2017 Tapestry Conference

The 2017 Tapestry Conference will be held October 20-21 at Irving Bible Church. Come learn from Dr. Curt Thompson as he teaches on the Soul of Shame. Examine how shame keeps us from being engaged in relationships and community. Learn how to retell the stories we believe about ourselves.

Early bird registration for the 2017 Tapestry Conference is NOW OPEN. Register at http://bit.ly/TapCon17 and use TAPCON20EB for 20% off.

Parenting is a Leadership Exercise

I was invited to speak at the Florida Foster and Adoptive Parent Association Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida in June. It is always a special privilege to share with families who are in the trenches. I love meeting them, hearing their stories, and being able to share information and experiences that can help them on their journey of hope and healing. I find it easy to be vulnerable with like minded people. I feel like I want to open up to them, honestly, it’s very therapeutic. Perhaps that is what I ultimately like about having the opportunity to speak at events like this one.

But this isn’t about my time in Orlando at the conference. No, this is about my flight home.

The pilot made two announcements before we left the gate; “Our flight is completely full today” and “It’s probably going to be bumpy as we climb out.” I assume that both of those announcements are made on every flight leaving Orlando in the month of June. It is where Mickey Mouse lives after all and afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence in central Florida.

Soon after that we left the gate and started our journey home. We spent the first fifteen minutes in the air either turning left or right. At no point did it seem like we were flying in a straight line until we were above the clouds because the pilot was navigating the rough air so that we didn’t have to experience the turbulence. He was cutting a path between the clouds to give us the smoothest ride possible. The climb out of Orlando reminded me that someone who is gifted and skilled can masterfully navigate the skies and avoid the turbulent air.

The first 15 minutes of that flight got me thinking that being a parent is a lot like being a pilot. They are both leadership exercises.

Being a parent is a lot like being a pilot. They are both leadership exercises. Click To Tweet

They are both leadership exercises because:

  1. You have to be equipped to do your job
  2. You are responsible for everyone on your “airplane”
  3. You have to navigate the turbulent air

You have to be equipped to do your job

Our pilot didn’t just climb into the cockpit and fly the plane one day. He is a highly trained and experienced person. He did the work necessary to do his job well. He made the investment in himself (and by extension in all of us sitting behind him) to do his job with the skill required.

But training by itself is not enough. He needed the right kind of training. Pilots need to be trained in the principles of flight. Not just flying a plane.

Parents who are raising children with trauma histories need to be trained in trauma. They need to understand the risk factors that make a hard place. They need to understand how that trauma impacts the brain, body, biology, beliefs, and behavior of their child. They need to understand how their kids respond to fear. Understanding these things is vital to your ability to navigate the skies.

We all accept that athletes need a coach and they need to practice so that they can be at their best. Yet, many parents are reluctant to accept that they need a coach or need to practice to be at their best. I doubt that many (if any) of them would fly on an airplane piloted by someone who is neither trained nor experienced.

You are responsible for everyone on your “airplane”

Pilot or parent, like it or not, you are responsible for everyone on your airplane. That’s what you signed up for. We cannot expect our children to have the tools necessary to self-regulate, take responsibility for their actions, or repair their mistakes. We have to show them how. We have to lead them on their healing journey. We have to model these things for them. Dr. Purvis used to say that unless you taught your child how to do something, you should assume that they don’t know how to do it.

As parents, we know that we are responsible for our families, but that responsibility extends way beyond food, shelter, and clothing. We are responsible for their emotional development and relational healing. Adoptive and foster parents have to heal wounds we didn’t inflict and redeem ground we didn’t lose. This is a foundational reality that we have to embrace about parenting kids with trauma histories. This is how we take responsibility for those behind us on our airplane.

You have to navigate the turbulent air

This means two things. We need to find a way to avoid the turbulent air if we can, and since that isn’t always possible, we need to know how to navigate safely back to smooth air when we find ourselves in turbulent air.

I would suggest that there are two ways to do that. One is to be equipped for the journey by getting that training we need in order to understand our kid’s histories. The second way is to become the world’s leading experts in our children. Since being equipped was addressed earlier I won’t repeat it here, I’ll focus on becoming an expert on who your child is.

