Sep 13

What’s next for Intermountain?

By the time she was 16, “Alyssa” had been kicked out of her house several times by her drug-addicted mother. She bounced between her home and a few different group homes. Her mom told her she was worthless.

Alyssa was referred to Intermountain by her school’s counseling staff. She was a kid who was trying, but not succeeding. She was showing up for school, but she wasn’t thriving.

Watch the video below to find out “What’s next for Intermountain,” and how we have positioned our ministry for greater impact in Montana and beyond.

 

Sep 04

My Tears in His Bottle: prayers from the heart of a special needs’ mom

Pat Hays has written a devotional book that gives wonderful insight into the joys and struggles that parenting a child with emotional special needs presents. Her book, My Tears in His Bottle: prayers from the heart of a special needs’ mom, contains excerpts from her personal prayer journal as she worked through the last fifteen years of

My Tears in His Bottle, by Pat Hays

My Tears in His Bottle, by Pat Hays

balancing her calling to be an adoptive parent with the roadblocks she encountered in her neighborhood, friendships, school district, marriage, and church as she sought understanding, acceptance, and peace for her and her family.

As a chaplain at a residential facility working with children with special needs (kids on the spectrum, emotional disturbance, trauma recovery, etc.), Pat Hays’ story feel very familiar. Nearly every family I meet at intake says, “We were going to church until…” and then proceeds to tell a story about how they looked for comfort and healing in the church and they had a hard time making connections and feeling understood. Worn out from advocating for their children at school, in the neighborhood, with doctors and nurses, therapists, and many others that come into the lives of a special needs family, Pat Hays holds out hope that some pastors and some churches really to “get it” and want to support and uplift families of special needs children.

That’s why I am so enthusiastically supportive of this book! Honestly, it does what coaching and training in trauma-informed principles can’t do… it expresses the heart of a mother seeking to make sense of the parenting challenge God has given her. Only when that empathy is built can a community of faith make the leap from seeing special needs children as a challenge to endure to a blessing for the church.

I would love for churches, small groups, and individuals who have a “Pat Hays” in their life to read this book and meditate on the scriptures she pairs with her prayers. Pat masterfully walks the line between holding out the hope we have in Jesus Christ while embracing the reality that discipleship often means suffering, difficulty and the loss of what we envisioned for ourselves and our families.

There are no Hallmark card pithy platitudes within the pages of this book, and in embracing the grittiness needed for true Christian discipleship, it has the ability to provide the “comfort with which we ourselves have been comforted” (2 Cor. 1:3-5). It’s an amazing book and I couldn’t recommend it more highly!

If you are interested in My Tears in His Bottle, you can order the book through Amazon.com by clicking this LINK.

Aug 23

“Let the Little Children Come” – a message shared at Trailhead Christian Fellowship Church; Townsend, MT

The following message was delivered at Trailhead Christian Fellowship Church on 8/13/17.

I could tell I had settled into the role of Chaplain at Intermountain when the following diagnoses no longer startled me:

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder; Reactive Attachment Disorder of early childhood or infancy; Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder-Combined Type; Anxiety Disorder; Major Depressive Disorder, Recurrent; Neglect of Child; Sexual Abuse of Child; Asperger’s; Mood Disorder; Problem with Primary Support Group; Bipolar; and, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Quite a list, isn’t it? But, behind each of these labels is a child. Just as each of us would not desire to be known as any of the labels that apply to us and our “problems,” these children deserve to be known for something other than their present difficulties or their troubled past.

This is something I am mindful of as I work with the children on a weekly basis at Intermountain’s Residential Services in Helena. There is a unique balance that that I seek to achieve when communicating the truths of God’s Word through chapel services and activities. That balance is between my knowledge of our children’s past and present difficulties and the hope you want to cast for their future.

Emphasize the pain of the past too much, and you risk losing the beauty of the gospel to overcome every obstacle this world sets in our way.

Emphasize the promises of God and the “good news” too much and a traumatized child who is trapped in her shame is likely to either stuff their grief and loss and pretend everything is OK, or act out in a way so as to reject Jesus as someone that couldn’t possibly love her. The good news seems simply TOO good to believe.

