Mar 14

A MUST HAVE for your church library, Mental Health and the Church by Dr. Stephen Grcevich

I was invited to be a part of the “Book Launch Team” for a new resource for churches that I think is invaluable for any ministry considering outreach to those that struggle with mental health issues. In Montana, where the need is great and services are often lacking, the Church has a great opportunity to be a positive agent for change. As your partner in ministry, I could not recommend this book more highly. –Chris Haughee, chaplain.

 

In my role as the chaplain to severely emotionally disturbed in an intensive residential care facility has led to me a lot of conversations with parents that struggle to find a faith community that will extend love and grace to them as they work to parent in a very difficult situation. I have lost count of how many times I have heard the phrase, “We used to go to church until…” and then they tell a story about how their child acted out, the church felt ill equipped to handle emotional and mental health challenges, and then the family was either told they were not welcome or were simply marginalized to the point of making regular attendance improbable.MentalFB4+buy+today

As a ministry professional, I have been encouraged by many churches who want to become trauma-informed and better equipped to understand the mental health challenges that 20-30% of their congregations and communities are dealing with. The Church is God’s representative on earth of the ideals of the Kingdom of God—God’s desire that everyone know the unconditional love of Jesus Christ and the sense of belonging and hope that we need as social beings. The pastors and churches I work with, once aware of the needs of children, youth, and adults with mental health diagnoses, desire to know, “What can we do?” As Dr. Grcevich points out, “churches have far more opportunities” for ministry “than they have resources” (p. 91). So, many churches balk at engaging in mental health ministries because it looms too large a task and too fraught with potential disaster. Their fears keep them from engaging, and it is felt that resources and energies are better spent in ministries where they feel greater competency.

Over the last six years, in working at a children’s therapeutic residential facility, I have grown in my appreciation and admiration of the good work that so many in mental health care have been doing for the “least and the lowly” that Jesus spoke of. The work in unglamorous, unheralded, and it can be difficult to know how to do what is best for your clients when the resources you have are stretched so thin. The work is messy and it is also glorious. It is a beautiful thing to see those who have been misunderstood and hurting embrace healing and hope. The mental health community is doing great work, but often feels disconnected from the work of the Church or judged by it.

Two great forces for good—the Church and Mental Health—often stand apart from one another, distrust one another, and don’t see where collaboration and partnership could result in a tremendous force for good, for healing, and for wholeness for millions of people. What is needed are those that have the wisdom to “connect the dots” and show all of us why, how, and where we can best work together!

Into this divide between these great forces for good steps the ministry of Dr. Stephen Grcevich and Key Ministry. The book, Mental Health and the Church, by Dr. Stephen Grcevich provides a much needed bridge between the healing work of therapists and mental health professionals and the wonderful work of the Church. The book lays out both the case for the Church to engage in mental health ministry as well as the practical tools and insights needed for ministering well to this underserved segment of our communities.

Part One explains the problem and why the Church should care. As Grcevich explains, over 43 million American adults have experienced at least one mental illness. When you factor in children’s mental health, a field I am well acquainted with, “more than fifty million Americans today experience at least one diagnosable mental health disorder on any given day!” (p. 19) When these individuals come to the church and are misunderstood or judged for their behavior as not being spiritual enough, they simply leave the church and don’t return (21).

Mental illness is stigmatized in many churches the way other disabilities are not, and because it applies to such a wide range of conditions it can be hard to know how to help (29). As Grcevich explains, the Church hasn’t “had a commonly accepted ministry model for mental health outreach and inclusion” (29). As a result, the “customs and practices for gathering together in worship and the environments we create in ministry” often “perpetuate disability” (44). What I believe the author means by this is that the Church can retraumatize people when they come to us with a legitimate health concern—having a chemical imbalance in your brain is no difference than having a physical imbalance elsewhere in your body—and are treated with a lack of compassion and understanding, they are not only made to suffer with their initial ailment but also shamed for that suffering!MEntal-FB1

So, what is the Church to do? If there is a lack of resources and a plethora of ministry opportunities, why should a church be concerned about mental health ministry? The wonderful news is that the best thing you could do, and your church could do for those 50 million people experiencing a mental health issue is to be there for them and seek to understand. As Grcevich explains, “every church can do something to welcome families impacted by disability—including mental illness” (46).