We must become the world’s leading experts in our children. Click To Tweet

I can’t overstate this point, we need to know who our kids are in order to be the agents of healing they need us to be. We need to know their triggers, their hurts, and their hangups. We need to know how much sleep they need, how frequently they need nutrition and hydration. We need to know their allergies and their reactions to foods and stressors. We need to know what helps them regulate and what we need to do to re-integrate their upstairs and downstairs brains. We can’t navigate the turbulent air if we don’t know these things.

It’s a matter of trust

The pilot made another announcement about 90 minutes into the flight; “Folks, I’m going to turn the seat belt sign on again as it’s getting bumpy, but don’t worry we’ll do our best to find some smooth air for you.” I had no anxiety when he made that announcement. I had complete faith that he would do what he said because he had proven that he could find the smooth air when we started the journey. He had already demonstrated his ability to navigate the skies. That’s how trust is established, you prove that you are up to the task. You lead those you are responsible for to a better place. You show your kids how when they don’t know how. We can’t always avoid the turbulence, but we can do our best to find the smooth air. We have to, our kids are depending on us.

That’s how trust is established, you prove that you are up to the task. Click To Tweet

Just in case you were wondering, the seat belt sign was turned off 20 minutes later when we found ourselves back in the clean air.

My thanks to Captain Chuck Oltman (pictured below) for the safe, smooth flight home.

Ignorance and Malice Are Not the Same Thing

One of the things that we truly believe is that people thrive in community. You simply cannot thrive in isolation, and a key ingredient in what adoptive and foster families need to thrive is to be connected to a healthy church ministry that understands them and will support them as they travel their adoption and foster care journey. Feeling connected is the first step towards being engaged. Families feel connected when they feel like their kids are understood and loved.

Families feel connected when they feel like their kids are understood and loved. Click To Tweet

Children’s ministry is so different now from what I remember as a child. I can still recall the little church I grew up attending. On Sunday mornings all of the children would gather and sing a few songs at the front of the Worship Center. We would sing songs from “This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine” to “Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so.” After that we would be dismissed to our classes where we were taught the Sunday School lesson.

But the world my children are growing up in is vastly different to the one that I grew up in. There are more things vying for our attention than ever before which has created an attention deficit society. We are bombarded and we are overload. Everything is bigger, better, faster, more and children’s ministry in many ways resembles now that. We try to pack more into 75 minutes than we ever have before.

According to study conducted by the Barna group they found that 45% of adults picked a church based on the strength of the children’s programming offered. Now, that is both good and terrifying news for our churches. It is good news because a healthy, strong children’s ministry is a great way for families to get connected to the church. But if the program is not thriving then it will be a reason that many families move away. According to the research, our churches have both a great opportunity and a great responsibility.

But I think we need to talk about a key assumption before we go any further because I hear this from families all of the time; “children’s ministry doesn’t care about our kids.” While that statement can feel very real to parents, I counter that assumption with this idea; most people are not malicious, they’re just not informed, they don’t know any better.

I once had a boss who shared the following with me, and it has helped my frustration level every time I have encountered a situation where I felt like people were not understanding what I was trying to communicate. He told me to “never assume malice when ignorance will be sufficient.” We tend to assign sinister motives to people when the most likely cause of their actions is that they simply don’t know any better.

Here is the definition of MALICE

Malice [mal-is] noun – the desire to inflict injury, harm, or suffering on another, either because of a hostile impulse or out of deep-seated meanness.

That doesn’t sound like anyone I know who works in children’s ministry. I don’t know any people who volunteer their time on Sundays who have the desire to inflict injury or harm on the kids at our church. Children’s ministry volunteers are rarely, if ever, described as mean.

Here is the definition of IGNORANT.

Ignorant [ig-ner-uh-nt] adjective – lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned, lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact, uninformed; unaware.

When it comes to understanding trauma and its impacts on our kids, I have to agree with the advice my old boss gave me all of those years ago; “Never assume malice when ignorance will be sufficient.”

