Family Life, September 2015

Healing for Crisis Relationship Break-Ups

by Suzette Bowen

Suzette BowenGod made us for relationships. We need the comfort of them, we need the support of them, we need the love within them, and most of all, we seek unity with another. We are built for partnership and God uses relationships to sanctify us, even the broken ones. When the status quo of a relationship suffers an explosion, chaos naturally emerges. Many Christians struggle with their faith during the process of loss, however, in such times, recognizing that God knew you before you were in your mother’s womb and is not surprised by the recent shift, can be comforting.

It will test your belief that He is the all-sufficient one. God never wastes pain and He won’t start with yours. It is in His nature to turn chaos into creation and He knows no other position but to be a strong tower and an anchor that holds. His word can begin to become LIVING WATER as you identify with the lives of Job, David and Joseph. The emotional consequences of the loss can be overwhelming, however, leaning on your relationship with God will stabilize your environment, family, finances and daily living routines. Learn to hear Him. Let Him teach you what He would desire for you in His refiner’s fire.

Understanding the stages of grief (denial, anger, depression, bargaining, acceptance) will help normalize some of the emotional changes. After the break-up, searching for another partner immediately is a natural longing; however, reaching externally for your answers may only lengthen the process and cause you to miss the healing that comes with learning how to partner with God. Allow yourself to feel the pain…sit in it and recognize that is a molting process. Pain wants to be acknowledged, so don’t ignore it, but rather, embrace it.

Learn how to DO YOU! Getting to know yourself better is part of the journey. Often during these times, self-identity questions will arise, such as: “Who am I?” “What is my purpose?” “What is love?” “What brings me joy?” God has an answer for all of these questions and He is right with you through the process. Ask Him for HIS answers for your questions. Learn to date you, laugh with you, cry with you…explore your relationship with yourself. A good start is to use this acronym:

PIES: P-physical stimulation, I-intellectual stimulation, E-emotional stimulation, S-spiritual stimulation. Work on nurturing yourself throughout the week by a healthy dose of your PIES

Recognize the shame-based hidden messages of the past. Be careful not to victimizing yourself through negative internal dialogue such as “poor me”, “why me” , I’m worthless”, “I’m abandoned”, or, “I’m never good enough”. These are childhood messages that will surface during traumatic times. The enemy will bombard you with lies that will need to be combated with the truth of “who you are in Christ”.

A Christian counselor may help you in replacing your old identity with a Christ identity. Additionally, journaling is a recommended practice that can help you express your emotions in a non-toxic way. Ownership is a sign of self-esteem, so locate the areas you need to grow and resist the self-loathing messages. Accept that you must go THROUGH this, you cannot go over it or around it; but be assured that this experience will not define you, nor be your destiny, but rather propel you to your destiny, if you trust God with YOU!

Lastly, find a healthy support network. This may be a time to explore which activities and relationships feed you and which ones take from you. If you are a parent, you will need fuel to keep yourself and your children stable, so find those around you who desire to assist. Also, don’t be intimidated to ask for what you need from your current relationships. Those who really show up for you will be the ones that travel to your next destination. Through this trial, if you trust God and lean on Him and not on your own understanding, He will reveal himself to you and you will find that He stuck closer than a brother and that He provided in the storm. HE IS THE GOOD SHEPHARD. BLESSED BE HIS HOLY NAME.

About Suzette: Suzette Bowen, M.Ed., LPC, is the founder and CEO of Couples Care Center. She is a Christian relationship counselor who has a special interest in assisting couples through crisis. She assists in restoring relationships, however, when an alternate outcome is inevitable, she assists the individual partner in their healing journey. She uses a straight forward approach to address both superficial and core relationship and individual issues. She believes in strengthening what remains in order to encourage those in despair and believes that the truth sets people free.