This is where Part Two of the book comes in—the practical insights that are needed for any church looking to establish a mental health ministry. Here are a few key insights from the book:

  • An essential first step will be for church leadership to “acknowledge assumptions” we make about the social interactions that going into “conduct or social interaction” at church and deepening their understanding of how mental health issues impact those interactions for many people (53).
  • Those with mental health disabilities don’t want to be singled out or have attention drawn to their disabilities (56). “Mental health inclusion is best understood as a mind-set for doing ministry rather than a ‘program’ for ministry” (89).
  • Avoid shaming parents for the behaviors of their kids when trauma or a serious emotional or behavior condition exists (62).
  • “Any mental health inclusion initiative is doomed to failure without the unequivocal support of your senior pastor” (90).
  • For those with ADHD or sensory issues, churches will have to look at the assumptions they have made about what will appeal to children and youth (loud music, busy bulletin boards, bright colors) and consult those in the community who work with this population of young people on a regular basis (99).
  • Digital ministry is not only great for outreach, it can help those who have anxiety issues become acquainted with your church and ministry expectations prior to a visit in person (107).
  • The benevolence ministries of the church (financial assistance, meals brought to families, visitation) should also extend to those with hidden disabilities (109). Chief among the practical ministry needs for mental health inclusion is simply a “ministry of presence” (115).
  • Dr. Grcevich suggests the resources available through organizations like the Mental Health Grace Alliance (http://mentalhealthgracealliance.org/) as well as the suggestions for mental health liaisons from Outside In Ministries (http://outsideinministries.com/). Those with expertise in mental health ministries can help answer specific questions that will arise in ministry.
  • Children with emotional and mental health issues are going to struggle with transitions (144). Thinking through how to shepherd a child or youth through the transitions that occur during a worship service or youth ministry will be paramount to a successful experience.
  • Lighting, flooring, and window treatments can be key elements in a hospitable environment for those with sensory issues. The book does an excellent job of outlining the questions you will need to ask when it comes to decorating and designing a space to be inclusive for all (154-156).

Finally, I must say that I love this book because it is so gospel-centered and connects a mental health outreach and inclusion strategy to the most basic ideals of the church. If we are to be a “going and making disciples” sort of community, we must consider the needs of those we are going to and being sent to! It’s not about what meets our needs and the things that don’t bother us and we think shouldn’t be a big deal. As long as the Church holds that attitude, we run the risk of turning a blind eye to the bullying in our midst (170).

The book is unashamedly relational in its approach to meeting the needs of those with emotional and mental health needs, emphasizing the need to befriend and spend time with people rather than simply viewing church as a service which is meant to meet our needs (172). As a foster and adoptive parent, I appreciated Dr. Grcevich’s challenge to those churches that champion adoption or foster care ministries without also having a mental health inclusion plan; he states, “I believe it’s unchristian for churches to promote adoption and foster care ministries without committing to support them at every point in their journey” (187).

Only purchase this book if you plan on being challenged, excited, and inspired to make a difference in the lives of a vastly underserved segment of your community. In it you’ll get both the biblical basis for and the practical implications of starting a mental health inclusion team.

Mar 02

Thank you for partnering with Intermountain!

As Spring nears, we are excited to enter a new chapter within the spiritual and cultural care of children on our residential campus in Helena. Van Orsdel Commons will provide a permanent space for the chaplain’s program and related activities. We hope your 2018 plans will include a trip to 500 South Lamborn to come see this wonderful new facility!

Sincerely,

Chaplain Chris Haughee

Intermountain TY Church Video.mp4 from Intermountain on Vimeo.

