May 20

New Horizons back again for Spring Concert in chapel

Nancy-conductingNancy Trudell, Intermountain Board member, coordinated with Chaplain Chris to once again bring the New Horizons Community Band to a Tuesday chapel time in May.  The band has visited campus a number of times before, each time bringing energy and enthusiasm to their music and their interaction with kids and staff.

The band is made up of 52 community members, from a variety of backgrounds, ages and experience who enjoy playing together.  This most recent visit to campus was especially fun, because the program consisted of music from Star Wars, which is VERY popular with our children in residence. They also played a medley of Disney songs featuring tunes from a Jungle Book to The Little Mermaid. The closing piece was the theme to Pirates of the Caribbean, and Nancy herself conducted while wearing a pirate’s hat and wig!

Chaplain Chris billed the Spring Concert as a special visit from New Horizons, complete with “instrument petting zoo!” It was fun to hear from the children what they expected the “petting zoo” to be. Though no animals were involved, all of the children’s eyes lit up when they learned that they would get a chance to play trumpets, child-plays-saxpercussion, trombones, and other instruments. It was entertaining to watch one of our littlest girls on campus play a Baritone Saxophone that was as tall as she was… and she was delighted when the band members moved the keys and she played a few notes!

The children enjoy the relationships they have built with the band members by this point, some of them having seen the band a few times during their treatment now. And, of course the band members love the interaction with the children. You can see from the smile in the picture to the right just how much fun we have amidst all the noise!

Chaplain Chris was asked by one of the kids during the introduction time: “What does music have to do with chapel and God?” Chaplain Chris’ response, “Well, who do you suppose invented music and puts the songs in the hearts and minds of the composers? I think God smiles when he sees you try something new, play and instrument you have never seen before, and feel good about it… don’t you?” And, to that, all in attendance agreed and said a hearty amen!

May 16

“We shall be holy” Reflection by Janet Tatz, Jewish Educator

This week’s Torah portion is entitled, “K’Doshim,” which means “to be holy” or holiness. It can be found in Leviticus 19:1-20:27. The parsha or Torah portion begins with the words: k’doshim tihihu, tihihu being the plural form of “you.” G-d spoke to Moses saying, “Tell all of the people that they should be Holy, as I am holy.” What an awesome and challenging message! Each of us, individually and as a whole have been tasked by G-d to live out our days in holy community with each other. Not just the priests or the leaders but each and every one of us. No small task.Janet-Tatz-2015

As you can imagine, the sages of old as well as modern commentators, have wrestled with these words since time immemorial. Does holiness require us to live apart/separate from the material world, as some would argue, or are we tasked to bring holiness into the give and take of everyday Life? Most would argue the latter, I believe.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” How simple yet profound are these words. Holiness is found in community. As the Rabbinic scholar, Hillel, said, “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others.” It is not enough to just care intensely for your own kind. We must stretch ourselves to love those not like us; to recognize the holy in each individual.

Holiness comes not just through ritual acts or sacred study, but in the ways that we relate to one another. It extends beyond the walls that keep us within our own comfort zones or familiar spheres. We are commanded to not just see the stranger but to turn that stranger into someone with whom we can share community.

For some, the words holy and holiness may connote a sense of mystery, something beyond which we can truly comprehend or participate in. However, within the last half of the book of Leviticus, which is entitled the “Holiness Code,” it is clearly spelled out how each of us can live a more holy life, in community with others: revere our parents, keep the Sabbath, do not turn to idols, take care of the poor, do not steal or lie, or profane G-d’s name. There are also prohibitions about defrauding others, abusing those with disabilities and treating strangers badly.

Each and every interaction in our everyday lives affords us the opportunity to “Be like G-d,” to be holy, just and stretch ourselves beyond what is known and familiar. We can all strive to treat others with kindness and compassion, with justice and fairness with respect and dignity. These are all human acts of holiness through which we can resemble and imitate, in some small measure, the Divine.

As we go about our ordinary lives, we are commanded to “bring heaven down to earth,” to honor both the separateness and sacredness of each person we encounter. We are all strangers in a strange land. Opening ourselves up to know and understand “the other” can lead to self awareness as well as a sense of peace of mind.

Ultimately, to be holy means to see and respect the holiness that surrounds us, to recognize the beauty and wonder in each day; to reach beyond ourselves; to act as a partner with G-d and each other to make this world a better place for all.