Cover Story, September 2015

Heritage Ranch: It Takes A Village

by Beth Townsend

EllisFly_367-1While that familiar phrase was made famous in a political setting, families in crisis know it’s not just some catchy phrase that may help win a few votes. It’s a lifeline for a family in crisis. It is a calling for those God touched with a vision to aid families desperate for help. ‘It takes a village,’ also applies to making a vision happen that is so big that it had to be of God.

“Things stopped with Vicki Ellis about ten years ago. I mean, I had a vision, but if the community hadn’t been behind me, we wouldn’t be here,” said Ellis, the executive director at Heritage Ranch Christian Children’s Home in Zachary, La.

Sprawled out on 52 acres, the peaceful environment lends way to the idea of a fully functioning ranch. It will serve children in the midst of a personal or family crisis that requires respite outside the home.

HeritageRanch-18-FINAL“I would’ve just been sitting somewhere in a house with this vision and no way to bring about what God wanted to bring to fruition because really, this is His plan,” Vicki explained. “It’s been the obedience of God’s people to have faith in it [the vision], even more than anything from me. For so many people to say, ‘I’m going to pour time and energy into something that I haven’t seen yet,’ it’s amazing.”

One doesn’t just wake up one day wanting to open a home for children-in-crisis. Often, that vision comes from a deep place within the soul where God awakens the passions of one of His children as he reveals their life’s purpose. For Vicki, that vision was born from memories of her own pain as a child.

At 14, she was babysitting for Bobby and Libby Adams, who had four kids. “They asked me to babysit, but God had other plans,” she said thinking back. While traveling with the Adams, there was a monumental stop that would mark the teen’s life in a significant way. This stop was at Wears Valley Ranch, a children’s home near Sevierville, Tenn., founded by Jim Wood and his wife. During this stop, the Adams and Vicki toured the property and saw the structure of the first house at the ranch.

“As Jim Wood shared his vision of what God had put on his heart, something spoke to me because of my recent personal experience,” Vicki explained. “I was sexually abused as a child by my grandfather. Not until 11 did I even remember. You can imagine those three years before this trip; my parents had gotten me counseling and amazing support at my church. No matter what was going on though, there are still the lies that you believe when you have gone through that type of trauma.”

“Of course I wondered after the abuse, ‘Am I worth something? Did I cause something?’ I wasn’t your typical 14-year-old walking around a children’s home.”

Vicki identified with Wood when he spoke about families and children in crisis. She said she couldn’t image how she would have gotten through that season any other way than with the ‘village of people’ that supported her.

“Even with that support system, emotionally it feels like you barely get through a crisis like that,” Vicki recalled. For Vicki, the visit to Wears Valley Ranch sparked a lifelong journey pursuing a vision planted in her heart at as a teenager. After the trip, life resumed with normal teen activities: school, friends, etc.

“I was 14,” she explained, as if to imply there was only so much she could understand about God’s plan at that point in time. During her freshman year at LSU, Vicki began to revisit that summer.

“God put it on my heart to find out what had happened with Wears Valley Ranch,” she said. After calling to see what had happened since her visit, she found out that the first two homes were open. She applied to become an intern and was accepted.

HeritageRanch-62-FINAL“That three months included literally living in a room, in the girls’ house and doing life with them. Everything from getting them up, breakfast, lunch, dinner, counseling, educational support, taking them to the movies on Friday night,” Vicki remembered with fondness. “Being there when they woke up in the middle of the night [was important], especially with the girls, because they had identity issues.” The internship was a turning point for Vicki, now old enough to understand the broader scope of God’s calling.

“I came back and finished my undergraduate degree at LSU and started researching what it would mean to start a children’s home for the greater Baton Rouge area,” Vicki said. Her friends in Tennessee referred her to another children’s home, Eagle Ranch, in Georgia.

“When I told them I felt God was calling me to start a children’s home, they told me to call Director Eddie Staub,” she explained. “God called Eddie to mentor people, while passing on good business practices. While still in college, I attended the Wing Seminar at Eagle Ranch. I’ll say, sitting in that room, reading what it was going to involve [to start a home] was daunting. Getting together a board, getting the community involved, and over the course of time, from finding a building and capitol development standpoint, to serve 60 kids on a campus, you’d be raising 30 million plus dollars. That was the moment where I thought, ‘This is getting real.’ It’s where a calling has to come to grips with the reality of what it’s going to take.”