In Montana, where 17% of our children have experienced three or more ACEs—adverse childhood experiences like the incarceration of a family member, a caregiver with a substance abuse problem or a mental health diagnosis, neglect, and so on—this is NOT an issue only for me, a chaplain at a residential treatment facility for severely emotionally disturbed children. We have around 220,000 children in Montana. 17% of 220,000 is 37,400. That’s roughly the size of Helena… 37,400 children that before age 18 have had to deal with multiple significant and major stressors in their lives, robbing them of their childhood innocence and wonder and thrusting them face first into the worst this world can conjure up. At any one time, I have 32 children I minister to. That’s our limit. Less than 1/10th of one percent of the children in Montana deeply affected by adversity. Let me ask you… where are the rest of these children?

That’s right… some might be in other facilities. But, the vast majority are just simply all around us… in our schools, in our neighborhood… in our churches. And… guess what!? All of these children grow up and become adults. And, they are still carrying the burdens of their childhood demons with them…

No, I suspect this dynamic is more at play in our churches with children and adults than we might realize. We have a significant population of children experiencing adversity, and adults trying to overcome past trauma and abuse. The cycle continues, and we’ve all been called to do something about it… and we can start with our children.

This Sunday, I want to focus our attention the gift children are to us. Children are close to the heart of God and a treasure to us in the church. The opportunity a church has to make a lasting impression on a child is profound.

Indeed, for most of us, our favorite memories of church can be associated with children, or are perhaps from our own childhood? The energy that children bring, while sometimes overwhelming, is also joyful and life-giving.

Children remind us of our legacy that we are leaving as a church, of the great privilege entrusted to us to lead and guide them in the faith. Children fill our imaginations with color and light and hope. Children embody the dreams we have for a better future.

My childhood, though far from ideal, was radically shaped by the positive influence of being a part of a faith community. A favorite image of mine from childhood is that of the children gathered around Jesus that was in the children’s Bible I received at my baptism in 1980. It’s a pretty popular image of Jesus and the children, and I am guessing you have seen it, or one very much like it. There is something very tender about the way Jesus cradles the face of the little girl in his hands as well as the nearness of the other children to the Savior. Children with Jesus

A large print of this picture still hangs outside the pastor’s office in the church of my youth… Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Puyallup, Washington. I know, because I was there a few months ago. It’s a beautiful picture and one that takes me back to my childhood.

There is, however, something amiss in this picture… at least for me and for what I know both about Jesus… AND the children he loves so dearly. Can you guess what I find troubling about the picture today?

In the picture everyone looks so clean… not just physically, but spiritually and emotionally as well. They don’t look like the sad, shameful, frightened, and angry children I see in my work. Nope. These kids are the cream of the crop… selected by some Heavenly talent agency for a special photo op with the Savior.

Certainly, Jesus would have no problem interacting with these children—they are so well behaved and attentive! Perhaps this is the scene you envision when you read from Luke’s gospel the following:

“People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’” (Luke 18:15-17, NIV)

How odd that the disciples would have rebuked the lovely children depicted in most pictures and rendering of this encounter… NO… there must have been some reason for the disciple’s rebuke beyond a miscalculation of their leader’s care for children! They had been with Jesus long enough to know that he often spent time and lavished attention on those who others overlooked.

Could it be that the children coming to Jesus were not in their “Sunday best,” but were perhaps a little disheveled and poorly behaved? Could you envision them pushing their way through to see Jesus, as eager to wrestle with him as they were to sit attentively and soak in his wisdom?
But there is something else that rubs me the wrong way about this story and how it is often portrayed in art…

In my twenty years of working with and speaking to children, I have yet to replicate this scene of Jesus with the children. I consider myself a pretty effective communicator with little ones, and still they squirm, would rather talk about their pet dog than the Bible lesson, pick their nose, lift up their pretty dresses… and all manner of things to embarrass their parents sitting in the pews.

And as I alluded to earlier, the children I have worked with rarely came as “clean” as these children in the picture appear. The children I have worked with in various church settings, and work with now at Intermountain, may have looked like children on the outside, but had dealt with some very “big person”-type and adult-like problems. Depression, ADHD, reactive-attachment disorder, mistrust as a result of physical or sexual abuse… all these are not uncommon.

Children who have been hurt in this way show it by their behaviors—behaviors that would disqualify them from that pristine photo op with the Savior. Can we blame the disciples from wanting to shield the Messiah from the messiness such children bring? Perhaps we can, because our hearts are full of compassion and longing to see all children come to know the One who can ultimately bring them peace, healing, and rest?!

However, I wonder if our attitude towards the big problems these little people face is not dissimilar to that of the disciples in the gospel account?

