising extended family members (kinship care). It can be a very isolating experience and safe communities are crucial.

We’ll continue to learn more about Rachel’s story and what we can all do to help children at risk in following posts. If you are anxious to get started educating yourself and your faith community about ACEs, click here for some ideas Chaplain Chris has come up with!

 

crystal-242x300Note: Crystal Amundson LCPC, RPT-S runs a private practice in Helena, Montana, where she works as a child play therapist.  Crystal specializes in Play Therapy, working with children ages 2-12, alongside their caregivers. She is a previous employee and current board member at Intermountain.  Her passion and expertise is in the field of early childhood mental health.

Sep 01

Sign up for the Resilience Fall Summit in Helena!

Resilience-Church-Leader AppealEverything is NOT fine, despite what people in our churches may be telling each other during the coffee social following worship! Montana’s children, youth, and families are in trouble, and we have the ability to do something about it!

In an effort to pull together the tremendous resources our faith communities possess, I’ll be facilitating a conversation at ChildWise’s Fall Conference in Helena on Resilience, September 29th and 30th. Our “faith-based breakout” will be one of many offering that will challenge you as well as encourage you to address the greatest public health crisis our state and nation faces. My hope is that dozens of congregations from across Montana could be represented, and their involvement would start a much-needed conversation in their churches, synagogues, and fellowships.

I am excited to share this time with Kimberly Konkel, MSW, who has worked in the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington D.C. for the better part of two decades. Kim has been the assistant director of the Partnership with Faith-based communities and has a wealth of knowledge about how God is using congregations and faith communities across the country to effect social change and are living out the prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come, on earth as it is in heaven!”

So, do whatever you need to do to get to Helena for this conference! At $185 for two days (lunch included on the first day!), this conference would be an excellent use of continuing education funds for your pastor, a personal investment in your missions and outreach team, or a way to encourage your youth and children’s ministry to be better equipped for ministry.

Aug 22

Gearing up for fall: Classroom tips for multiple abilities

image courtesy of sharefaith.com

image courtesy of sharefaith.com

When teaching children of different abilities the most important thing to remember is that “one size DOES NOT fit all” with education. It is OK to make accommodations from a provided program to keep differently abled children engaged and included. The following are suggestions on how to structure a classroom sensitive to children with varying needs:

• INCLUDE MOVEMENT: Make it a goal to move location, stand and stretch, wiggle, take a walk or switch spots every 10-15 minutes during a lesson. This is helpful for not only young children, and children with ADHD, but also remember that humans are not designed to be sitting animals and in general it will help to keep your class focused if you incorporate movement into your sessions.

Two great movement resources are www.gonoodle.com if you have access to a computer for all students to see, or incorporating yoga stretching for five minutes into every 15 minute chunk. I recommend Yoga Pretzels by Tara Gruber as an easy resource to learn and teach some quick basic stretching exercises.

Also, allow your ADHD and young children to be mobile in their own way, fidgeting in their seats, standing at their spot, sitting on their knees, shifting in theirs spots. Young bodies are not meant to sit perfectly still.

• CREATE A ROUTINE AND STICK WITH IT: Routine is one of the best ways to support anxious children. Creating a predictable routine for class and announcing the plan at the beginning of each class will support children that can have difficulties with transition. If you create a colorful poster board with the plan for class and include pictures to help with cueing, children will know what to expect.

Announce transitions before they happen, and give a count-down to when they occur. For example, if 15 minutes into class you plan on stretching, at five minutes to, tell the class “we have five minutes until our stretch break.” Do this again at 3 minutes, and even at one minute as you establish the routine.

• CREATE A SIMPLE LIST OF CLEAR EXPECTATIONS, AND MAKE SURE EVERYONE KNOWS WHAT THEY ARE, INCLUDING PARENTS: Keep rules simple and short. More than 3-4 basic rules for everyone is too many. If you have a parent meeting before faith formation sign up let your families know what the rules are and encourage them to speak to their children about the expectations.

Have a point person that parents can speak to with questions and concerns, and to be the person that reinforces the expectations. The faith formation teacher should be able to focus on teaching, so appoint a religious education director to be the central information officer and also “the enforcer.”