Feb 25

“Transaction or Transformation?” An object lesson for Lent, Week 3

I hope your Lenten season is going well, and that you and your church families are growing closer to the Lord as we all prepare for the coming of Easter. The lesson for the third week in Lent touches upon a theme, and a temptation, that I know I need instruction in order to avoid. Because SO much of our culture has been absorbed into thinking of things and experiences in terms of transactions, it is easy to view people and relationships in that way, too. I hope the following lesson blesses you this coming week.

Sincerely,

Chaplain Chris Haugheestack-christian-books

Lent, Week 3: “Transaction or Transformation”

Objects needed: a pile of self-help books, brochures, especially if you can find some that say “3 quick steps to…,” advertisements, magazines… whatever you can get your hands on that suggest a “transaction” that makes things better for you without much effort.

Theme/Main Idea: When it comes to a relationship with God, it is always tempting to turn the relationship into a transaction. Transformation is harder and takes longer, so of course we want to shorten it and make it easier. The problem is that the transaction is a trap and we start to bargain with God. We wonder how many sacrifices we can make until God will bless us. Jesus cleared the temple so we could see that God wants (and we need) transformation and not a transaction.

Presentation:

“Good morning! How are you this morning? Are you filling up your change cans at home or in your Sunday school class? I sure hope so! It makes a big difference in the lives of the children at Intermountain. We’re already in our third week of Lent and today we come to one of the more surprising stories in the Bible about Jesus. But, before I get into that, I am wondering if you can guess what story I am talking about if I show you my items for today’s object lesson?

[take brochures, magazines with advertisements, self-help books, etc. out and show the kids… you might need to play it up a little by reading some of the titles or advertisements and talk about how you just need to read that article or buy that item and everything will be better!]

So… any guesses as to what story about Jesus I am referring to? [kids guess] All great guesses. I am thinking that the most surprising story about Jesus is the one we come to today in the gospel lesson where Jesus comes into the temple and clears out the money changers and those selling animals for sacrifice. When you read the story, it seems like Jesus is really upset! Why do you think Jesus acted this way?

[give children time to respond]

Well, I’d like to share some ideas with you about why I think Jesus might have been so upset. Do you know what a transaction is? No? It’s where I give you something and you give me something back. Most often, we think about transactions that involve money… you know, buying stuff. I want a candy bar, so I go to the store and I give them 79 cents for a Snickers bar. They get my money, I get the candy bar… we both go away happy. At least we’re happy for that moment.

Now, what happens when we start thinking about our relationship with God as a form of transaction? I pray and I hope God gives me stuff. I give money to the church, so I want to have a say in how the leaders of the church spend “my” money.

I want something really bad, even a good thing—like a parent, friend, or grandparent healed from a yucky illness—so I promise God that if he does that thing for me, I’ll do something in return… a transaction. God gets something… right?… and I get something I want in return.

That’s how it should work, don’t you think?!

[hopefully, some of the kids disagree and show it!]

Why are you guys looking at me that way? Is there something wrong with thinking about our relationship with God this way? Yes, and I think Jesus has a problem with us viewing God as the great big shopping mall in the sky. God wants a relationship with us, and wants us to pray to him about everything… not just when we want something.

When we pray this way and treat God like a friend and not a vending machine, something happens to us. We are transformed. We experience God’s love that is bigger than anything we could have asked for in the first place. We can’t buy it, and God isn’t selling it. It’s a gift, and it’s free.

Let’s pray:

God, thank you for your transforming love. Correct us when we are tempted to think we can earn your love or buy our happiness with money or good deeds. Jesus, just as you cleared out the temple, clear out our hearts. Make us clean and new. The only transaction we are interested in is accepting your love and grace, freely given to us this day and always. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we pray. Amen.

Key Text: John 2:13-22 (NIV)

Jesus Clears the Temple Courts

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

Feb 21

Special Tea Sweetens Valentine’s Day for Intermountain Girls

Every girl sometimes needs to feel uniquely feminine and special and the young ladies in the Residential program at Intermountain are no exception.

That’s why, each year, Intermountain holds a Valentine’s Tea for the girls in the Residential program. The tea is always held on or near Valentine’s Day and this year it was held on February 13 at Intermountain’s Community Service Center. The girls enjoyed dressing up, got their hair done, enjoyed special attention and treats, heard an inspirational speaker and enjoy a very girlie party.