Coincidentally, as I am writing these words, I am well aware that today marks the 54th anniversary of my bat mitzvah, the ritual ceremony of becoming a “daughter of the commandments”. How much I have grown and learned since that time, now so long ago that it is but a faded memory. How much more I still need to learn! I am grateful for all the faith-based, ecumenical and interfaith opportunities living in Helena has afforded me. I strive to live with “eyes wide open”. Earlier, when I mentioned that the great sage Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others”, I neglected to mention the rest of the story. It goes as follows: A man had come before Hillel, tongue somewhat in cheek, asking to be taught the entire Torah while standing on one foot. While others scoffed at the man, Hillel responded with his now famous words but did not stop there. He went on to say, “The rest is commentary. Now go study”.

Life is a journey. We are all on a path. Let us strive to live our Lives with grace, respect, understanding and holiness. May learning never end and hope reign eternal.

NOTE: This article appeared in the print version of the Helena Independent Record on May 14, 2016. Online version available here.

May 06

What a Mother Means to a Child: Mother’s Day Sermon 2016

[note: this sermon was prepared and delivered by Chaplain Chris Haughee for worship at Chester United Methodist Church in Chester, Montana on May 8, 2016]

What a Mother Means from Intermountain on Vimeo.


It’s Mother’s Day, and I hope yours in a happy one. But, my life experience and ministry setting at Intermountain tells me that for many, the words “Happy Mother’s Day” ring hollow. This morning I hope to give you insight into how important mothers are, how Jesus interacted with a concerned mother in the midst of his ministry, and what a partnership with Intermountain’s ministry might do in terms of framing our thoughts on motherhood and parenting.

Let’s pray…

Lord, as we come to your Word this morning, enlighten our hearts to your deep, deep love for us. No matter what has gone on before this moment, and what follows, help us hold on to this truth: you love us, you care for us, and you want us to read your Word to us as if it were a love letter… a word of praise and encouragement from a proud Community of Hopemother, a glowing parent. No matter the example set before us in our earthly parents, or the struggle we ourselves may feel or have felt as parents… none of that changes the fact that you are a loving father, a kind and gentle mother to us. This day and always. Amen.

In PROVERBS 22:6, we are given some clear advice, advice my mother heeded: ‘Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.’

We usually think about this in terms of discipline and general child rearing, but scientific research and attachment theory, the basis for much of Intermountain’s developmental-relational approach to intervention with emotional disturbance, shows us a much broader perspective. For instance, the root of empathy that ability to distinguish between my needs and your need and then to enter into your need emotionally and care for someone outside myself, well, that all starts with the relationship between mother and child.

A mother and her baby are biologically wired to mirror one another in empathetic responses. The cycle of distress, communication of that distress, the meeting of the need, and the alleviation of distress builds the neural pathways that enable proper self-regulation of stress later in life. This “training in the way a child should go,” if you will, prepares the child for emotional and relational stability for the rest of their lives.

What happens when this wiring doesn’t take place or is done inadequately in childhood? Well, it produces many of the difficulties we see for the children we serve through Intermountain’s residential and out-patient clinical services. Remember that phrase I used “developmental-relational?” That’s Intermountain’s approach because it works… it’s built on the truth of God’s Word: if something didn’t occur relationally at a key point of development, then you are going to have to somehow recreate and reteach the lessons from that developmental stage within the context of relationship in order to heal the hurt or damage done.

That’s why you’ll see 100 pound adolescents being coddled and rocked like 10 pound babies in our intensive residential program. It’s not because Intermountain loves running through and breaking down heavy duty Lay-Z-Boy recliners! It’s because we’re going back to Proverbs 22:6… supplementing whatever mother love might have been lacking for that child in those early years as best we can to help those children manage the rest of their lives as best they can.

The maternal role is indispensable. We see it throughout scripture. For instance, in 2 TIMOTHY 1:5, Paul reminds us of the maternal influence in Timothy’s life: ‘I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois, and in your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded, now lives in you also.’