Vicki continued, “One thing I love about Eddie is that he doesn’t sugar coat anything. Sometimes he would make me mad because he would challenge me. But the reality was he was there to make sure that I understood what I was getting into. I remember him saying there were a lot of people who have a heart to serve, but if the business gets lost in the serving, you won’t be effective and you won’t last.” Tangible business decisions had to be made about board members and advisory staff.

“I just thought I’d recruit passionate people who love kids,” she said. “Eddie said, ‘Well that’s good, but you need an attorney and a human resource expert. You need an accountant, an insurance person, and someone who knows about media. You need an educator, and a pastor!’”

“To have that solid framework going into something is the reason we’ve been successful. We are modeling after a well-thought-through, well-executed plan and program that has been successful: the two-parent house couple, the family home setting in a rural area with educational and counseling support and family involvement. [We] focus around reunification for the family; that model has been very successful over the last 30 years. In our journey, our connection with Eagle Ranch has been critical for us.”

It was finally time to take what she had learned and get to work.

“From there it was starting a board. When I got our 501c3 status I was in my master’s program at LSU in December 2003. I didn’t know anything about fundraising, [creating a] board of directors or anything else,” Vicki said. “For the next couple of years it was just the process of learning what it means to run a business.”

HeritageRanch-10-FINALVicki built key relationships in the community and in 2006, under the leadership of Amy Horn, the current development director at Heritage Ranch, they started a life skills program that served more than 40 kids weekly from both Valley Park Alternative School in Baton Rouge and West Feliciana Alternative School in St. Francisville. Each school had mentors from the community that came in regularly to spend time with the kids.

Amy spoke in-depth about the program’s impact, “When we wrapped up the program in 2010, we served about 120 youth a week. We had fully implemented a life skills training program with a curriculum that we had developed. We had a program with community mentors that met in groups of three or four. They set goals, weekly, monthly, and yearly. Then we had a service-learning component where we took the youth out into the community to give back. Over the course of the year we would visit the battered women’s shelter, food bank, nursing homes, and different organizations to where they would get the opportunity to serve.” She continued, “Often the kids would think they didn’t want to go serve, but they would come out with filled with joy. We would go to lunch and share what they’d experienced. They came out feeling fulfilled, realizing they had done something positive.”

Vicki added thoughts about the importance of a multi-faceted mentoring approach, “Another thing we did was to offer them unique experiences they may not have otherwise had. We went to Juban’s for a fine dining experience. Another time, Mike Wampold, one of our board members and a successful real estate developer, had us visit his office and had executives share with the kids.”

The staff at Heritage Ranch discovered there are many misconceptions about families in crisis. “People have a misconception of what crisis looks like; that somehow kids in crisis don’t have a goals or dreams for their families. The reality is, God has made each of us with a purpose, there is something that we are called to accomplish,” Vicki said.

“It’s just a matter of if you have the resources and the support to challenge and motivate you. Yet, I understand that there will be people that have all the resources in the world but still won’t choose to pursue that dream or make that choice. But for the kids that we saw at Valley Park and St. Francisville, as well as those we’re interviewing at the ranch, they are kids that passionately want to be successful, yet something sidetracked them and now they are just trying to figure out how to get through the day.

She continued, “They still want to accomplish something. Those parents want to see their kids happy and successful. The life skills program taught us not to look at a situation and judge what you perceive. Those kids in Valley Park, I don’t care if they were expelled, they’re still kids.”

HeritageRanch-12-FINALDuring Heritage Ranch meetings, as a staff and board, there were discussions about the likely situations to be faced. “We agreed it would be a tragedy for any of these kids not to reach their full potential,” Vicki stated. “I’m not faulting the community around them, but that community didn’t know how to provide the support that they needed.”