Now, some people might bristle at the thought of being considered ignorant, but the word simply means unaware or uninformed; lacking in knowledge or training.

Children’s ministry is designed to be both instructional and entertaining because we have to create an environment where kids are taught the truth of scripture while making sure it was fun enough that they want to come back next week.

The biggest problem with that idea is that it offers no understanding of what a hard place is and how our kids are affected by them.

The 6 risk factors that make a hard place are:

  1. Prenatal stress and harm
  2. Difficult labor and delivery
  3. Early medical trauma
  4. Abuse
  5. Neglect
  6. Trauma

Before we go any further I think we can all agree that those 6 risk factors are not unique to adopted or foster children. But here’s the thing, if our children’s ministry staff and volunteers do not know the 6 risk factors that make a hard place, and how they impact the brain, biology, body, beliefs, and behavior of our kids, we cannot make them responsible for using connected strategies with the children. We have to own the fact that it is our responsibility as advocates for these children, our children, to educate and equip the key people in the children’s ministry at our churches.

We bear a great responsibility in the matter. Because asking the church to have a trauma informed ministry is a big ask. It’s a big ask because we’re asking them to do differently what they have done the same way for years. It’s a big ask because we’re asking them to change their assumptions about some of the children in their care. It’s a big ask because we’re asking them to interact with the children differently. It’s a big ask because we’re asking them to think about what trauma is and how it impacts each child.

And if we ask them, we have to be prepared to equip them. You see it’s not enough to ask people to implement a trauma informed ministry if we have not given them the tools and the resources they will need.

It's not enough to ask people to implement a trauma informed ministry, we must equip them. Click To Tweet

Before we ask children’s ministries to change, we need to ensure that we have the knowledge and the experience to equip them. We need to have read The Connected Child multiple times we need to have read The Whole-Brain Child multiple times. We should all know how to explain the “Handy Model of the Brain” and how we “flip our lids” and how we can re-connect our upstairs brain to our downstairs brain again. We cannot ask others to do something if we are not willing to do it ourselves. We cannot ask others to do something if we have not equipped them.

What we are doing is asking a big ship to change direction.

There are two things that are true about big ships turning. One of them is that big ships turn slowly and the second is that big ships encounter the roughest waters in the middle of the turn because they are being broadsided by the waves. You should expect the same two things from the big ship that you’re trying to turn at your church.

Ships encounter the roughest waters in the middle of the turn. Click To Tweet

But don’t be discouraged because God asks us to do big things and then he equips us to do big things. The bible says that we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which he prepared in advance for us to do. Helping your children’s ministry become a trauma informed ministry is just a part of you walking in your calling.

Our church asked my wife to be a roaming behavior interventionist at VBS last summer. As she was walking down the hallway one day she heard two distinctive sounds,  One was a crying child and the other was an aggressive tone coming  from one of the teenage volunteers. As my wife got closer she heard the teenage girl say this to the crying 4 year old, “I’m going to leave you out here by yourself if you don’t stop crying and you’re not going to get a snack when you get back to class.”

Let’s unpack that for a minute.

A crying child is a child that is in distress. Instead of responding to him like he was struggling, she responded to him like he was behaving badly. But before we judge the teenage girl too harshly let’s consider this…she didn’t know any better. Nobody had equipped her for that moment and it is most likely that her experience as a child amounted to this, “Do as you’re told or suffer the consequences”, just like she told the little boy. I don’t believe that the first time she heard the words “stop crying or I’m going to leave you out here by yourself” was when she uttered them that morning to the 4 year old little boy.

That incident at that VBS was a turning point for our church. That was when they realized that they had to start doing things differently and asked us to come and train them on trauma and how it affects the children in their care.

Now, back to the teenage girl because she really illustrates the issue at hand. She was doing the best she could with what she knew. Maya Angelou once said “Do the best you can until you know better and when you know better, do better.”

We all know better, now we bear the responsibility to help our churches know better so that they can do better. So that they can become life-giving communities where adoptive and foster families feel like they belong.