Timothy had sincere faith, and he had that faith because of his grandmother and mother. Surely a mother helps form our spirit, and if she is a godly mother, she will be the first introduction we have to our Lord. If we felt like God loved us, if we could sense that divine Other as an empathetic person willing and able to take our burdens and love us in spite of ourselves, the seeds for that trust and relationship started-as I mentioned earlier—with what we learned from our mother. Perhaps it was mom who taught you your first prayers, who echoed the Sunday morning lessons from worship to you throughout the week? I know that in my life, the Savior’s voice first sounded a great deal like my mother’s! Mothers are also great advocates their children, no matter how old their children may get. This is as true now as it was in Jesus’ day. Consider our gospel passage for today from Matthew, chapter 20.

Mrs. Zebedee was the mother of James and John, and like any mother, she wanted only the very best for her sons. Jesus told a story about a landowner, who hired some helpers, and no matter how long they worked for him, they all got paid the same wages (Matthew 20:1-16). This may have caused Mrs. Zebedee to worry about what kind of reward her sons were going to get in Heaven, so she found a time to ask Jesus about it.

In MATTHEW 20:20-23 we read, ‘Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons [James and John] came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of Him. “What is it you want?” He asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at Your right and the other at Your left in Your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from My cup, but to sit at My right or left is not for Me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by My Father.”

Mrs. Zebedee was certain that when the Lord instituted His kingdom, her boys would have positions of responsibility and authority. After all, it’s natural to reward the best worker with the highest reward. Mrs. Zebedee was advocating for her hard working and dedicated boys! Interestingly, while Jesus did not grant her request, He did not deny it. He simply reminded her of the cost of being seated on the right or left, and then told her that only the Father knows such things. As an advocate for her boys James and John, the first thing we will see is she prayed for her sons to be… PART OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD.

When it comes to motivation, Mrs. Zebedee was a good mother. She wanted her children to be a part of God’s Kingdom. Motherhood requires motivation. Even when everything is stacked in your favor, motherhood is a vexing, beautiful, frustrating, exhilarating job. And, a mother’s frustration often comes from having such a strong motivation to raise her children well, to honor God, and to have a sense that they are successful and happy.

If your mother was wired like my mother, that motivation coupled with a desire for perfection often led to frustration. Certainly, my mother wasn’t the only one to get frustrated with her children… Amen? Failures in communication often led to her frustration with me; I’m sure the mothers here can think of times when communication broke down and frustration prevailed.

Maybe you’ve heard the story about the man who was watching his small children so his wife could get out of the house and relax for the day. The man’s infant daughter was lying on the couch and his son was sitting next to her. The dad went into the kitchen for a second and told his little boy to watch his sister.

He had not been gone for more than 20 seconds when he heard a thump and then the daughter started to wail. He ran back in the living room to see the daughter had rolled off the couch onto the floor and the son still sitting on the couch, just looking at her. As he picked up his daughter, he scolded his son, “I thought I told you to watch her!”

The boy replied, “I did! I watched her roll off the couch and fall on the floor!”

Well, at least he followed directions, didn’t he? Direction is an important gift that a mother can give her children. Indeed, what good have we done in teaching our children how to be successful in life if we have neglected their spiritual direction? How prepared for life are they if they do not fully embrace the author of life, our heavenly Father? I think Jesus said it best in MATTHEW 16:26: ‘What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”

I think Mrs. Zebedee carried her responsibilities well. She prayed that her sons would be a part of God’s Heavenly kingdom. I think all parents should pray the same prayer for their children – and we should do this for our children no matter what their age is. I hope that in the heart of every mother and father here this morning, there is a burden to go before the throne of God in prayer for your children – to pray they will be saved, saved from sin and its consequences, and saved for eternal life. And, if you would consider it, I ask that you would extend that paternal and maternal instinct to the children Intermountain serves… pray for them as well. I believe we have provided prayer cards for you to serve as a reminder to do just that.

Yes, as part of her maternal advocacy, Mrs. Zebedee prayed that her sons would be a part of God’s kingdom, and she prayed that they would be … INVOLVED IN THE WORK OF GOD’S KINGDOM. We must remember that we are all called and saved, not merely for our own benefit, but to be of service to the Lord. That service begins in the home. It should begin with moms and dads in prayer, and then including the children in those prayers, too. It starts with parents setting the Godly example of how to live and how to serve the Lord.