Encourage parents to speak with this point person if they have specific things that they know work or don’t work for their child. When children need extra support, have the point person come to class instead of having the child leave it and provide encouragement to the child.

• KEEP CORRECTIONS POSITIVE: If a child is not following a rule, remember that shouting, shaming, and blaming a child for their choice will not help them learn to do differently. For example, if a child is off task and talking to a peer, encourage them to get back on track by saying something like “Susie, you are such a smart kiddo and I am excited to hear what you have to say about our reading” instead of saying “stop talking.” Praise children whenever possible, even if its for something small, this will help children to feel valued in their class.Jesus-children

• SIGNS OF A MELTDOWN: Children with emotional sensitivities, anxiety issues, and even children that are simply overworked in school and activities, can meltdown if they are overwhelmed. This might look like crying, shouting, rocking in their spot, and refusing to participate.

The easiest way to deal with a meltdown is to prevent one. Know the kids in your class. Play a game with them to begin the year and talk with parents if you know a child will need special accommodations. A child that is stressed may start to talk or murmur to themselves, fidget more than usual, refuse to follow directions more often than usual, and other motions or sounds as well.

• PREVENTING A MELTDOWN: If something doesn’t quite feel right with a child, take a moment to get closer to them and quietly ask how you can help. Call your point person in to sit with and assist them or ask them if they would like to take a break by getting a drink or using the restroom.

Never force a child with anxiety issues to perform any task with which they are not comfortable or familiar. They may need to observe something several times before they are comfortable enough to try. Do not ask them to read aloud, take volunteers for choral reading or ask children to read who you know do not have anxiety issues.

• BE PATIENT: Losing your cool with a child is the quickest way to lose their trust. It takes a lot longer to rebuild a caring relationship after threatening, shouting, and disrespecting a child. Every moment is a learning experience, and children will mimic what they observe.

 

NOTE: This is a guest article by Kristin Ophus, former staff in the Day Treatment classroom at Intermountain’s residential school in Helena. She put this resource together as a favor for a local congregation, and it was SO good, I asked her if I could share it with everyone. –Chaplain Chris

Aug 15

Advocating for Rachel, part 1 – Guest article by Crystal Amundson

crystal-242x300

Crystal Amundson LCPC, RPT-S

Note: Crystal Amundson LCPC, RPT-S runs a private practice in Helena, Montana, where she works as a child play therapist.  Crystal specializes in Play Therapy, working with children ages 2-12, alongside their caregivers. She is a previous employee and current board member at Intermountain.  Her passion and expertise is in the field of early childhood mental health. Crystal prepared this case study with accompanying prompts for action by faith-based groups and community groups that hope to make a difference in the lives of children at risk in the community.

 

The story I’d like to share with you isn’t one child’s story. But it is a compilation of hundreds of true stories from children that have crossed my path since I began this work.  My work started in the classrooms and cottages of Intermountain’s residential program in Helena, Montana. I moved to Washington for my education and worked with children in outpatient therapy, crisis shelters, and psychiatric hospitals.  I started my therapist career in Denver, Colorado doing outpatient therapy, and then did school-based therapy once I moved back to Helena.  I now have a private practice with a focus on therapy, training, and supervision. Every detail in the story I’m sharing is a piece of someone’s journey, and I’m grateful that you’ve given me time to share a bit about them with you, the reader.  Because YOU are the game changers.  And my prayer is that you hear this story with ears for opportunity.  To help, I’ll pause in the telling of Rachel’s story to provide bulleted points where faith communities can make a real difference.

Now, let me introduce you to Rachel. Rachel is the second of three children.  When she was born, her parents were married and looked pretty average to their family, friends, and faith community.  This lasted until shortly after her first birthday, when Rachel’s dad was laid off his job and coped with the stress by abusing drugs.  He became physically violent towards Rachel’s mom and her older brother.  They lost their home and for nearly three years, her Rachel’s life was filled with domestic violence, homelessness, and neglect.  What could have helped Rachel and her family in her first 18 months of life?