Yummy food adorned each table!

Yummy food adorned each table!

The children are joined by female members of the Intermountain staff, and this year the female teachers and teacher’s assistants at Intermountain School were invited. Chaplain Chris, Anne Wilmoth and other staff serve the tea on a collection of china and teapots that range from elegant to whimsical. Scones, delicacies and sweets are provided by ladies of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and Lisa Sommers from Intermountain’s Occupational Therapy Department. A special “Action Team” grant from Thrivent provides additional support.

Loy Chvilicek presented a lesson on tea etiquette and manners before the guest speaker, former Intermountain Jewish Educator, Janet Tatz, offered her inspirational address. Janet’s message featured a number of stories that illustrated the point that the spark of the divine is in each of us, and that spark is not put out or made less unique because of our hardships. On the contrary, Janet shared, “it is through these areas of weakness that God waters the earth with his grace and goodness.”

Each girl got a special gift and a personalized Valentine

Each girl got a special gift and a personalized Valentine

Each girl received a special Valentine and a personalized gift from Chaplain Chris Haughee, and then had a chance to pose for frivolous photos in our own Hearts and Flowers Photo Booth designed by Glenna Obie. The youth group, SPARK, led by volunteer Donagene LaFromboise, came at the end of the Tea and helped by cleaning up and providing goodie bags and flowers for all the children.

As you can see, it was a wonderful event that many people had a hand in. Most importantly, the girls and staff enjoyed themselves and left with a positive memory they can hold on to for a long time.

members of the youth group "SPARK" pose for a picture before helping clean up. They also brought flowers and Valentine's goodies for all of the children!

members of the youth group “SPARK” pose for a picture before helping clean up. They also brought flowers and Valentine’s goodies for all of the children!

Chaplain Chris presents Janet and Jean, volunteers from St. Peter's Episcopal, with a gift to show our appreciation.

Chaplain Chris presents Janet and Jean, volunteers from St. Peter’s Episcopal, with a gift to show our appreciation.

Chaplain Chris, Loy C. and Janet Tatz pose for a photo before the Tea.

Chaplain Chris, Loy C. and Janet Tatz pose for a photo before the Tea.

Feb 08

Knowing and Growing – a look in to a recent chapel lesson from our Resilience series

Dear friends and church supporters,

I thought it might be of interest to you to see an example of how I am integrating the themes of resilience building, and in particular the measures from the Children and Youth resilience Measure (CYRM-12+4), into our chapel times on campus. What appears below is part of the lesson built around the tried and true measure of resilience: can the child identify skills and abilities that are making them more independent and prepared for the world? We discussed together the fact that Jesus was a child like they were, and there were many things he had to learn before he became an adult. And, if even the perfect son of God had things to learn as a child, how much more should we

A sample of the CRYM and the types of questions the children respond to as a measure of their resilience

A sample of the CRYM and the types of questions the children respond to as a measure of their resilience

realize that there are things we are learning and ways we are growing into the person God is shaping us to be?

This effort to be more purposeful in measuring the effectiveness of the spiritual and cultural aspects of my work with the children is a direct result of my exposure to the nationwide conversation around trauma, adversity in childhood, and the ways that religious communities can be most effective in not only combatting those negative factors in the lives of our nation’s youth, but also the good we can do by intentionally building resilience in young people! If you are interested in learning and growing in these areas and making a positive difference in your community, I’d love to talk with you about the resources and support Intermountain can provide!

Blessings,

Chaplain Chris Haughee

chrish@intermountain.org

 

Week 3: Knowing & Growing

Resilience Measure Question addressed:

“Do you have chances to show others that you are growing up and can do things by yourself?” (CRYM-11)

 

Key Bible passages:

  • Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and all the people” (Luke 2:52). It is also likely that Jesus learned carpentry from his earthly dad! (Mark 6:3)
  • Jesus showed a heart for learning and applying God’s Word to his life (Luke 2:41-52).