It continues when parents pray that their sons and daughters might be involved in the work of the kingdom, and then encourage them in that work! Mrs. Zebedee prayed that her children would be actively involved in the work of His kingdom. And, as parents and grandparents today, we need to walk in her footsteps. We need to follow her example in… HAVING GODLY EXPECTATIONS FOR OUR CHILDREN. Mrs. Zebedee had big expectations for her children; why can’t we? She didn’t just pray that her children would be humble doorkeepers in God’s Kingdom. She wanted them to sit on thrones, on either side of Jesus.

Too often, we have a tendency to settle for mediocrity in our lives and in the church. Too often, when coming into God’s Kingdom, we settle for aiming just about two feet inside the door… close enough to feel safe, but not far enough in that anything might be demanded of us. Maybe we are afraid we don’t have what it takes? Maybe the demands of discipleship seem too hard and left to someone more spiritual, more virtuous?

Nonsense. Totally rubbish. The work of the Kingdom is the work of relationships. If you invest in a relationship, if you pray for that relationship, if you give any time and energy to it… you are working with the basic building blocks of the Kingdom. Jesus is using you and can use you in even greater ways with just a little bit of intentionality. Don’t sell yourself short, and don’t sell these kids at Intermountain short either! They have the opportunity to be amazing Kingdom contributors. There is a lot of hurt in this world, and no one knows how to comfort the hurting like those who have been hurt themselves. Amen?

This is Mother’s Day. In EXODUS 20:12, we are given a commandment. ‘Honor you father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.’ It says to honor your mother. Together, we need to esteem motherhood, the maternal role in shaping human character, and all the potential it has to bring healing to hurting children. You might be thinking that your mother doesn’t deserve to be honored. Maybe she was not a good mother… abusive, distant, or judgmental. I won’t dismiss that possibility, and even if she was a good mother, as a member of the sinful race of man, it is a given that she failed you in some respect.

We’d do well to consider however, the commandment from God doesn’t say anything about your mother’s qualifications to be honored, it just says you are to honor her. This is a day in which we are to honor our Mothers. We do not need to put parameters on that, even if it is difficult. We can simply follow our Lord’s directions and leave the results up to God. One result might be a growing forgiveness and healing in our relationships with a mother who was not all we needed her to be. It may be that we forgive ourselves for any failings we feel in the mother-child relationship? Sometimes forgiving ourselves is the hardest part.

If you have been raised by a godly mother, or if you are a mother raising your kids in a godly way, our hats are off to you this morning, and we want you to know you are truly loved and respected. But, if you have been raised without that godly influence, if a loving hand from a godly mother was denied you and you feel that your life been difficult as a result, let me encourage you to recognize that there is another hand reaching out to you. It is God’s hand, and He is telling you that He loves you and that you can depend on Him. He is saying He will go with you – no matter where that is.

Maybe it needs to be for you like it is for many of Intermountain’s children, a journey back to where some developmental building blocks were missed, where relationship broke down. It’s daunting and scary work at times, dredging up some very strong emotion. But you can do it… you can do it with God’s help. In ISAIAH 41:10, God gives us a promise. ‘Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ How We See Jesus

Someone has already gone through anything you may face or have faced. As a matter of fact, He went through it for you; so you would be able to live forever. And He is extending His hand out to you once again, this morning, hoping that you would just trust Him enough to take it; to trust Him enough to let Him lead you through not only the pain of your past, but also into the somewhat fearful but hope-filled days ahead.

Let’s pray to close…


(c) Chaplain Chris Haughee, 2016


May 03

What is the ACE study and does it matter in your ministry?

What is the ACE study and why does it matter in ministry? As to what the ACE Study is, I will let the video do the talking, for the most part. ACEs are “Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Adversity in childhood is much more common than we might care to recognize at first, and it crosses social economic divisions. It’s a silent epidemic, and possibly the greatest public health crisis facing our country. Jesus, the one who came to “bring life and bring it to the full,” would be concerned with ACEs (see John 10:10).

What does this study tell us? If you have a congregation of 5 people, statistically you have one survivor of childhood sexual abuse. If your congregation is 50, then 10. 250 members? Then 50 have experienced some sort of unwanted, potentially traumatic sexual contact by someone in childhood. Extrapolate the rest of the ACE study findings over your congregation, and you’ll see just why it matters in ministry. There is a great need to be sensitive to the traumas your church members may have experienced, and building some greater awareness in your church just may be the place to start.