Finding the correct property for Heritage Ranch was a major decision and took many years. The initial board was founded in 2004 with three members. By 2006 the board expanded to seven members. By 2010 the program had a fully functioning 10-person board of directors and 10-person board of advisors

“One of the things Eddie Staub told us is that often it’s difficult to find the board members that can serve because of the busyness of life,” Vicki explained. “That is why we had a smaller board for a long time. Princeton Bardwell, who was one of our board chairs, served on the board for six years. Almost every board member has served for six years, even though they get a three-year term!”

Vicki continued, “We have an incredible leadership structure. What we’ve looked for in building our team is men and women that have the values to guide this organization in the way God called it to be, a faith-based children’s home. For each, regardless of what they do for our board, I could trust them to raise my own children.”

“I think that’s one of the reasons people give up on visions,” Vicki stated. “Anybody who strives to do something bigger than themselves, you have to realize that you can only know and do so much. I can’t be a human resource major, an educator and all of these roles that have to be managed. Yet, I am tasked with leading this organization everyday, and that community makes the difference.”

Vicki recalled receiving a phone call from a parent that she knew was beyond the scope of her knowledge. Charlie Frey, a member of the board of advisors at the time and a well respected psychologist, worked with them to help her make that decision. She repeatedly spoke of the importance of having external wisdom and support.

There are many needs that the community can provide. Vicki explained, “We just had a group from Woodlawn Baptist come for the work day last week. They did in four hours what our staff couldn’t have done in weeks. One easy way to help is join our workdays, the first Saturday of every month from 8:00 a.m. to noon. It’s a good way for people to be on the campus and see first hand what we’re doing.” Continuing, she added, “One of our first donors was a 20-year old that had been raised by single mom that wanted to do something, giving $25 a month. We’ve had others that have given $100 a year from 2004 until now. Whether you are mowing the lawn, giving a check for $50,000 or coming in to read once a week, in my estimation, it’s all the same in the sense that without it we wouldn’t be here.”

From its inception, Heritage Ranch had the goal to be debt-free, modeling the business strategies of Eagle Ranch and Vicki’s mentor Eddie Staub.

“Fiscal responsibility has been a critical part of the planning process,” Vicki elaborated. “We have an operating reserve in the bank. Moving forward, we won’t build until we have raised the funds. When I’m going out to ask somebody to give $50,000 because we want to start a scholarship fund, it might be a meeting in a restaurant, but Amy has met the child that that scholarship is going to fund. Doing that [raising money] and being debt-free means that the legacy we’re creating for our kids is stable. That is huge.”

Amy added, “We closed our initial capital campaign at $1.9 million before we opened because the board said we would not open until we had that cash reserve. That is the great thing about having strong leadership.”

HeritageRanch-14-FINAL“Our tuition is $12,000 a year, $1000 a month. The reason that we set the tuition is because there is a value to the service that we’re providing. If you look at what a family in crisis has to spend per year, it would be astounding,” Vicki said. “Individual counseling weekly, group counseling weekly, both of which we provide; family counseling every other week, as well as weekly tutoring. For the level of support we provide, anyone in crisis knows they could be spending $30,000 a year, plus housing, and still be stressed out and in crisis at home.”

To ensure that no child would be turned away because of money, Heritage Ranch established a scholarship fund. Social worker Fairly Edrington meets with families to help determine what they can afford.

“When you are in a crisis, financial stress is one of the biggest triggers. When your family is falling apart then someone says, ‘We can help your kid and it’s going to cost $50,000 dollars a year,’ that one call can be the very thing that puts a mom over the edge. When you’re in crisis, you need hope more than anything else,” Vicki added empathetically. “If we determine they can pay $250 a month or $600 a month or even the full $1,000 a month [that’s great]. If we [see that we] have a need, we will talk to our donors about that child. We are fundraising all year long because we know we’re going to be raising the difference anyway.”