Maybe we don’t verbally rebuke these children, but what in our attitudes, expectations and ministry structure make it clear that ALL children may find a place on Jesus’ lap? Does the kingdom of God belong only to the well-behaved, easy to manage child? Are we trying to recreate the false images of the artists, where the clean and healthy children are greeted by Jesus, and those who don’t fit the mold find it difficult to fit in with us? I wonder…

This is a hard teaching, but one worth challenging ourselves with: What does it say of our understanding of God’s kingdom if we’d rather work with the well-groomed, well-adjusted, well-behaved child and turn away those that have been hurt by the darkness of this world and are struggling to overcome it?

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them…” Jesus said.
But what of their hurt, their anger, their aggression, their sadness? It’s all so… messy. Not to mention, difficult.

“The kingdom of God belongs to such as these…” Jesus said.

Indeed. If not this child—any of the children I work with each day at Intermountain, and those children hurting and in the shadows of your own community—if not these children, than who among us may come?

Aug 10

First Presbyterian Church – Butte, Montana comes to campus to provide VBS Day Camp

This week, Intermountain hosted a dozen volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Butte, Montana and ministry interns from Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. Missy Henry, although “great with child,” did a great job organizing the volunteers and setting up the week to be successful.

The group came and shared a modified version of the VBS curriculum by Group called “Cave Quest,” complete with games, music, special art projects and engaging Bible lessons. An action grant from Thrivent Financial enabled Chaplain Chris to purchase t-shirts for the kids that carried a major theme for the week: “Plug into God!”

The t-shirts for VBS Day Camp 2017: "Plug into God!"

The t-shirts for VBS Day Camp 2017: “Plug into God!”

In addition to the VBS Day Camp, other helpers made themselves useful around campus. Under the leadership and direction of Toni Robison, another group of amazing volunteers did a remarkable job sorting donations in Intermountain’s “Treasure Chest.” Shelves were organized and piles of donated clothing was sorted through and put on hangers to be displayed for the children that come to the Treasure Chest to “shop” for clothing and shoes as needed.

Volunteer Maddy Hash said the best part of volunteering was “Being able to spend time with the kids and teach them about God… I wish it had been a whole week, not just 3 days!”

Sheryl Mayo, who led the “Imagination Station” part of the activity rotation, shared that while it was hard “having an understanding of the difficulties faced by the children,” she was encouraged by “their faith and understanding.”

There were plenty of opportunities to learn about how to do ministry with a group of children who have significant trauma-related issues. For instance, Whitworth student Luke Ekstrom reflected that it was hard to discern on day one what games would be appropriate to play and that by day three he had a much better sense of what may or may not be appropriate. Luke stated, “I feel like this VBS was successful over all and I loved being a part of it!”

Butte First Presbyterian pastor Lanny Rounds kept his comments at the end of the week brief and to the point, asking: “Can we come back?”

Every year around the second week of August, we invite a guest group from one of our many ministry partners to come to campus and host our VBS Day Camp program. Perhaps your church or youth group would like to consider bringing the program in 2018? If so, it’s never too early to let Chaplain Chris know!

Here are a few pictures from the week:

IMG_0642 IMG_0640 IMG_0646 IMG_0647 IMG_0649

Aug 01

Prayer requests from our children

3-birds-with scripture

some artwork from our children

For our last chapel gathering in July, we covered the BIG question: “How do I communicate with God?” The children were engrossed in the retelling of the story of Gideon, and how God called and worked with the reluctant hero of faith. God called Gideon a “Mighty Warrior” while he was still a meek and timid guy hiding from the bullies of his day, the Midianites. We talked about how Jesus taught us to pray by calling God our father, and that as God’s children, he wants to give us what is best. We even reviewed the Intermountain Children’s version of the Lord’s Prayer from our lessons last fall.

At the conclusion of our time together, I solicited prayer requests from the children. Without breaking confidences, here are some of the requests I received. Would you pray for our children and join them as they lift these requests to God?

  • I would like more books, and more happiness and to feel more special.
  • Pray for me to get done with treatment and to have a family.
  • I would like a toy car.
  • Pray for a family member who had surgery, and pray for me. Thank you.
  • I want to go home.
  • Pray for my brother’s asthma and for my grandma to stay alive.
  • Pray that I will someday see my birthparents.

sunflower-butterflyIMG_0585

 

Jul 16

Building something of worth: work on Van Orsdel Commons has begun!