I would encourage you to connect with those in your congregation that are working in fields where the discussion of ACEs has been going on for some time. Check out Intermountain’s sister organization, ChildWise, and all the wonderful trainings they are doing. Or, if you missed it on this site, revisit the article “What does it mean for a ministry to be trauma-informed?” and work through the application questions together as a church or leadership team.

There is a great movement towards showing compassion and care to children who have been deeply affected by adversity in childhood. It is my conviction that our churches should be a part of that movement, as they can certainly bring a lot “to the table” in terms of expressions of love, healing, and wholeness! I hope the video and this brief discussion interests many of you to start the discussion in your church and community: What is the ACE Study and why does it matter in ministry?


Infographic created to share information about what adverse childhood experiences are, how prevalent they are and their impact.

Infographic created to explain what adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are, how prevalent they are and their impact.

Apr 27

A story from chapel: from walls that protect us to walls that keep us imprisoned

Recently, we did an object lesson called “the Wall” in chapel. We talked about how bad things happen in this world despite having a loving God that looks over us. We make bad choices at times that hurt us, and others make bad choices at times that hurt us. In general, there is a lot of heartache and brokenness around us that causes a lot of hurt and a lot of people to want to hurt others. So, I told the children, we learn how to protect ourselves. Just like castles walls or the strong walls of our cottages on campus, we build walls around our hearts. While we still feel hurt from time to time, by building a wall and keeping people out of our hearts and away from how we are really feeling, we stay safe. We survive.

The children each wrote down something on their "brick" in the wall that they felt was keeping them from having a better relationship with God and others

The children each wrote down something on their “brick” in the wall that they felt was keeping them from having a better relationship with God and others

Then, I told the children, something happens. We find someone that we want to let into our hearts. They show us love and care and grace in ways we hadn’t experienced from others. But, you know what the problem is? [The children instinctively knew, because this has been their experience!] The walls we used to protect us from bad things getting in and hurting our hearts more also keep good things out. We can’t let our parents, or our teachers, or our friends, or our counselors… whoever it might be… into our hearts to see them as they really are: hurting, broken, but desperately wanting love and acceptance.

So, we might get frustrated that the wall keeps them out, and they might get frustrated too, because they see our need and want to meet it, but can’t ever get in. So, maybe it all turns out awful. Maybe that person we want to let in gets so fed up being on the other side of the wall that they leave… and we hurt again and tell ourselves: “Well, that was dumb of me! I just thought about taking my wall–my defenses–down, and look what it got me. Nothing but more hurt and pain.” So, we build another layer to the wall… we make it thicker and stronger.

This seems like a real story, doesn’t it? Maybe this is your story? But, as I told the children, there is another story, that if considered, just might make all the difference. That story is the story of God’s love shown to us through Jesus. Jesus came to show us a better way. It was so important to him that we understand God’s love that he was willing to be put to death by the angry people that couldn’t accept what he was saying about God! And, miracle of all miracles, Jesus rose from the grave on Easter morning, giving us hope that nothing ever has to separate us from God’s love.

Consider what the Jesus follower named Paul, who once had a REALLY big wall up between himself and others, wrote about the love of God he had come to understand and experience:

“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? …Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins…
I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. [Romans 8:32-39, The Message]

But, what about that wall? If nothing can separate us from God’s love… that wall is going to have to come down. We can start by letting Jesus in, and together, working with God to remove the wall brick by brick until we can let others in, too. We built the wall, but it’s too strong for us to tear down on our own. We need help. We need God’s help. And, God wants to help us, but we have to ask him.

By this time many children were nodding their heads. This made sense. They understood the walls they had placed in the way for God and others to come in and bring healing to their heavy and hurting hearts.

We closed our time by writing things down on our “bricks” [wooden blocks, really] and building a wall. Here is what a few of the children wrote:

“Lord, help me talk about my feelings.”

“Trusting people who want to help me physically and emotionally.”


“Very stubborn. Chose not to share feelings and not communicate.”

“I really feel sad all day.”


Once our wall was built, we said a prayer, and pushed the wall over together. Please, if you are reading this, take the time to pray for our children:

“Lord, help those children who–in order to survive–have built walls around their hearts that are now keeping out the very people they need to let in. Strengthen their resolve to do the hard work of sharing their feelings, help them learn what a healthy relationship looks like, and may they come to a place where they can both experience and express the love they so desire. Meet them right where they are, Lord, and help them accept your love and grace. Amen.”