Fairly’s role will become critical in the well-rounded approach to meet the individual needs of the boys who will be moving in. “The relationship between myself and the house parents is critical because we have to be a united front with the boys,” Fairly explained. “We want to make sure we’re on the same page with how we treat the boys in the therapeutic realm.”

“An example would be a child that has impulse control. ‘What can we do to help you not speak out of turn every 15 seconds, but instead, every 30 seconds?’ You have to celebrate small victories, not just large goals,” Fairly continued. “We try to help get to the core issues as a family. If we just worked with the child and not the rest of the family, then there will be problems down the road. We teach them ways to communicate better, how a listen to one another, teaching them ways to deal with stress and anger, and to celebrate together. If your child lies every day and you can get to where they only lie every other day that is a huge victory. We have to set goals that are attainable, [and] well-defined.”

Fairly’s experience revealed common sense advice for struggles commonly experienced in families. “Communication for families is that the root of everything. Parents often want to fix problems instead of listening to the problem,” Fairly explained. “If a child says they had a tough day at school, the parent wants to tell them what to do next time. But the kid just wants to be heard. Processing what they’re saying goes with putting down your phone. If I tell my mom something and I’m on my phone and she’s on her phone, I’m not going to hear what she’s really saying, same goes for her.”

Fairly is the contact person with the public school each young man attends. “We plan to be involved, have a relationship with the principals, guidance counselors, and teachers,” she said. Now that Heritage Ranch has opened, plans for future homes are being discussed.

“We will not build house two or three until we have the funds,” Fairly stated. “We anticipate that being a 3 to 5 year process. Each home will be built with houseparents’ quarters, allowing them to have their own living space in case they have their own children. We have a goal of housing a minimum of 60 boys and girls ages 8 to18 with transitional living. We’ll also have a chapel, educational center, and pavilion. We plan for a big community.” Fairly concluded with a broad smile.

Vicki’s passion for the project is infectious. Year after year, she builds upon success and determination. In discussing seasons of doubt, she was quick to respond, “There are times I get weary,” she admits. “Were it not for the community support, I would not have been able to do what we have done. This quit being about me and my vision years ago.”

Heritage Ranch has been a part of the Ellis family life since it began. Three of their four children (Gabriel, 9, Jesse, 7, Mercy, 5, and Kai, 2) joined around the table and seemed to enjoy being in the midst of everyday business. As Vicki’s children scurried around she added, “My dad is our site manager and my mom comes out two days a week and does grant writing and helps with tutoring. He and mom moved up the road a couple of miles to be closer.” They are Larry Brown, known as Paw Paw, and Ann Brown known affectionately as Nana.”

HeritageRanch-13-FINALVicki credits the support of her husband Micah as monumental: “During the time God was giving birth to this vision, Micah’s realization of what it would really mean for our family was amazing. It should always be God first, family second and ministry third. You struggle with that when God calls you do something because it so much a part of you, but you realize you have to have that family support.” From carrying kids to and from school or to going to galas, or being there when Vicki cries or feel like she can’t do this anymore, Micah has always been supportive.

Vicki continued, “There are a lot of things God asks us to do that are not small, just like the families in crisis are not going through a small thing. For every person, especially in crisis, we realize humans can’t give what you need. Sometimes you need someone who’s always going to be there for you and that is God! He will never fail us. God has been reminding me that He has established Heritage Ranch. It’s just day-to-day trust in Him to bring about what He has already done.”

Sadly people often think young people in environments like Heritage Ranch have parents that just gave up, but that’s not the case. Any one of these youngsters could be your neighbor’s child, or a pastor’s child. There is no formula for good parenting or keeping a child safe. As young people grow up, they must figure out whom they are. Sometimes they don’t know how to do so, and instead, start acting out.

“By the time a young person is placed in a children’s home environment, the family has usually tried everything. They’ve gone to their church family, they’ve tried counseling; they’ve done everything in the books,” Vicki explained. “Heritage Ranch is about coming alongside families in crisis when they love their child so much that they’re willing to sacrifice having them in their home to keep them safe in our care, because they know that may be the only chance to get through this crisis.”