  • Be aware of the warning signs of substance abuse, homelessness, and domestic violence. Everyone is at risk, regardless of income or race or employment.
  • Post fliers and pamphlets in your community spaces, educating your congregation about warning signs.
  • Provide space for support groups and 12 step programs to meet. Safe, consistent spaces are a blessing.  
  • Sometimes, people are aware of the abuse or homelessness, but local resources are full. Help increase resources by volunteering with local organizations like food banks, homeless shelters, and homes for those facing domestic violence.

On Rachel’s fourth birthday, her mom took her and her siblings to a restaurant to celebrate. While there, they ran into a friend of her mom’s, who questioned Rachel’s brother about bruising on his face and neck.  He was too scared to answer, but Rachel’s mom burst into tears as she described the violent attack by Rachel’s dad.  Overwhelmed by guilt and fear, Rachel’s mom said she was going to the bathroom and left the restaurant through the back door.  The servers were delivering Rachel’s free dessert and singing “Happy Birthday” when a police officer showed up.  What could have been done to help Rachel and her family while she was still in preschool?

  • Educate yourself on what Montana Law and your faith tradition say about reporting child abuse.
  • Facilitate training and education for volunteers in children’s ministry programs. Professionals need people on the front lines being the eyes and ears for welfare concerns.  
  • Host a workshop for parents and children about healthy body image and personal safety.
  • Develop child abuse reporting policies & procedures for your congregation. This makes a difficult thing easier to do and minimizes miscommunication.  
  • Promote finger printing and background checks for adults working with children.
  • Increase awareness by participating in activities like April Child Abuse Prevention Month.

We’ll learn more about Rachel’s story and what we can all do to help children at risk in following posts.

 

Aug 05

Everything is not fine! A call to action as a faith community

Has your church heard about ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)? If not, I am sure you have seen the effects in your communities and your worshipping communities. Those in our congregations as well as those in our neighborhoods are struggling under the weight of unresolved trauma, persistent toxic stress, and the dysfunction that results from broken relationships. No matter what we might want to tell one another, “Everything is NOT fine.”

 

In our home state—where 17% of children have experienced three or more ACEs, and 1 in 10 have four or more—faith communities should be especially aware of how their ministries can make a difference. Is your youth ministry concerned about teen suicide? Consider that the 10% of children with four or more ACEs have a 1200% greater chance of attempting suicide than their peers, and I think you’ll see why addressing the prevalence of ACEs in Montana is a good idea! (1)

CLICK THE CONFERENCE BANNER TO REGISTER NOW!!

CLICK THE CONFERENCE BANNER TO REGISTER NOW!!

In an effort to pull together the tremendous resources our faith communities possess, I’ll be facilitating a conversation at ChildWise’s Fall Conference in Helena on Resilience, September 29th and 30th. Our “faith-based breakout” will be one of many offering that will challenge you as well as encourage you to address the greatest public health crisis our state and nation faces. My hope is that dozens of congregations from across Montana could be represented, and their involvement would start a much-needed conversation in their churches, synagogues, and fellowships.

I am excited to share this time with Kimberly Konkel, MSW, who has worked in the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington D.C. for the better part of two decades. Kim has been the assistant director of the Partnership with Faith-based communities and has a wealth of knowledge about how God is using congregations and faith communities across the country to effect social change and are living out the prayer, “Thy Kingdom Come, on earth as it is in heaven!”

So, do whatever you need to do to get to Helena for this conference! At $185 for two days (lunch included on the first day!), this conference would be an excellent use of continuing education funds for your pastor, a personal investment in your missions and outreach team, or a way to encourage your youth and children’s ministry to be better equipped for ministry. In fact, if your only reason for not attending the Resilience Conference is the cost, please contact me… I will work hard to get you a scholarship or whatever it will take to make it happen.

It’s that important. I’m that passionate about this issue. Because, “Everything is NOT fine.”

Blessings,

Chaplain Chris Haughee

 

(1) Vanessa Sacks, M.P.P., David Murphy, Ph.D. and Kristin Moore, Ph.D. “Adverse Childhood Experiences: National and State-Level Prevalence.” ChildTrends Research Brief, July 2014; Publication #2014-28; page 2.