Apr 21

#TBT: “Throwback Thursday,” Thoughts on Transformation from our kids

[This post from one year ago is SO good, I thought it was worth bringing it back for a “Throwback Thursday!” –Chris.]

“One transformation I have seen in my life is that I don’t feel so negative about myself, but I would still like God to transform the way I treat others. I feel like God is helping me with this by letting me know he’s with me.” –Sarah, age 12

Thoughts on TransformationAs winter has melted into spring, and we finally have some nice weather for playing and recreation outdoors, our kids’ have been reflecting on our most recent series of talks in chapel. Through the use of parables, children’s stories, and examination of the natural world, we have explored the themes of transformation and change. Many of our conversations about spiritual matters have paralleled the work they are doing in therapy and the cottages. Truly, Intermountain is in the business of enabling transformation for the better—bringing healing and hope to children and their families through healthier relationships.

It’s the caring, supportive and safe environment that our children are provided here at Intermountain that makes transformation possible. During our recent Easter celebration, children were given the opportunity to give thanks for the things in their lives that enabled their transformation. One young lady wrote, “I am thankful for all the kind souls that care for me!” Another reflected, “I am thankful for my family because they are working so hard to help me.”

Transformation is difficult business. It doesn’t happen overnight, but through a lot of hard work and with the support of family and staff. I thought you would be blessed to hear from a few of our children as they reflected on the change that God is bringing about in their hearts, minds, and souls:

“I see God changing my heart by building up strength in me. I am glad we can learn more about God’s love, because I love being loved! This has transformed me because I see myself loving others more.” –Cade, age 13

“I see God changing my heart whenever I feel positive about myself. I am glad we can learn more about how God loves us because sometimes I feel alone. But, when I learn more about how God loves us, I feel that someone does understand.” –Jesse, age 10

“God is changing my heart by giving me the courage to talk about my feelings. I am glad I can learn more and more about God’s love for me because it makes me feel better about myself.” –Jake, age 9

“Knowing God loves me and believes in me helps me take bigger risks.” –Lucy, age 8

Thoughts on Transformation2“I see God changing my life everywhere. I used to fight and threaten people all the time. God is changing my heart.” –David, age 11.

“I see God changing my heart while I am here at Intermountain. God cares and loves us just the way we are, but I am transforming because I am sharing my feelings… because of God. I would still like to change by not threatening people. Knowing God loves me, believes in me, and forgives me is my motivation to keep working on this.” –Steven, age 13

“The biggest transformation I see in my life is that I trust more people now. I see God changing my heart because he loves and cares for me.” –Andy, age 10

Let us praise God together for the work he is doing in the lives of these courageous young people, and continue our commitment to partner with them in prayer for that transformation they seek on their way to happier and healthier relationships!

Apr 15

What does it mean for a ministry to be “trauma informed?”

There is a growing trend in education, mental health, social services, and health care: becoming trauma-informed. For those in ministry, “trauma informed” can be a confusing phrase, bringing up images we might not naturally associate with the church and its mission and ministry.

Trauma results from something that occurs in a person’s life that is experienced as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening. An event, circumstance or series of events that are traumatic leaves lasting effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. It is as much about the person’s internal processing of a stressful and difficult situation as it is about the circumstance that results in the trauma. What might traumatize one individual deeply might not as dramatically affect another.

Most ministries seek to comfort those who are in distress, help those less fortunate, and desire to alleviate suffering where they can. But, in doing so, perhaps they have not even considered those quietly suffering in their churches and communities due to the present difficulties resulting from past traumatic experiences? How might the church minister more effectively to these individuals? The answer is to become trauma-informed. So, what is “trauma-informed ministry,” and does it have a place in your church and community?

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 SAMHSA_Web_Iconinvolved 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 can be implemented in any type of service setting or organization, including churches and para-church ministries, and is distinct from trauma-specific interventions or treatments that are designed specifically to address the consequences of trauma and to facilitate healing, like Intermountain!