If there is a young man in crisis age 10 to 17 and their family has tried everything else, readers are encouraged to call Fairly Edrington for a discussion and to potentially set up an interview. The intake process and application can be found on the Heritage Ranch website at www.hrbr.org.

The goal of Heritage Ranch is to provide care for the community that will impact generations of change, and it is an opportunity for the Greater Baton Rouge community to have something not previously available. Business leaders like Mike Wampold, Julio Malera, Princeton Bardwell, and Bill Peters are just a few of the high-profile community members who saw the need and have answered the call to help.

Matthew 25 speaks to “receiving the inheritance that has been prepared for you.” Hope is what we are about. Now that Vicki Ellis’ vision is a reality, it will be about how our community works together to bring this vision to it’s full potential.


 

Meet House Parents Brian and Brenda Zawodniak
HeritageRanch-8-FINAL

Brian and Brenda are looking forward to this new chapter. They used to dream of having a ranch or farm where they could help children, but the opportunity didn’t work out until they heard about Heritage Ranch. “When this job came up, it seemed a great fit,” said Brian; Brenda nodded in agreement.

Having learned about the job from their daughter who interned at the ranch, they knew God ordered their steps with perfect timing. They will be utilizing Brian’s 30-years of military service and Brenda’s vast ministry experience, as well as their own parenting experience, as they’ve also raised two (now grown) children.

“God ordered our steps here,” Brian explained. “There are easier jobs with more money, but this is where we are supposed to be and what we want to do.

“We are looking forward to getting to know the kids, finding out what they like. We plan to teach them to work together as a team,” Brian said.

“Moving here can be the change of scenery these kids need,” Brenda said. “Sometimes kids just don’t know how to start with a clean slate.” Their plan is to focus on the positives.

“We will do Bible studies and build their focal point back to the Lord. Effort equals results, good decisions equal positive things,” Brian concluded.


Why is Heritage Ranch needed in our community?

“There are families in crises all around us…these are regular people who find their family unit threatened, who are in severe emotional pain and who desperately need help for their child, or children, and themselves. Heritage Ranch is a response to this need that is rooted in compassion, driven by service and sustained through love.  It is people helping people, neighbors loving neighbors, in an organized, secure and professional, yet home-style, environment.  Heritage Ranch follows a template created by Eagle Ranch in Gainesville, GA that has given Eagle Ranch the distinction of being described as the most effective child service center in Georgia.  We believe Heritage Ranch will be that for Baton Rouge and Louisiana.”

Princeton Bardwell, Heritage Ranch Board of Advisors

“Heritage Ranch is needed to give our Parish youth an opportunity to become what God intends for them.”

Bill Peters, Heritage Ranch Board of Advisors

“Heritage Ranch provides an outstanding family structure for children to become ambassadors for HIM.”

Bill Peters, Heritage Ranch Board of Advisors

What is the importance of the whole community coming together to found a children’s home for our area?

“The Heritage Ranch business model, in fact the experience of similar, privately funded children’s homes, relies on small donations from many people. So, by design, Heritage Ranch depends on a broad base of support throughout the community.  Its’ ministry of mitigating family crises, providing a safe haven for the children, providing counseling and helping restore relationships and reunite families benefits everyone because, in the end, it is about building stronger families and a stronger community.”

Princeton Bardwell, Heritage Ranch Board of Advisors

“A private, voluntary placement program such as Heritage Ranch must have the support of the entire community to survive and thrive.”

– Jeff Plauche, Board Chair Heritage Ranch

 

Learning For Life, September 2015

Journey to Recovery

by Jehan Seals

datauri-fileFinding freedom through recovery didn’t come overnight, explains Jason Poirer of Brusly, La., “I hated the way I felt and knew I needed to quit, but I couldn’t find the strength to do so on my own.” It’s not everyday you get the pleasure of meeting a person whose joy in the Lord is sincere. Poirer describes his transformation as night and day. “I was for so long entangled with drugs that life had no longer had meaning. But Christ lead me to freedom, I only needed to follow.”

