Aug 16

Little lessons in empathy

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”  -Jesus (Matt. 7:12)

Our interactions with others are based on the internal narrative we believe about ourselves, our place in the world, and how others are going to treat us. Children who—through trauma, a mental health struggle, or some other relational and emotional challenge—believe themselves to be “less than” others regularly have difficulty in relationships. Reciprocation, grace, and the empathy needed to form trusting bonds with loved ones must be modeled for these children to challenge their inner narrative of not being good enough.

Chaplain Sami Pack-Toner has spent many hours in the cottages on our Helena campus, seeking to build relationships with the children she is serving in ministry. She regularly finds herself one-on-one with a child that the staff have suggested might need a little extra attention. One such child is Alissa. A favorite activity of young Alissa, Sami related, is to play chess and other games where there is a clear winner and loser.

Alissa likes to beat Chaplain Sami at chess… but now makes sure to encourage her to “never give up!”

“I am not particularly good at chess,” Sami explains, “maybe that’s why Alissa chooses to play with me?” Sami proceeds to chuckle as she tells the story. “But, an interesting thing has happened as we play more and more. At first, I could see her satisfaction in beating me in a game of chess… self-validation that was just about her success. Now, whenever she wins, she makes sure to encourage me and tells me not to give up. She has learned empathy and shows it in these little ways, which is such a beautiful and lovely way to see that she is healing and trusting that she (and others!) are worthwhile, even when they don’t win.” This modeled behavior from her staff and family is starting to be internalized, helping Alissa trust that she deserves loving, healthy relationships.

Intermountain’s transformative approach of meets children where they are—developmentally and relationally—and builds empathy and trust in hurting children. Thank you for supporting our mission and ministry! Click the button below to download a bulletin insert to share this story with your congregation.

For more information or to support this life-changing work, call Chris at 406-457-4850 or email chrish -at-

Aug 01

The Bread of Life, and seeking alliance over compliance

from John 6:24-35 (NIV)

24 Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’[a]

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

The gospel narrative above follows upon miraculous feeding of the five thousand. The crowd is seeking out Jesus, the source of that miracle. Jesus has met their physical needs and provided them hope that things might be getting better. Hope was a powerful motivator for an oppressed and marginalized people.

The promised land of the Joshua generation, where God was mightily with and for his people, now seems cursed by God. They are ruled by pagan foreigners who keep them poor and hungry. Enter now the miracle worker from Nazareth, Jesus the Carpenter’s son. Jesus, the Son of Man, rabbi, and teacher of simple yet bewildering stories. Hope is kindled.

The crowd came looking for bread, looking for Jesus. We each come to God looking for something, needing something. So, I am grateful that Jesus’ rebuke of the crowd is a kind and patient one. “You are looking for another meal, a second great handout, perhaps another miracle. Providing a meal is easy. Meeting the eternal need you have is much more significant. This ‘work’ should be your main concern. That’s the food that you should be hungering for!”

Then, that same crowd, seeing a Joshua-generation opportunity, ask a very interesting and insightful question… “What must we do to do the works that God requires?”

Meaning… What must be done first in order to be in a position to behave in a manner God will find worthy?

Do you see why that is such an insightful question? Do you see how this question suggests that their motivation has shifted from themselves and their needs to God’s character and provision?

“What do I have to do?” is a self-centered question, a linear and logical approach to relationship that is focused on a transaction… I scratch your back, you scratch mine reciprocation. It treats the other, whether family, friend, coworker or God as a means to an end.

“What must I do in order to do that which is required?” is a much deeper question. It is a retreat from the purely transactional and suggests the transformational. It asks, “What in ME needs to change in order to act in a way that will be pleasing to the other person in this relationship.” There’s the key: this is a relational question.

Jesus’ answer to their question gives us the key to healthier living, relating, and being… the answer to the questions that we came to worship with today and the ones that are just now occurring to us in light of scripture are all answered in this: Open yourselves to the relationship that makes our works—our lives—significant in God’s economy of grace: “The work of God is this, to believe in the one he has sent,” Jesus answered them.

Belief. Belief is the foundational work making the other “works” God requires possible. This is where we see a connection between Jesus’ response to the crowd and the work of Intermountain in building hope through healing relationships.

Relationships are hard. In part, this is because every relationship we have has some level of dysfunction, because we are imperfect people. Our sin and relational baggage makes having healthy relationships hard work. Often, the children and youth Intermountain serves—alongside their families—have a level of dysfunction that is complicated by trauma, an emotional special need or a mental health diagnosis.