SAMHSA also prescribes the following six key principles of a trauma-informed approach to service. They are:

  1. Safety
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency
  3. Peer support
  4. Collaboration and mutuality
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues

From SAMHSA’s perspective, it is critical to promote the linkage to recovery and resilience for those individuals and families impacted by trauma. This makes sense, doesn’t it? It is one thing to recognize when someone in your church or ministry setting has deep woundedness. It is something entirely different to equip yourself and your ministry team to be able to bring healing and hope to that individual or family system.

So, should you and your ministry be interested in exploring becoming “trauma informed,” here’s some points of connection I see between the 4-point definition of a trauma informed approach above, as well as a proposed ministry definition of the 6 key points. First, the definition reframed…

A Trauma-Informed Ministry would build a culture within their worshipping community that:

  1. Realizes the widespread impact of trauma–those deeply distressing and emotional experiences that leave lasting effects–and provides practical ministry interventions as well as support for ongoing mental health interventions.
  2. Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in the children, youth, men and women it ministers to as well as the effects that living with a traumatized individual has on all relationships–marriage, family, work, and social.
  3. Responds to the need within its worshipping community and the needs of its neighbors by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into church and ministry policies, procedures, and ministry practices. And,
  4. Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization that can occur when appropriate recognition and intervention is not wed with a compassion and commitment to relationship and supportive structures that destigmatize mental health issues.trauma informed care

Finally, here is a beginning point for where the church can meet the needed six key principles to a trauma-informed approach:

  1. Safety: Not just physical safety, but emotional and relational safety as well. Is there structure in place that allows for vulnerable people to feel included and protected within the worshipping community?
  2. Trustworthiness and Transparency: Is authenticity a characteristic valued highly within your community of faith? Do those in ministry leadership appear as broken people in need of God’s grace, just as those they minister to? Are confidences kept?
  3. Peer support: Does the church go beyond being friendly to being a place someone can make friendships? Can a traumatized person find a listening ear and a welcome with others that are walking the same road to recovery, grace, and love of self and others? Can this happen both in large group and small group settings? Are ministry leaders modeling self-care through their personal practices?
  4. Collaboration and mutuality: Does the church view its ministry to victimized people, traumatized individuals, and vulnerable children as integral to its call to Kingdom work for God or is it simply a niche ministry? Can the church work with others, even across ideological and denominational lines, for the betterment of hurting people?
  5. Empowerment, voice and choice: Are those that are ministered to also given opportunity and empowered to minister within the church, understanding that they bring value and wisdom to the worshipping community? Are they fully integrated into the life of the church and given a voice for self advocacy as well as outreach and mission?
  6. Cultural, Historical, and Gender Issues: Does the church recognize the unique cultural issues sometimes bound up with trauma? Within the context of what has defined your worshipping community, is there room for the expression of faith and practice in ways that honor the unique cultural, historical, and gender backgrounds of those you seek to serve?

As you can see, I have purposefully borrowed the structure and language of SAMHSA’s definitions and guidelines so that a church hoping to become “trauma-informed” can speak the same language as those in the educational, mental health, medical or other fields also working to be trauma-informed. Purposefully seek out those within your church who can connect you to resources and expertise outside the church. As you build those bridges to those outside the church, you will help your ministry strengthen and grow!


click HERE for this article in .pdf form! What does it mean for a ministry to be trauma-informed



Apr 06

“Snack Time!” A great way to connect our kids with the truths of God’s Word

Snack-Time-series-logoWho doesn’t like snacks? What’s NOT to love… a little something sweet, salty or savory to get us through until our next meal? Well, this spring and summer Chaplain Chris and the kids will be snacking on some tasty treats and “feasting” on God’s Word… learning what Jesus meant when he said, “One must not live on bread alone, but on every word of God” (Jesus in Luke 4:4, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3). Every chapel time will have a snack as an object lesson, and once the children learn the story each snack teaches, they’ll enjoy their snack!

Some of the connections will be fairly obvious… fruit snacks for fruit of the Spirit, for instance. But, what will be the lesson connected to sunflower seeds? And, it’s pretty easy to choose animal crackers as a tie-in to the story of Noah’s Ark, but what spiritual truth can be gleaned from snacking on “Teddy Grahams?” It’s all about keeping the children engaged and creatively looking to God’s Word for insight into how they can build healthier and happier relationships.