Here is an audio version of the text if you’d like to listen to Ryan presenting at CAFO Summit 2016 in Orlando.

National FC Month (Tip #10)

May is National Foster Care Month and we thought we’d share 10 ways in 10 days you can support kids in care without becoming a foster parent.

Tip #10: Prayerfully consider becoming a foster parent

Not everyone is equipped to be a foster parent, but if you find yourself being drawn to foster families and foster kids then maybe God is working on your heart to help in more than just a support role. Prayerfully consider if this might be something your family could do. Yes, goodbyes are hard, behaviors are challenging, hugs may not come freely, and rewards may not be easily seen, but these children need loving homes who are willing to look past their own needs and do what is best for these hurting kids and families.

National FC Month (Tip #9)

May is National Foster Care Month and we thought we’d share 10 ways in 10 days you can support kids in care without becoming a foster parent.

Tip #9: Household chores

There is paperwork and numerous appointments that come with foster care (doctor, dentist, psychologist, play therapist, OT,PT, ST) in addition to all the visitors that come see the kids each month (CASA, lawyer, caseworker, agency worker)… So while foster families may seem like the average family, there are so many household tasks that can easily slip through the cracks in the chaos. An offer to come help clean out a garage, repair a fence, organize a closet, or even fold laundry would be such a blessing for a foster family.

National FC Month (Tip #8)

May is National Foster Care Month and we thought we’d share 10 ways in 10 days you can support kids in care without becoming a foster parent.

Tip #8: Volunteer to run errands

As a foster parent there are many little things that could be done that would make a huge difference (especially in those first couple weeks after a new placement, but anytime would be appreciated!). Offering to stop at the store, take one of their forever kids to a soccer practice or dance class, or even take a fire extinguisher to be weighed (did you realize they had to do that?) So many possibilities…

National FC Month (Tip #7)

May is National Foster Care Month and we thought we’d share 10 ways in 10 days you can support kids in care without becoming a foster parent.

Tip #7. Mentor a foster kid

This will likely require the same training as a babysitter or respite provider, but this is so much more than that. There are many single parent foster homes or homes with many kids that could really use another role model. This is particularly true for older kids who may be a bit more challenging. These kids need all the supportive adults in their life they can get. Offer to take a foster kid out for dinner, ice cream, to a ball game on a regular basis and really pour into their life for however long they are in their foster home.

National FC Month (Tip #6)

May is National Foster Care Month and we thought we’d share 10 ways in 10 days you can support kids in care without becoming a foster parent.

Tip #6. Donate school supplies

When August rolls around there is always a push for donated school supplies for underprivileged kids and low income schools. When foster kids are placed in a home in the middle of November or the end of April they still need to go to school and they may not have come with any supplies. Offer to load up a backpack full of supplies for that child.

National FC Month (Tip #5)

May is National Foster Care Month and we thought we’d share 10 ways in 10 days you can support kids in care without becoming a foster parent.

Tip #5. Become a prayer warrior for a foster family

Commit to praying for a foster family on a regular basis. While confidentiality may require the family to be vague with requests, find out important dates that are coming up or specific situation that may need prayer. Fostering can be hard on everyone. Kids are adjusting to a new home with uncertainty of what the future will hold. Biological and adopted kids already in the home may have difficulty accepting the new child or sharing their home and family. Foster parents may find a strain on their marriage as they learn to parent a child from a hard place who often has so many needs. Call, text, or email regularly to see how you can pray.

 

National FC Month (Tip #4)

May is National Foster Care Month and we thought we’d share 10 ways in 10 days you can support kids in care without becoming a foster parent.

Tip #4. Provide a meal

When someone has a baby, family and friends gather together to provide meals for the family as the new mom recovers and the family adjusts to the new addition. While a foster mom may not be physically recovering from childbirth, this is very much the same situation. When new placements arrive the kids may not sleep through the night (even if they are not newborns), they may not like the food they are being offered, or the new school they have to attend. Yes these kids may not be babies, but their needs are great and it certainly takes some adjustment time. Meals would be a huge blessing.