Developmentally, the ability to trust the world and the people in that child’s world as worthy and deserving of trust, has been eroded, damaged, or stunted.

When this happens to one of us, we learn to cope or adjust to circumstances. We protect ourselves with defenses that allow us to manage the world. We adapt and we survive… we do not thrive.

Additionally, belief in the love relationship of the caregiver is necessary for healthy relationship, bonding, attachment between child and parent. Without this foundation, it is very difficult to form what we’d call alliance (relationally, you are “on the same team”) and our interactions devolve into a struggle for compliance (“can I get you to do what I need you to do?”).

You and I—all of us—are tempted to enforce compliance whenever we cannot achieve an alliance—a relational connection or reciprocation that brings true shalom, peace, righteousness, and comprehensive flourishing. This is what Jesus longs for us each to have. He wants us to do the “work that proceeds all other works.” He desires that we believe and trust in him.

Finally, I want to point out how in this passage Jesus seamlessly transitions from the recent miracle of the loaves and fishes to teach a spiritual object lesson. He draws on imagery that would be recounted every Passover when the Jewish people would have thought of their past slavery and present oppression while longing for freedom.

“I am the Bread of Life…” he tells them. He explains, “Your ancestors received bread from heaven to sustain them until they entered into the promise God had for them. But come receive the Bread of Life—me!—and never go hungry.” Jesus told them. He tells us still.

Come to Jesus. Believe in the one the Father has sent from heaven. Take of this heavenly food and enter into the joy of healthy, healing relationship.

Let us pray:

Jesus, our Bread of Life, you sustain us for the journey of discipleship until we fully enter the promise of our salvation. May we be fueled to do the work that proceeds are other works, to truly believe and trust our lives into your care. We intercede for those who have had their ability to trust and believe in relationship damaged, especially those children and families that Intermountain serves. And, we pray for ourselves and our fellowship together. May we always seek alliances with others rather than trying to enforce compliance. May we engage wholeheartedly in the task that love places before us, the demands love makes of us… surrendering self-seeking motivations for the good of your Kingdom and its graceful reign among us. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

Mar 01

Becoming an authority in trauma-informed ministry

Becoming an authority in trauma-informed care” with Rev. Dr. Chris Haughee.

Presented as part of the New Wine, New Wineskins conference on the Church and Mental Health, 2/27/2021.

This workshop examines the interplay between legitimacy and power in the Church’s call to become an authority in trauma-informed care. While using for a framework the gospel narrative in Mark’s gospel, Chapter 1, Rev. Haughee presents and then guides a discussion from first steps in trauma-informed ministry through to practical community engagement for individuals and the local church. Formerly the chaplain to Intermountain’s Residential services, Chris will encourage trauma-sensitivity and mental health supports for those we serve in Christ’s name.

Jan 27

FREE Resources for Lent & Easter (Lectionary Year B)


In preparation for Lent, I have written seven free lessons for your use! My hope is that you will find this resource helpful for you as you interpret the “Change for Children” campaign to the young people of your church. While written primarily for a Children’s Sermon format, these object lessons could be used in a Sunday school setting, youth group, or even as sermon illustrations. The links to download these resources are below:

Jesus taught in object lessons and word pictures, too, so it should be no surprise to us that this method is highly effective—surely Jesus knew what he was doing and set an example for us to follow!

These lessons have been carefully crafted around the stories of the Lenten season (Year B), how the Easter story impacts our hearts and lives, and the ways in which your church can connect to the ministry of Intermountain. I hope this resource blesses you, saves you time in preparation, and makes your workload a little lighter. 

If you haven’t visited the resource page to see what is there, I encourage you to do so. There are bulletin inserts and announcement “slides” for PowerPoint that will prove helpful in rallying congregational support around a Change for Children campaign. And, if you or your congregation would like to make use of any of the videos we have produced, make sure you check out the video page as well!

[click here to jump to one of Chris’ favorites… “What If?”]

Nov 04

Getting Ready for Advent and Christmas!

Recently Intermountain sent hundreds of letters to our faith-based supporters. These letters thank you for your prayers and supporting Healing Through Healthy Relationships, as well as invite the opportunity to give in 2020 if you have not already done so. Perhaps you and your congregation have not had an opportunity yet this year to be a part of bringing hope and healing through healthy relationship?


As a thank you for your faithful support, I would also like to make available to you and your church free Advent children’s object lessons! While written primarily for a Children’s Sermon format, these object lessons could be used in a Sunday school setting, youth group, or even as sermon illustrations! Though written as a companion and a resource to couple with change cans, none of the lessons are dependent on Change for Children (CFC) participation! Our desire is that they would be a gift to you and a thank you for your support. If you choose to dovetail CFC into these lessons, it’s as simple as contacting us and requesting our prayer cards or setting a goal of numbers of cans returned by Christmas!