Jul 29

Was Jesus’ ministry “trauma-informed?” [part 3] Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma, cont.

Perhaps you have heard about it by now? There’s a movement spreading across the country when it comes to ministry settings: becoming trauma-informed. The topic concerns churches that are interested in missional engagement with the culture because there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that if we can break the cycle of adversity in childhood we can help everyone experience “life to the full” as Jesus intended (John 10:10).

In the first post in the series, I focused only the first identifier of a trauma-informed ministry: the realization of the widespread impact of trauma and potential paths for recovery. In my second post, I started a conversation regarding how Jesus recognized the signs and symptoms of trauma in those he not only interacted with, but then became followers themselves of his life and teachings. That post got a little long, so I ended up splitting that conversation into two parts!

For those that may land on this article as their starting point, I’ll reiterate the full context the larger definition of “trauma-informed” practices, and trust that if the discussion is intriguing and engaging enough the reader will go back and visit the previous discourse. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the concept of a trauma-informed approach would mean that “a program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.”

A trauma-informed approach to ministry starts with the realization of the widespread impact of trauma and then extends to practices that are shaped by the realization that this trauma is reflected in all sorts of signs and symptoms that might have been overlooked or simply categorized as bad or erratic behavior, maybe even a flaw of character!

Jesus knew the tremendous brokenness of the world, and he knew the power of the Kingdom of Heaven to address the needs of people traumatized by the evil of this world and the effect of sin. Jesus had an amazing ability to see past the symptoms and see the individual… while still not ignoring the need or the trauma which had caused the symptoms in the first place!

In “Was Jesus’ ministry trauma-informed, part 2,” we looked at Nicodemus’ interaction with Jesus in John, chapter 3. In this continuation of that discussion, we’ll now compare and contrast that interaction with the one Jesus has with the Samaritan woman at the well in John’s gospel, chapter 4.Woman-at-well

One necessary note before looking again at the interaction between two people, Jesus and the Samaritan woman: the social environment of the time made it VERY unlikely that a Jewish man would have anything at all to do with a Samaritan woman. The social, religious, and ethnic barriers between the two parties represented in this interaction would be difficult for us to replicate. So, with that in mind, here are a few observations:

  • Jesus initiates the discussion and takes the first step in bridging the wide social, ethnic, and religious divide between them.
  • The woman is taken aback, and incredulously… asking basically, “Aren’t you breaking your own rules to ask me for a drink?”
  • Jesus, like with Nicodemus, has no real interest in focusing on the physical realities of this chance encounter. He would much rather speak of Spiritual matters. He brings up her need to ask him for a drink of “living water.”
  • Like Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman seems unable at first to take in the significance of what Jesus is saying. So, like Nicodemus, her response sounds defensive. She points to Jesus’ lack of an instrument to retrieve water. She points to her own ethnic heritage (a daughter of Jacob) and the connection to the physical well they stood over. She challenges Jesus’ authority and importance.
  • Jesus side steps the woman’s defensiveness and offers a gift, eternal life. An end to any spiritual thirst.
  • The woman responds positively, seeing a way out of her personal need and lack. She asks for what Jesus is offering.
  • Jesus asks her to go and get her husband, to which she replies that she has no husband. Jesus then points out that she is right in this statement, but that is because she is merely living with the man without being wed, and that five previous times she has been married (and, presumably, divorced).
  • Jesus asks the woman to believe in her, having established his credibility, and gives her an opportunity to respond by focusing on spiritual realities and a future hope that can start for her as soon as she decides (“a new time is coming. In fact, it is already here…” in verse 23).
  • The Samaritan woman believes in Jesus, gets a “new start,” and becomes a powerful messenger. Many believe in Jesus because of her words, and many more believe because they accept her invitation to come listen to him and hear for themselves (verses 39-42).

What can be gleaned from this interaction? Was Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman “trauma-informed?” Would being trauma-informed as a ministry mean you could no longer identify sin and suggest righteousness (righteousness = living in right relationship with God through obedience and discipleship) as a means of spiritual, emotional, and relational healing?