If you or your church would like to help with this effort, maybe you could organize a “snack food drive” for the children of Intermountain? The best thing is, even if we get too many of a certain snack, Chaplain Chris will be able to use them for snack time at a later chapel date, send them with kids on their numerous summer camping trips, or even share them with the therapeutic summer support outreach program Intermountain offers to families once school is out. If we’ve whetted your appetite (pun intended) and you’d like to help, here’s the list of suggested snacks:

  • Fruit Snacks
  • Go-Gurt
  • Goldfish Crackers / “Whales” Crackers
  • Teddy Grahams
  • Red Licorice
  • Mini-Pretzels
  • Apple Chips
  • Animal Crackers
  • Candy Rocks
  • Graham Crackers
  • Cool Ranch Doritos
  • Spicy/Hot Doritos
  • Bugles
  • Trail Mix
  • Captain Crunch Cereal
  • “Fun Dip” Candy
  • Alphabet cookies
  • Now & Later candy
  • Cheetos
  • “Fruit by the foot”
  • Hot Tamales candy
  • “Spitz” Sunflower seeds

Mar 28

Easter Celebration at Intermountain!

We here at Intermountain hope you had an amazing Easter celebration! This year brought something different to our Easter observance and built upon our ecumenical Lenten observances. As you may have seen in an earlier post, our children had the opportunity to learn about a variety of religious observances around the Easter holiday, and this concluded

The lovely sanctuary of Plymouth Congregational Church

The lovely sanctuary of Plymouth Congregational Church

with attending the Easter morning service at Plymouth Congregational Church.

Our Easter Celebration started early in the morning with the children being surprised by a special basket left for each child by their bedroom door! Easter baskets for all our children at our Helena campus were prepared by Grace Community Fellowship. After breakfast, kids and staff alike attended the 10 am service at Plymouth Congregational Church. Pastor Roger Lynn and the congregation went out of their way to make sure everyone felt comfortable and included in the celebration. Chaplain

Rev. Roger Lynn

Rev. Roger Lynn

Chris Haughee took the entire direct care staff and children over for a “field trip” to visit the church two weeks before Easter to help calm any anxiety being in a new space might bring.

After the service, the children and staff made their way back to campus for a HUGE Easter Egg Hunt. This year, like many before, our Easter was made special because of the support of local churches and faith-based supporters. St. Paul’s United Methodist Church stuffed hundreds of Easter eggs for our on-campus egg hunt. Many others stopped by Easter week with little gifts of well wishes, or held events in their churches as fundraisers for the ministry here.

The kids really seemed to respond well to the various ways we celebrated both Lent and Easter-Plymouth-UCCEaster, entering into each of our chapel services with a spirit of enthusiasm and joy, eager to learn more from our special guests and one another. Easter is another of those reminders to our staff, children, and families that we are in this journey of transformation and growth through relationship alongside a great multitude of faithful supporters. Thank you, our many faith-based donors and friends, for praying for the staff and children. We appreciate your continued faithfulness to partner with us in the mission of bringing health and healing to children and their families.


Mar 17

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you and yours from those of us at Intermountain’s Residential Services. You can be sure that lots of “wearin’ o’ the green” is going on both at our Helena and Kalispell homes. Every year in Helena the boys have a special breakfast, hear the story of St. Patrick (told by VeggieTales, above), and have a little fun trying on new Leprechaun names and picking favorite teams for “March Madness.”

The 2016 Intermountain St. Patrick's Day shirt

The 2016 Intermountain St. Patrick’s Day shirt

This year in Helena, we had the pleasure of a visit at lunchtime by the Tiernan Irish dancers, a festive group of dancers that features the daughter of one of Intermountain’s Occupational Therapists. All the boys wore their St. Patrick’s Day T-shirts, designed by Chaplain Chris, featuring a bright orange mustache as part of a stylized face made up of the words, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day.”

Providence Home in Kalispell also got in on the fun, with t-shirts for everyone and special decorations on tables and throughout the home and school. It’s the little things that are worth celebrating and bring a sense of fun and playfulness into the hard work done with kids and families each day.

So, whatever this St. Patrick’s Day brings you, we send you our warmest thoughts and prayers.

An Irish Prayer of Blessing:

St. Patrick, as drawn by one of our children
St. Patrick, as drawn by one of our children

May God give you…
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.

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