Click here for the FREE Advent object lessons:

In my twenty-four years in children and youth ministry, the object lessons I have used for children’s sermon times have been a very effective way of communicating the truth of God’s Word.  Many of the adults in the congregation would tell me they preferred my children’s sermons to my “regular” sermons!  Jesus taught in object lessons and word pictures, too, so it should be no surprise to us that this method is highly effective—surely Jesus knew what he was doing and set an example for us to follow!

These lessons have been carefully crafted around the stories of the Advent season (Revised Common Lectionary, Year B) and how the message of God’s love for us in Jesus impacts our hearts and lives. I hope this resource blesses you, saves you time in preparation, and makes your workload a little lighter. So, enjoy these lessons, and let me know what you think. I’d love to hear from you and build a stronger relationship between the chaplain’s ministry at Intermountain and the good work you are doing in your church and community.

Sep 24

Compliance VS Alliance

In Matthew 21:23-32, we have a very interesting exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. In this passage we see just how brilliant Jesus was in understanding the motives of those who were in opposition to his teaching, and how he was able to compassionately address the issues underlying their opposition. The Pharisees had built a relationship with God, and God’s grace expressed to them, around a reasonable belief that God had certain expectations for behavior. And, they argued, that if you wanted to stay in God’s “good graces,” you needed to abide by the rules—obey the Law. Jesus saw how law-obedience had taken the place of a repentant heart yearning for relationship with the Creator.

Here’s the passage in its entirety:

The Authority of Jesus Questioned

23 Jesus entered the temple courts, and, while he was teaching, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him. “By what authority are you doing these things?” they asked. “And who gave you this authority?”

24 Jesus replied, “I will also ask you one question. If you answer me, I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 25 John’s baptism—where did it come from? Was it from heaven, or of human origin?”

They discussed it among themselves and said, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will ask, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin’—we are afraid of the people, for they all hold that John was a prophet.”

Then he said, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

The Parable of the Two Sons

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

I love how Jesus handles his confrontation, because the truths he employs are those used in the common therapeutic approach of trying to work with clients by forming an alliance rather than compliance.

Compliance VS Alliance. It asks the following question:

Is a relationship better built on getting you to comply with my demands (expressed obedience, which is externally focused, easily measureable and observable) or in building an alliance (a union formed for mutual benefit, working towards common goals, agreement on tasks, and the development of a personal bond made up of reciprocal positive feelings… trust, caring, respect)?

It’s alliance, right? Working together toward mutually agreed upon goals which builds a relational bond of trust and care.


Does this match up with the story Jesus tells… the parable of the two sons? The story seems to focus on commending compliance: doing what the Father in the story has asked.

Here’s the recap: Dad asks for his boys to go work in the vineyard, first one and then the other. The first son, he immediately says “No” and then repents and does what is asked. The second son says “Yes” initially, but then never does what he was asked.

Not every parable gets an interpretation or a framing for meaning like this one, but fortunately, we see what Jesus was trying to get at in the closing lines of this passage:

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Jesus is, for the sake of argument, willing to accept the Pharisees assumptions about how one achieves a gracious position of right relationship with God… through obedience and compliance to God’s Law.

So, he tells this brief story of the two sons… and the punchline is that it is the son who repents and heads out to the vineyard is the one who does what the Father has asked. So, the Pharisees agree with Jesus: obedience isn’t about mentally or verbally agreeing to do what God the Father asks. This is not obedience… it is for show. It’s posturing. We can almost hear this son later, imagining him explaining to his father, “I was going to get to it… something came up.”

The openly defiant and disobedient son is the one who repents and ends up doing what the Father wants. It’s clear: God values repentance more than our best excuses.

Repentance signifies a changed heart and a desire for relationship. It’s about reunification with someone who has invited you into an alliance: a mutually beneficial relationship in which both parties can feel joy, acceptance, and belonging.

Compliance is about keeping accounts and balancing control in personal interactions. It’s the enemy of trust, because each party is always worried about how the balance of power is going to shift and preparing for the next potential confrontation.

Every day, Intermountain is working with children, teens, and adults to help them see that there is a better way to “do relationship.” We often speak of “healing through healthy relationships” for this reason. Thank you for your support of this work, and consider today how you might put the truth of seeking alliance, not just compliance, in your most significant relationships.

Jul 16

Do you get our Intermountain Moments newsletter?