 

Outcomes:

  • Students will identify three ways they are growing up and learning healthy independence.
  • Students will identify and write down three things they are good at.

Object lesson or activity: “Body Building”

[have the following items gathered together: large sheets of butcher paper, big enough to draw an outline of one of the children; markers to write on paper]

Hi boys and girls. Today we are going to be looking at a story from the Bible that talks about Jesus as a child. We don’t really know a whole lot from when Jesus was a kid, but we do know that as he grew up he would have learned from his parents what it would mean to be an adult. I am wondering… what do you think it means to be “grown up?”

[children respond]

Those are all interesting ideas! Being a “grown up” can mean a lot of different things. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus grew up in a few different ways…

He grew “in wisdom.” Wisdom is taking what you know and applying it to real life. You are wise if the things you learn in school and chapel and the cottage help you handle future problems, difficulties and opportunities better than you would have without that knowledge. Make sense? Here’s an example… you can learn math in order to do well on math tests. That is growing smarter in math. But it becomes wisdom when you use your math skills to build a house or search for the best deal on the groceries you buy.

He grew “in stature.” That means he got taller and bigger. How many of you are bigger than you were last year at this time? How many will get bigger by the time you are an adult? What things are you hoping to do when you “grow in stature” and become an adult?

[children respond]

Lastly, Jesus grew in “favor with God and man/people.” Do you know what it means to “gain favor” with someone? It doesn’t mean you become that person’s favorite, though the words are similar. It means that you leave that person with a “favorable” impression. You cause them to think you are a pretty neat girl or boy. Now, we might suppose that it would be easy for Jesus to grow in favor with God and man, because—after all—Jesus was God’s son, without sin. Jesus always did what was the good and right and just thing to do.

But, do you suppose, just maybe, that even if you always do the good and right and just thing in every circumstance that perhaps not everyone is going to appreciate that? I think you can imagine that there might be people who don’t want to be around people like that… sometimes those who appear to be perfect are hard to be around. So, Jesus must have had a very special way of being good and just. He wasn’t right and looking for ways to prove others wrong. No, if he was that sort of boy, I don’t think he could have grown “in favor with God and man.” I think Jesus was the type of boy and young man that others wanted to be around because they admired not only the way in which he behaved, but how he made others feel comfortable around him, appreciating them just as they were and seeing the best in them.

Now, we’re going to do an activity in small groups of three or four. Someone in the group will need to lie down on the piece of butcher paper I give the group while the others carefully trace the shape of their body. After you do that as a group, I’ll give further instructions.

McT-body-lesson3

Click to see what the children in McTaggart Cottage came up with as ways that they are “Knowing and Growing!”

[divide the group into smaller groups of three or four each, pass out butcher paper sheets and markers. Let children complete the first set of instructions]

Now that you have your outline of a person, I want you to write the following on your paper:

  • By the head, write WISDOM
  • On the body, around the chest or tummy, write STATURE
  • On the arms, because with our arms we shake hands and give hugs, write FAVOR WITH GOD and FAVOR WITH PEOPLE, each phrase on a different arm.

[give children time to complete that portion of the instructions]

Finally, discuss as a group, and take turns with each of you writing ways you can see yourself growing up in each of these ways.

  • For WISDOM, write down the things you want to learn more about and the ways you can think about other people and the world that would make you a wise person (examples: learn how to drive a car, learn how to bake, think of people I don’t know as friends I have yet to make acquaintance with, etc.)
  • For STATURE, write down things you hope to do when you are bigger, taller, stronger and more able. (examples: dunk a basketball, reach the top of the shelves, play football, become a mom or dad, etc.)
  • For FAVOR WITH GOD, write down ways that you are learning about God and finding out about what God hopes for you and your life. (examples: being kind, generous, loving others, etc.)
  • For FAVOR WITH PEOPLE, write down ways that you are learning to treat others with respect and how you are making friends. (examples: showing respect, sharing, looking for ways to include everyone in the group)

I’ll be coming around to each group to see how you are doing. If there is time when our groups are done, we’ll share with one another what we came up with, okay?