It’s an exciting time in ministry at Intermountain. It’s been fifty years since there was a dedicated chapel space for the children in residential care at Helena’s Lamborn campus. In fact, the last place dedicated for worship and learning about God was the Helen Piper memorial chapel in Mills Hall, which once stood on 11th Avenue across from the Capital Mall. The Lamborn campus, in use since the early 1970s, has not made provision for this important aspect of

Intermountain children receive communion in Helen Piper Memorial chapel, Mills Hall (undated)

Intermountain children receive communion in Helen Piper Memorial chapel, Mills Hall (undated)

the children’s care until now.

Coupled with hundreds of donor gifts both large and small, grants from local and statewide agencies have made it possible for construction to begin this month on Van Orsdel Commons. Named for Intermountain’s founder, Brother William Wesley Van Orsdel, and incorporating design elements that will honor the historical contribution of the Methodist Deaconesses, the Commons will serve as a place of worship, rest, and spiritual comfort for children, families and staff.

It’s my hope that it will be like a student commons on a university campus or the living room space in a family home. It is important to all of us at Intermountain that the design of this new space on campus be welcoming to all and perfect for everything from tea parties and movie gatherings to cultural education and much more. We envision the Van Orsdel Commons to serve many more purposes than to simply provide a space for worship and chapel activities and we hope to welcome our community supporters into the space very soon.

“The design process has been uplifting as we have been able to see the unbounded passion and desire of the Chaplain and staff,” Tim Meldrum, of SMA Architects, reflected. “The spaces need to be flexible, durable and inspirational all at the same time.  Renovations always add an extra challenge to the ultimate success of the final design, however, design solutions for a gathering and learning place like this are especially realized when occupied by such special staff, focused administration and imaginative youth.”

Adam Senechal and Golden Eagle Construction will be responsible for executing this vision and building Van Orsdel Commons throughout the summer. “This project is special to us as we help bring the vision to life that many people have worked so hard to create. The opportunity to construct the Van Orsdel Commons is greatly rewarding and we know this building will serve the children and families of Intermountain for generations to come.” This concept of building something of worth and lasting is a theme familiar to many religious traditions.

Perhaps it is because the founder of Christianity was the son of a carpenter as well as the Son of God that we are left with a number of lessons from Jesus about building something that lasts. For instance, Jesus once told a story about two builders—one wise and the other foolish. The foolish builder built on the sand, on something shifting and changing day-to-day. The wise builder made sure what was built by his crew was firmly founded on the rock. When the rains and storms came, Jesus said, it is the house built on the rock that will stand while the one built on the sand will come crashing down.

The spiritual meaning is as true as the practical application. Van Orsdel Commons will be built on a very firm foundation—in fact, making sure this was so was part of what has delayed the project to this point! Moreover, the foundation Intermountain and its donors will provide for families and children by ensuring there is a place for sharing the unconditional love of God and God’s guidance for right relationships through love of God, self, and others—this firm foundation will continue to set the work of Intermountain apart from others called to address the needs of hurting children and their complex psychological, emotional, and relational needs. Making this investment in our children is certainly building something of worth that will stand the metaphorical rain and storms that will come.

So today, would you lift a prayer of thanksgiving for this new and exciting time in Intermountain’s ministry? Pray for a safe and efficient building process as SMA, Golden Eagle, and Intermountain work toward a finished project. Finally, pray for all the children, families, and staff that will be blessed by the ministry that occurs within Van Orsdel Commons for years to come.

Blessings,

Chaplain Chris Haughee

 

Here are pictures of where constructions stands as of early July, 2017:

new footings and supports have gone up in the basement

new footings and supports have gone up in the basement

view looking north

view looking north

view looking south

view looking south

view from interior of chaplain's office

view from interior of chaplain’s office

view looking north in café/study lounge area (half-framed wall depicts where the "soda counter" will be)

view looking north in café/study lounge area (half-framed wall depicts where the “soda counter” will be)

initial rendering of exterior redesign

initial rendering of exterior redesign

"building on a firm foundation!" detail for the support needed for the main floor, new footings in basement

“building on a firm foundation!” detail for the support needed for the main floor, new footings in basement

blueprint of main floor

blueprint of main floor

Jun 21

Beloved Jewish Educator Janet Tatz retires from Intermountain

Edie Kort and Jim Nallick, new Jewish Mentors and educators, pose for a picture with Chaplain Chris and Janet Tatz.

Edie Kort and Jim Nallick, new Jewish Mentors and educators, pose for a picture with Chaplain Chris and Janet Tatz.