Every month we send out the latest information to stay connected to the mission and ministry of Intermountain, highlighting stories from around the organization. We highlight the chaplain’s ministry within Residential so you can see the impact that your mission support of the ministry makes!

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

There are regular links to free resources, videos that can be shared with your congregation and ministry networks, and ideas to bring your partnership with Intermountain to the next level of engagement. It is inspirational and challenging, and arrives once a month to your inbox.

But… you have to be subscribed! Send us your email address and we’d be happy to include you every month in the ongoing story of bringing healing through healthy relationships! If you’d like an idea as to what an Intermountain Moments email looks like, simply click the link to a PDF copy of the July 2020 edition:

May 05

Viewing disruption as an opportunity for development: a lesson in resilience by Daniel Champer, LCPC

Two of the kindest eyes I’ve ever met resided squarely between a healthy set of laugh lines and due south from a shock of silver hair. His name was Pete, and he lived beside my family of rough-and-tumble boys who would have been much better suited for a cow pasture. Our suburban backyard resembled something out of the movie Sandlot and stood in stark contrast to his perfectly manicured cottage garden. My brother and I affectionately refer to this formative time as the “summer of the home run.” Unfortunately for Pete, his yard stood directly beyond our home run fence.

It was 1998 and Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were battling for the home run title in the papers, while Daniel, Peter, and Jonathan were battling for the home run title of the backyard. It was getting late in the summer and our home run numbers weren’t quite keeping up with those of the professionals. So, in an act of pubescent wisdom, we opted for harder balls and bigger bats.

The pitch was perfect. And I don’t know if I was a little late with my swing or Jonathan peppered me a little outside, but it cleared the right field fence faster than my “oh yeah” could turn to “oh sh#%.” You see, Pete’s garden paradise was left field. Pete’s house was right field. To my horrified ears, the sound of the hard baseball smacking Pete’s meticulously maintained siding could be heard on Mars. Nobody moved. Nobody breathed. I had just moved into the home run lead yet all I could think about was how my life was going to be over the second my father got home.

And then, in painfully slow motion, a clump of silver emerged from a thicket of blueberry bushes not too far from the scene of the crime. A mass of fabric slowly unfurled to form a pair of khakis and a button-down flannel shirt. I was acutely aware of the pruning shears in the grizzled right hand. As they shuffled around the corner of the house to inspect the damage, I was too terrified to move.

Pete glanced at the frozen baseball players and he glanced at the house. And slowly, he started to laugh. He turned towards us with those smile lines fully pronounced and his crooked thumb stuck up in the air. “Great hit bub, you guys are getting pretty good.” That’s all he said. And then as if by magic, he disappeared back into his blueberry bushes.

This moment changed my life.

You see, at this time in my development I believed we were all destined to be products of our environment. If something negative happened, you were to react in a negative way. If someone in a position of authority spoke something into your life, you behaved in such a way to manifest that destiny. The 20 second interaction with Pete and his crooked green thumb initiated 20 plus years of attitude adjustment.

Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. I view it as the learned ability to see opportunity in the midst of adversity. Regardless of the chosen definition, the concept of resilience begins with a choice. We can choose to form a curse word or a smile.

As we all collectively huddle inside of homes with those whom we name family, it is easy to jump to a scenario in which our houses are being pelted with COVID-19 filled baseballs. I constantly hear the words fear, uncertainty, irritation, impatience, and others of their ilk zooming through the atmosphere. But I would challenge us to focus on one word.


I currently spend much of my day planted in front of a computer screen with an oft stinky, always wiggly toddler perched on my lap intent on inserting herself into the business of the day. My toenails are pink, and I have been instructed as to the “right way” to play Princess Tea Party more times than I can count by an assertive 6-year-old. Much of my body is grass stained and my allergies are ridiculous as I attempt to keep up with our four-year-old version of a cross between Princess Diana and Attila the Hun. I have a perpetual headache and my job has required me to make very difficult decisions. My routine is disrupted and my life has been changed.

And I refuse to see this as a detriment.

I will never again have the opportunity to build relationships with my family in such an integrated way throughout the course of my workday. I am receiving the gift of free time as my 1-hour daily commute has been reduced to the time it takes me to turn off my computer. My addiction to busyness has been temporarily slowed by external forces beyond my control and as a result I feel more rested than I have in a very long time.

These are but a few of the examples of opportunities which I have been blessed with during this unique time. We are all being afforded the incredible opportunity to learn resilience. Every one of us is confronted with this choice and tension hundreds of times every day. And like any skill, you will only improve if you practice.