Clearly, Jesus’ initiative in reaching out and expressing a need that the Samaritan woman might meet was counter-cultural. I happen to believe it was also trauma-informed. The woman clearly was living on the fringes of an already marginalized people group… she came alone to the well in the heat of the day, either avoiding the women who would come at the start of the day or unwelcome in their midst. Her defensiveness, like Nicodemus’ response in the previous chapter (John 3), suggests that she is used to being on her on with little or no support system or advocacy on her behalf by others. Jesus’ speaking to her and asking her for a drink suggests to her that her marginalization is NOT going to be an issue for him. He sees her value, even if she does not.

Furthermore, while some might see some pointedness and crudeness in the way Jesus “reveals” her shortcomings—“you are right to say you have no husband… in fact you have had five husbands”—I see a willingness by Jesus to address a symptom of her trauma, identify it in a factual but nonjudgmental way, and then get on to more weighty matters. I think the evidence of this tone if in how the woman responds. Had there been judgment or condemnation in Jesus’ voice, I doubt the conversation would have continued, let alone the response that the woman has: to go and tell all of those in the village that she has found the Messiah!

Often those that have been most deeply wounded and ostracized can be the best agents of healing and reconciliation in a community. Jesus saw this trauma-informed aspect of ministry, and rather than using her as a means for his glory, leaving her at the well as he parades into town, he sends her forth to be the bearer of good news… God is near! The Messiah has come! Written off by many of her peers, Jesus writes her in to the story of AA-quoteSychar’s eternal destiny, placing her in a prominent role: “Many of the Samaritans from the town of Sychar believed in Jesus. They believed because of what the woman had said about him” (John 4:39).

I believe in the ministry maxim: broken people are best reached by other broken people. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s the former drunk that sponsors the newly initiated in the program, not the teetotaler who has never had a sip! Those convinced of their sin will steer clear of the self-righteous. Those who have experienced trauma themselves have a tremendous gift in reaching others working through the effects of their traumatization. Indeed: broken people are best reached by broken people. But here’s the amazing thing, whether those in our ministries realize it or not: we are all broken. And, we minister most powerfully out of the areas of our brokenness, not our perceived strengths. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

“Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who gives tender love. All comfort comes from him. He comforts us in all our troubles. Now we can comfort others when they are troubled” (2 Cor. 1:3-4, NIrV).

“God said to me, ‘My grace is all you need. My power is strongest when you are weak.’ So I am very happy to brag about how weak I am. Then Christ’s power can rest on me’” (2 Cor. 12:9, NIrV).

I absolutely believe Jesus’ ministry was “trauma-informed!” But, in seeing those affected by trauma, beaten down and harassed by the weight of the adversity in their lives, he didn’t see the trauma… he saw them. Each and every one of them as individuals worthy of a place in God’s Kingdom. As our ministries gain in skills and ability to recognize the symptoms and effects of trauma and childhood adversity, we must be careful not to make anyone a “project” or merely the focus of our charity. This was NOT Jesus’ approach… the Samaritan woman didn’t need to “work through her issues” before being commissioned as a minister of the gospel! Jesus needed her specifically because she did have “issues!” Amazing… and how like the love and grace of God to take our imperfections and use them for his perfect purpose.

I hope you’ll continue with me on this exploration of trauma-informed principles as they apply to the ministry of Jesus! Next stop on this journey together will be to look at how Jesus responds to those systems and structures he sees perpetuating trauma, and how he sought to integrate a new way of thinking—dare we say a “trauma-informed way” of thinking—into our religious and spiritual structures!

Jul 17

Our Savior Lutheran in Columbia Falls holds plant and pie sale to benefit Intermountain

We are so grateful for our ever-expanding network of supporting churches, and are especially thankful for the recent efforts by Our Savior Lutheran Church in Columbia Falls. They held a pie and plant sale where half of the proceeds went to support the work of Intermountain. The other half of the proceeds went to support the youth servant team atPlant-sale-1 the church that will be taking a trip to Seattle later in the year.