Sunrise-body-lesson3

Click to see what the children in Sunrise Cottage came up with as ways that they are “Knowing and Growing!”

[give children time to write ideas and decorate their butcher paper outline of a person]

Now that we’ve had a chance to think about how we are growing up just as Jesus did, I’d like you to pause and write some of what you have learned in your handbooks as we discuss three questions to wrap up this activity.

[ask kids to grab their handbooks and turn to the “what I learned” page for lesson 3. They can write in their answers as you discuss.]

Discuss:

  • How would you describe Jesus as a boy? How does the Bible describe the way Jesus was showing others that he was becoming more mature and grown up?
  • What are three things you do well that show you are growing up and becoming more responsible and wise?
  • What might you still need to learn in order to become a healthy, independent adult? If you look in your handbook, you’ll see some ideas if you get stuck! After you select three things you are still learning, write down how you might learn those things and who could teach you.

Jan 29

FREE object lessons for Lent & Easter!

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 CFC-logogroup, or even as sermon illustrations.

7 Object Lessons for Change for Children- Lent 2018

2018 marks the twenty-second year I’ve been in children’s and youth ministry, and I have found that 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 congregations I’ve served have told 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 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. It is my hope that our relationship will truly be a partnership of mutual benefit. As Intermountain’s chaplain, I want to be a resource to you and an encouragement in your work with children and families.

If you haven’t visited the resource page to see what is there, I encourage you to do so. 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?”]

Jan 15

Moving towards completion of Van Orsdel Commons!

It’s been fifty years since there was a dedicated chapel space for the children in care at Intermountain’s residential 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. So, as I get set to move into the new Van Orsdel Commons, the overwhelming feeling I have is gratitude.

Progress is being made on Van Orsdel Commons! (click for larger, clearer image)

Progress is being made on Van Orsdel Commons! (click for larger, clearer image)

I am grateful for each and every gift and prayer that pushed this project to completion. 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 excitement among staff and our children is building! Can you sense it? I hope you and your church community take the opportunity to visit in 2018 and see the new space fifty years in the making, and while you are here in Helena you can build a stronger and more meaningful connection to the ministry and work that goes on every day!

 

 

Dec 30

Make 2018 a year of positive change in your community… be an advocate!

2018 is here, and it’s the season when most of us consider New Year’s resolutions and even the most cynical among us dares to think that with a little will power we might do any number of things: lose weight, eat healthier, watch less TV, get that promotion, or repair damaged relationships. 2017 was a year that saw a number of social movements precipitated by what national leaders did as well as the misbehavior of those in government and media in regards to sexual harassment. Whether or not the news that hit our headlines in 2017 motivated you to march in the streets or donate to a particular cause, I might suggest that a better approach for affecting and sustaining meaningful societal change rests in how we view ourselves and our social activism. This year, since we’re considering resolutions, I’d ask you to consider one that will make the world a better place and will give you a sense of purpose in 2018: be an advocate.

An advocate is someone who speaks on behalf of someone or something that they feel strongly about. It’s a willingness to put some “skin in the game,” affecting change in a system, situation, or society through personal effort. It involves speaking out, speaking for, and being there for someone or something outside yourself. It is, ideally, a purely selfless act. It’s also a recognition that, while we can’t do everything, we can do something. And, that something just might make the world brighter and more beautiful. An advocate does more than curse the darkness, she lights the way to a better tomorrow. An advocate joins with others, like those engaged in ChildWise Affiliates throughout Montana to better the lives of children in our communities (see video for more on this exciting movement)!

So, what should you advocate for? How should you go about becoming an advocate?

Where would you start in considering advocacy in 2018? I have a few suggestions for you, based on my own experience. I trust that if you follow these guidelines, you’ll find yourself connected to a cause and to a group of people that will help make this an amazing year of fulfillment, hope and promise.