The development of a skill requires focus and intention. People rarely achieve milestones accidentally and prodigies are rare. Contact with the undesired outcome must be limited and redirected through supportive relationship. The beautiful paradox of resilience is you will undoubtedly fail at times in its pursuit. However, you are then immediately afforded another chance to try again.

And so, I challenge you to practice resilience. I challenge you to seek out opportunity. While we cannot change the current circumstances of our world, we can change the way we react.

My interactions with Pete helped to change my life. If you adopt his attitude, you can change yours.

Mar 26

Intermountain Moment: Stacey’s Safe Space

Recently, one of our cottage therapists gave an assignment to Stacey, a young girl in her care. She asked Stacey to draw a picture of her “safe space.” This had the potential to be a very difficult assignment, as Stacey had endured a significant amount of adversity and relational turbulence in her life.

However, after a year of Intermountain’s intensive residential care focusing on building healthier relationships, Stacey’s therapist felt she was ready to engage the assignment with hope rather than fear. Stacey’s “safe space” was defined to her as anywhere she felt protected, calm, and happy.

Stacey is now starting to feel safe

Stacey returned to her next session with her therapist, having drawn a picture of her residential cottage and included a note with her drawing which said, “Home is starting to be a safe space for me.”

Stacey’s challenge, in the time she remains in Intermountain’s care, is to transfer the skills she has learned in her cottage to her home. For now, her “safe space” is in the care of the amazing and dedicated cottage staff at Intermountain, and this care and safety has cultivated hope within her young heart. A hope she can return home and feel safe there, as well.

Stacey’s “homework” from therapy, where she drew Bridger Cottage at Intermountain as her “safe space” and then added, “Home is starting to be safe for me.”

Intermountain’s transformative approach of meeting a child where they are—developmentally and relationally—through sound clinical work and consistent, empathetic responses to difficult behaviors shows children and their families Hope & Healing are possible. Many like Stacey have found their “safe space” because of Intermountain. Thank you for supporting this life-changing mission.

Click HERE for a bulletin insert that shares Stacey’s story

Mar 04

Blaine’s “Words of Wisdom”

After spending over a year in our residential treatment program, riding the regular ups and downs of a young man working through significant mental health and relationship issues, Blaine found himself standing before his treatment team, his family, and his peers. He was surrounded by well wishing, shared favorite moments from his time at Intermountain, and hope everyone had for his future as he rejoined his family back home. This was his “graduation ceremony,” of sorts… and while each team or cottage in residential services does this a little differently, most often the graduating child is given a chance to share their words of wisdom with the remaining children in care. Blaine made the most of this opportunity – here is a summary of what he said:

“First, be honest. Be honest with yourself and about why you are here. Be honest with the staff. Share your feelings. Being anything other than honest won’t help you. It didn’t help me. When I started to be honest with what was going on for me, I started to get better.

Second, be nice. None of us want to be here. We’d rather be home. I’m going home and you’ll get there, too. But, for now, this is who you are living with. These are the staff taking care of you. Be nice to them. Be nice to yourself. When someone does something dumb or mean, just be nice. Be nice even when it’s hard.

(above) Blaine is ready to head home after treatment

Third, I’d say you need to have hope. Hope you’ll get done with treatment. Hope you’ll get home eventually. Hope kept me going… well, that and reading (note: his young man had a small library in his room and would read whenever he got the chance!). So, whatever you do, have hope.

Fourth, help one another. This is kinda like what I said about being nice, but goes with it. Work together when you can. It will be more fun if you can help one another. We each have had bad days here, and you have helped me, and I hope I have helped you. So, keep helping one another.

Lastly, I’d say you should be a friend. I didn’t have any friends when I came here. I don’t really have many friends at home. Making friends can be hard, so don’t make it hard on someone who is trying to be your friend. Be a friend. It can just be that you like doing one thing together. Everyone doesn’t have to be your best friend, but be a friend when you can. Some of you I just liked being silly with. Some of you I can be serious with. I like having friends. So, be a friend.”

So take a page from Blaine’s words of wisdom! Be honest. Be Nice. Have hope. Help one another. Be a friend.
I hope the children were listening to these wise words… I certainly was. I hope you will listen, too.

Intermountain brings Hope & Healing to over 1,200 children just like Blaine every day. With God’s grace, Intermountain’s highly-trained staff lead these children to become more resilient, capable, and confident – this not only allows them to return home, but also to be successful in their transitions. Thank you for supporting the work of Intermountain. If you would like to learn how you can help our Hope & Healing continue please reach out: (406)457-4850 or


Chaplain Chris Haughee

Click HERE to share this story with your congregation as a bulletin insert

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