Members of the church were invited to help the effort by bringing plants from their yards and garden, as well as baking yummy pies for sale! Thrivent Financial also got into the act thanks to members of the congregation, and there were raffled items as well. Open to the public, the traffic was good and the sales were fruitful! The final profits from the sale totaled more than $1900! Wow… that’s a lot of daisies, geraniums and berry pie!

Elizabeth Nauertz and Tonya Erickson organized the sale and made sure everything went off without a hitch. We appreciate their leadership in the Pie and Plant Sale, as well as all the members of Our Savior’s Lutheran. We are thankful for all those who purchased plants and pies to support Intermountain and the Youth servant team’s trip to Seattle. Members Doug Knapton, Judy Windauer and Sherry Grogan helped with the plant stands and the raffles. Finally, we are thankful for all the others who helped make the event happen: Krista Conger, Wendy Davis, Laura Mills-Nelson, Dawn Baumgartner, Joyce Baltz, Dave Soleim and Janet Reindl.

Their efforts will make it possible for Intermountain to continue bringing hope and help for children and their families in the Flathead area and throughout Montana.

The people of Our Savior's Lutheran made and sold a LOT of pie!

The people of Our Savior Lutheran made and sold a LOT of pie!

Jul 10

Was Jesus’ ministry “trauma-informed?” [Part 2] Recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma

There is a movement that is beginning to take shape across the country when it comes to ministry settings: becoming trauma-informed. The topic concerns churches that are interested in missional engagement with the culture because there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that if we can break the cycle of adversity in childhood we can help everyone experience “life to the full” as Jesus intended (John 10:10). In part one of this series, I pointed out Jesus’ particular concern with the oppressed and those who lack hope in their present circumstance. Beyond his simply asking that the “little children come unto him,” Jesus would be concerned with the conditions that persist in our culture that perpetuate childhood trauma (Luke 18:16).

While each person internalizes potentially traumatic experiences differently, and not all trauma equates to a life-time of difficulties, clearly it is in best interest of any society to do what it can to alleviate childhood suffering, neglect, and abuse. Jesus made it clear where he stood in regards to protecting children from the evils of the world when he said it would be better off for someone to have “a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” than to cause a child to stumble (Matthew 18:6). While I particularly focus on a trauma-informed ministry approach when it comes to working with children, youth, and their families, the principles I will address are transferrable to any population. May the reader forgive my emphasis on children, because it is not only my area of ministry focus, but I sense it represents the church’s best hope in alleviating suffering by breaking the generational cycle of adversity and traumatic experience that then makes the rest of life very difficult.

In the first post in the series, I focused only the first identifier of a trauma-informed ministry: the realization of the widespread impact of trauma and potential paths for recovery. In this second post, I will look at how Jesus recognized the signs and symptoms of trauma in those he not only interacted with, but then became followers themselves of his life and teachings.

As a reminder of the full context of this point within the larger definition of “trauma-informed” practices, I will repeat part of what was discussed in my earlier post. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the concept of a trauma-informed approach would mean that “a program, organization, or system that is trauma-informed:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  3. Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization.”

A trauma-informed approach to ministry starts with the realization of the widespread impact of trauma. Certainly, if a church or ministry is not aware or is in denial of the problem posed by adversity in childhood, toxic stress, and the effects of trauma on whose they minister too, it cannot properly address potential paths for recovery and healing. Secondly, and perhaps a much more practical point to address for churches and faith-communities seeking to be trauma-informed, is the ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in those they seek to minister to!