First, examine what you do for most of your waking hours. If it is employment outside the home, what is your line of work? What causes might be connected to your place of employment? If you work in the home, maybe you’ll connect best to a cause that resonates for your passion for raising healthy children or supporting other families? I currently work at Intermountain, an agency dedicated to “caring solutions, strong families, and healthy communities” in Montana since 1909. I am passionate about what I do, so it is easy to advocate for the children and families we serve. If you can find someone or something to advocate for that connects to your vocation, you’ll go a long way towards making that job a calling!

Secondly, consider what issues or personal hardships have you endured. If you are here to celebrate the New Year, you are a survivor! Who helped you along the way? Answering this question can help you find people and organizations that will help you “pay it forward.” For instance, my older brother had Muscular Dystrophy and was helped by both the MDA (Jerry’s Kids) and benefitted from having a wish granted by Make-A-Wish many years ago. So, my act of “paying it forward” is to support MDA and volunteer as a Wish Granter with Montana Make-A-Wish! By mining your personal history, you are bound to find something you can advocate for, even redeeming something from your past that was difficult or troubling.

The great thing is, when you take your past pain and put it into service in the present, you are able to connect with those you are helping in a much more profound and compassionate way. As you have been comforted by God, family and friends, you can comfort others (2 Cor. 1:4).

Lastly, ask around at the groups you participate in to discover new avenues for advocacy. Maybe your Rotary or Lions group is passionate about clean water or education? Maybe that booster club you joined is more than you assumed it was and is doing some great work to help students on and off the field? Communities of faith are great places for advocacy… have you considered getting involved in a cause your church or fellowship is invested in? My home church is Headwaters Covenant Church, and in 2018 we are purposefully focusing on making our church a more trauma sensitive space by including a sensory-break room where those that are overwhelmed, regardless of age, can take the opportunity to regulate their mind, bodies, and spirits in order to better connect with the worshipping experience.

So, whether it springs forth from your occupation or vocation, connects to a piece of your personal history, or allows you to connect in a deeper way with your church or community, be an advocate in 2018. You can help our world become a better place and that is a resolution worth making. Happy New Year!

[Note: A version of this article originally appeared in the Helena Independent Record, print edition, Dec 31, 2016]

Dec 18

ICYMI: Alizajane Sark blesses the kids of Intermountain

In case you missed it, there was a wonderful story on KTVH in Helena about Alizajane Sark and the Festival of Trees donor that paid $800 so her tree could be donated back to the children of Intermountain. Here’s the story that ran on the news last week:

 

 

We wish you a blessed Christmas and hope your heart is filled with joy and generosity, just like young Alizajane’s!

Dec 13

Happy Chanukah!

Chanukah is an eight day holiday that begins on the 25th day of Kislev, on the Jewish calendar, each year.  This year, Chanukah started on December 12th at sunset, and the whole campus was able to assemble in the multi-purpose room to observe the holiday.

Through fun songs (like the one above) and entertaining videos, we recounted the victorious story of a small group of Jews, including the Maccabee family, who fought off the Assyrian-Greeks in a battle that lasted three years ( 168-165 B.C.E.), in order to retain their Jewish identity and practices. This was the first time, in recorded history, that a people stood up for their rights, and it is a cause to celebrate, even today!

Where does the connection to “light” come in? Well, when the Jews returned to their Temple, in Jerusalem, that had been trashed and defiled by the Assyrians, they could only find one small crucible of oil to light the menorah that was lit each day in the Temple. As our children learned, one of the miracles of the Chanukah story is that this little bit of oil lasted eight days ~ the exact time needed to prepare, purify and bless a new batch of oil.  Accordingly, Chanukah is celebrated by lighting a nine-branched chanukiyah ( candelabra).  Each night, an additional candle is lit, adding more light to the darkening days.

During our special chapel service, the children heard Chanukah stories, learned a couple of Chanukah songs and prayers, played the dreidel (a spinning top that tells the story of Chanukah) game and enjoyed sufganiyot ( jelly doughnuts) which is also part of the traditional celebration of Chanukah.

Also known as The Festival of Lights, Chanukah is a time to celebrate with family and friends.  It is a joyous holiday. We hope you have a wonderful celebration, as well… whatever, whomever, and however you choose to recognize this special time of year!chanukkah-image

 

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