This week Intermountain’s Jewish Mentor and educator, Janet Tatz, retires from nearly a decade in supporting Jewish children in residential treatment. For the last five years, I have had the pleasure of working alongside her to ensure that every child on Helena’s campus has the spiritual and cultural support needed to do the hard work of treatment while growing in their understanding of God’s unconditional love and acceptance.

Janet has taught me a great deal about humility and grace, and has become a friend as well as a colleague. It has been a joy to work alongside her and model understanding and acceptance between the Jewish and Christian faiths for our children, their families, and our staff. Our ability to work together has strengthened the Chaplain’s Program and Intermountain’s Residential services. Janet has always gone “above and beyond” her part-time status and done whatever was needed to build relationships with the Jewish families served by Intermountain. It can be most clearly seen in the response she gets from the children and families she serves.

At last week’s Recognition Day celebration, the guest Intermountain alumni speaker was able to attest to the role Janet played in his journey to healing and wholeness, both spiritually and relationally. He spoke to the “happy and much more flexible place” he’s in now as a result of “time with Janet,” who he explained was not only his Jewish educator, but also “kind of like my

Janet receives a certificate in recognition of her efforts in establishing a strong Jewish Education program over the last 10 years

Janet receives a certificate in recognition of her efforts in establishing a strong Jewish Education program over the last 10 years

grandmother!”

He continued, saying, “I really valued my special time with Janet Tatz, the Jewish Educator. She taught me a lot more about my culture and how to incorporate being Jewish into modern living. I told her what was happening in my life and she listened to me. She showed me a lot more of Montana and took me to Jewish rituals off campus. She meant and still means a lot to me!”

While Janet is retiring from Intermountain’s employment, she still plans to be around and help volunteer to support the transition to our new Jewish Educator, Jim Nallick. Additionally, Intermountain has hired a substitute teacher who will also serve as a female Jewish mentor on campus, Edith Kort.

If you’d like to congratulate Janet on her retirement, you may send your message care of Intermountain, 500 S. Lamborn Street, Helena MT 59601.

 

Jun 12

The foster care system, trauma and resilience

Chaplain Chris Haughee participates in a panel discussion on trauma and resilience in the foster care system

Chaplain Chris Haughee participates in a panel discussion on trauma and resilience in the foster care system hosted by Imago Dei, Portland

Trauma often does its greatest harm when it occurs during the impressionable stages of our youth. Losing one’s parents, moving from different schools, living in an unstable environment – all of these are issues that can break into a child’s world and cause difficulties well into adulthood.

What can we do? What has research shown to be the current best practices? What is the science behind this aspect of foster care, and how does it relate to our faith?

Chaplain Chris was honored to be a part of a panel to address these questions. The purpose of this discussion hosted by Imago Dei in Portland, Oregon, was to inform and hopefully encourage discussion for those who are already part of the foster care system and want to learn more, as well as churches and communities seeking to build greater networks of support and communication.

Dr. Robert Potter introduces the panel discussion by speaking to the impact of trauma on moral development, in particular with children. The trauma experienced by children in the foster care system can greatly impact their moral reasoning and behaviors. When approached by the challenges the world presents, a moral response asks: “What’s going on here, what ought we to care about, and what should we do about it?” In regards parenting a child who has been traumatized, the different perspectives of parent and child as to “what is really going on?” and “what is the most important thing to care about?” will definitely affect what should be done in response.

Panelists include: Dr. Robert Potter (M.D., Ph.D.) former chair of bio-ethics at Oregon Health and Sciences University; Reverend Doctor Chris Haughee (Evangelical Covenant Church, chaplain of Intermountain Residential in Helena, Montana); Mike Pinkerton (part of the foster care system at Imago Dei PDX Church), and two mothers of beautiful foster children who share a part of their story and experience, Jillana Goble and Kat Bonham (i.e. the true experts!). The panel was moderated by Dr. Paul Louis Metzger, the director of New Wine, New Wineskins (Ph.D., King’s College, London).

May 26

Observing Memorial Day

flag-memorial-dayMemorial Day, originally known as “decoration day” began on the 5th of May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order No. 11 which said:

“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.”

It was first observed on 30 May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.

In more recent observance, the Memorial Day weekend tends to be more about a day off to BBQ and play than recognizing the sacrifices of our war dead. Certainly, the children in residence look forward to a day off from school and staff and children alike know that summer is just around the corner. Summer’s activities include hiking, fishing, and camping trips in the beauty of God’s creation… so, it is easy to see why this focus has captured most hearts and minds.