Jesus_and_NicodemusJesus knew the tremendous brokenness of the world, and he knew the power of the Kingdom of Heaven to address the needs of people traumatized by the evil of this world and the effect of sin. Because Jesus new the pervasiveness of the effects of this brokenness, one might say that what an individual first presented in attitude, speech, and actions did not disqualify them from an encounter with the divine and an opportunity to embrace healing and wholeness. In fact, I believe it can be seen in Scripture that it is far more likely that a traumatized and hurting individual will fully respond to the invitation Jesus extends than those that may not immediately recognize their need. To flesh out this dynamic in Jesus’ ministry, I’d like to compare and contrast Jesus’ interactions with the learned Nicodemus, a member of the Jewish ruling council, and the Samaritan woman at the well (you can find the full context of these stories in John’s gospel, Chapter 3 and 4). Jesus understands that both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman need something only he can offer, but his knowledge of their situation—his “recognition of the signs and symptoms” of trauma, if you will—shapes the way he interacts with them in turn. Because the gospel of John tells the story first of Nicodemus, I’ll start there. (The next post in this series will address Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman, as unfortunately this post is already long enough!!)

There is a lot that can be said about this encounter between Nicodemus and Jesus, but for our purposes we simply want to look at the interaction between two people and in particular how Jesus responds to Nicodemus. It should tell us something about Jesus’ interaction with people like Nicodemus and if that approach can be said to be trauma-informed. Does Jesus recognize any “signs and symptoms” within Nicodemus that might point to trauma or any other adversity? Here are a few observances:

  • Nicodemus is coming from a position of power and influence. He initiates the conversation.
  • Nicodemus speaks first, complimenting Jesus. Nicodemus attributes Jesus’ work to his having “come from God.”
  • Jesus responds by challenging Nicodemus, speaking of God’s Kingdom and the need to be born again.
  • Nicodemus, rather than admit his confusion, throws out an objection to Jesus’ statement.
  • Jesus recognizes Nicodemus’ defensiveness and a signal that he is confused and surprised. Jesus asks Nicodemus to grasp something of spiritual significance rather than focusing on just the physical.
  • Nicodemus releases some of his defensiveness by simply asking, “How can this be?” Clearly, any perceived power in this interaction has shifted from Nicodemus to Jesus.
  • Jesus challenges Nicodemus’ foundations on which he has built his self-identity: position, power, knowledge, the ability as a “ruler” to judge.

What can be gleaned from this? Well, I’d like to point out that not all people walking around with trauma, or high “ACE” scores (adverse childhood experiences like abuse or neglect), are going to present as the lowly or the trouble-ridden! There are enough socially acceptable ways to cope with stress, even toxic stress, that we might first miss someone who has deep emotional pain in our faith community. Perfectionism, high standards and ideals, and worldly success often mask deep insecurities which have their root in unsettled feelings of shame and self-loathing.

Jesus’ willingness to cut through all the fine theological discussion he might have had with Nicodemus (the proverbial “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?”) suggests that he Jesus is aware of the insecurities that can be masked by position and power. Certainly, we have no way of knowing Nicodemus’ childhood, but Jesus’ insistence to discuss matters of the Spirit rather than focusing on the physical impossibility of being “born again” could indicate that he sees a deeper need within this nighttime visitor than mere intellectual enlightenment.

I hope you’ll continue with me on this exploration of trauma-informed principles as they apply to the ministry of Jesus! We’ve just scratched the surface, and there is much more to investigate. Next time, we’ll finish up our look at the ways Jesus approached the traumatized people he encountered, recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma in their lives by examining Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well in John, chapter 4.

Jul 03

Happy Independence Day!

patriotic-thank-you

“Thank you for helping Intermountain. It’s helping kids. God bless you.” -an Intermountain child.

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again…” Galatians 5:1

As we celebrate the Fourth of July, Intermountain and the Chaplain’s Department wish you the greatest freedom that can be known—the freedom to be all you were meant to be as God’s beloved child! Our children in residential care, as well as the many children Intermountain serves through its community based services, are working hard for freedom from shame, negative self-image, substance abuse, and darkness in their past. It’s a difficult work, but they are doing it with God’s help and the care of parents, foster parents, case workers, therapists, counselors, and more.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

Just as it took an army and war had to be waged for our country to be founded in freedom, every day is a battle for the hearts, minds, and souls of children. Thank you for being a part of the “Intermountain Army”—bringing freedom with you to those who are hurting. As God has blessed us and blessed America, we are working together to make that blessing a reality for EVERY child in our midst.

Thank you,

Chaplain Chris Haughee

 

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