Is our Memorial Day celebration more about "fun in the sun" than it is remembering the sacrificial love of others?

Can our Memorial Day celebration be more than just “fun in the sun” as we remember the sacrificial love of others?

Still, it would be my hope that we could recall the words of Jesus, when alluding to his own sacrifice, he taught his followers saying: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Whether literally taken, as in the instance of those we remember on Memorial Day, or the figurative “laying down” of one’s life for the benefit and good of another, there is room amidst all the fun in the warm (nearly) summer weather to give thanks for those that love so sacrificially.

Blessings to you, Intermountain’s faithful supporters, for the sacrifices you have made to improve the lives of the children and families in our care.

Chaplain Chris Haughee

May 10

Punishment… or the grace of God? a story from chapel service

Maybe you are familiar with the story of Cain and Abel?

It’s hard to think of a Bible story that has more potential triggers for retraumatization or difficult feelings for children from hard places and circumstances than this story of jealousy, murder, and judgment!

As the story goes, the first family is living out its existence after mom and dad (Eve and Adam) have been kicked out of the Garden of Eden. The family is small… just two sons at this point: Cain and Abel. Abel tends flocks while Cain works the soil.

When it comes time to thank God for the fruit of their labors, Cain gives some of his crop, while Abel provides a “first-fruit”: the best cuts of meat from the firstborn of his flock. God is pleased with Abel’s gift, but not Cain’s. Cain gets jealous, burns with anger toward his little brother, and eventually leads him out into the fields and kills him.

God addresses Cain and asks about Abel, to which Cain replies infamously: “How should I know? Am I my brother’s keeper?” Cain has not only murdered his brother, but now he’s trying to lie to God about it!

As a result, God “punishes” Cain by driving him away from his fields and family and he must make his way from now on by being a hunter and gatherer.

Not the most “trauma sensitive” story to tell to children 6-13 who have experienced their fair share of difficulty in their lives… or so I thought at first. But, putting this story through the lens of “trauma-informed ministry,” I believe I unearthed a truth that deepened my faith and allowed the children and staff to connect to God and this story in a new way. I’ll explain in just a bit. First, a word about retraumatization.

a child draws a picture of a traumatic event

a child draws a picture of a traumatic event

Retraumatization happens when a person is “triggered” by something or someone in their environment that takes them back to a previous experience of trauma. It is not merely reminding them of the trauma, they physically re-experience their trauma as if it were happening again–right at that moment. It happens as much to children and youth who have experienced adversity in childhood (ACEs) as it does to combat veterans. It’s not an uncommon experience among the clientele that Intermountain works with. So… why this talk of retraumatization?

Well, it’s my conviction that God is “trauma-informed,” and what I had seen for over four decades as God’s punishment of Cain was actually an act of mercy! Here’s how I explained it to the children in chapel…

I asked all those who had ever done something really bad or had something really bad happen to them in a certain place to raise their hand if it was hard for them to return to that place because it made them relive the experience in their minds and hearts?

     EVERY HAND WENT UP… even those of our staff.

Then, I asked the children to put themselves in Cain’s position. He’s done something that

would you like to be known by others as the worst version of yourself?

would you like to be known by others as the worst version of yourself?

he is ashamed of. It’s so bad, he thinks he can hide it from God… hide it from himself. But, day after day he’d try and carry on working the field and doing what he knows how to do–plant and grow crops. All the while, he is working the same ground he buried his brother in! God points this out and shows Cain what he is doing is going to keep retraumatizing him: “You brother’s blood cries out from the ground!” Can you imagine a worse punishment than being forced to stay in that place for the rest of his life? Can you imagine God “rubbing his nose” in it by making Cain continue his life as a farmer?

So, what I saw (and had been taught to see!) as punishment was God’s grace… God forced Cain to leave what was familiar to lead a new life. He had to leave the fields in which he buried his brother and learn new skills and a new way of life.

It bears repeating, because it is at odds with our nature and how we often view God… God wasn’t punishing him, but instead giving Cain a chance to redefine himself as something other than a farmer who had murdered his brother!

Horrible things happen every day. Bad things happen to us and we have, perhaps, done our fair share of bad things. God’s grace means we don’t have to stay stuck there. We should stop retraumatizing ourselves by reliving our worst moments. None of us deserves to be known as the worst version of ourselves, and that is CERTAINLY not what God sees when he looks at us. God sees a son or daughter he desperately loves.

It was a message I needed to hear as much as our children. Perhaps you needed to hear it, too?

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