Poirer, 29, courageously shares his testimony about his battle with prescription and recreational drug use. He talks about how as a kid he began drinking beer and smoking marijuana but had not anticipated what was next.

“I began as a kid, just messing around. Alcohol was easily accessible and so was marijuana, but at 15 I experimented with ecstasy. I knew that it was a bit more than what I had tried before, but I was still somewhat curious,” Poirer said. “I tried it and remember saying, if this feels this good, Ill try anything!” He went on to detail how much changed in his life based on one decision.

datauri-file“When I would wake up in the morning, my body craved more, I couldn’t get through a day sober; without the drugs I would be so sick. I could only focus on my next fix.” As he continued to dig into his past he found no issue with sharing the ugly truth of his past. Likewise, with a humble heart, he began to share how through recovery, freedom was found.

“I had nothing, I had lost just about everything and everyone. I had found myself at the mercy God,” he explained. “I entered a rehabilitation program at my father’s request. While there I would read the literature that was given, attended the group meetings and avoided people that were still using, but even still I felt unequipped for the journey”. He discussed how it was an invitation to attend The River Ministries Intl. in Addis, La., that ultimately equipped him for the journey to freedom.

datauri-file“I remember walking through the doors feeling lighter and uplifted. It was the presence of God, something I had never felt before,” Poirer said. “At the end of the service, Butch Labuave, the pastor, came to talk to me. I told him about my struggle and he asked if he could pray for me. When he started praying for me I broke. I couldn’t hold it in. I just broke down into tears. I knew that was the starting point of me letting things go.”

Poirer has been free from all drug and substance abuse since May 2014. He relies on his relationship with Christ to sustain him. He has a church family, a mentor and family to support him.

“The day I walked into The River Ministry church someone came up to me to and shared their testimony. I thought that was awesome,” he said. “Since then, that person, Kevin Ray, my mentor, employer, friend and exercise buddy, has connected [with me] like family. I’m blessed! I know without a doubt it was God’s grace that lead me to recovery and even though my story is still being written, with God leading the way, I’m going forward.” Poirer’s testimony reveals that God’s plan for our future is, and always has been, redemption.

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About Jehan: Jehan enjoys writing and serving in the ministry. She spends her nights working at WBRZ news 2 in Baton Rouge and her days working at Ace hardware in her hometown. Her goals in life are simply to follow Gods leading and be a vessel in which he can use for his glory.

Reading For Life, September 2015

A Review of: It Only Takes Everything You’ve Got

review by Cheri Bowling

EverythingYouveGotProverbs 23:23 says, “Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding.”

It Only Takes Everything You’ve Got, by Baton Rouge entrepreneur Julio Melara, reads something like the book of Proverbs. But rather than focusing on wisdom, Melara’s central theme is what it takes to be a success. Having written four successful books on success, it’s a subject he owns. Using what he describes as TRUTH as the foundation, Melara builds his case that success is available to all by using his own personal experiences, as well as insights from some well-known role models such as Abraham Lincoln.

Also a successful motivational speaker, Melara’s main premise is that the TRUTH motivates people to change. Outlining simple goals, age-old strategies and skills that trump things like superior intelligence, formal education, and even luck, Melara describes how anyone can change their circumstances if they are willing to change themselves. But taking personal responsibility for your attitude, mastering your tongue, persevering through failure and maintaining personal integrity doesn’t come without cost, and therein lies the key. Whether in business, at home, in sports, or in the classroom, success is achievable, but it will take everything you’ve got!

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About the author: Julio Melara doesn’t just talk business, he lives it. He has an active interest in publishing, banking and real estate. As a devoted husband and father, he knows what it takes to reach your potential, balance your life and live on purpose. A man of passion, Julio is one of today’s leading motivational speakers and foremost authors on true success.

Geaux Life, September 2015

Bringing Hope and Healing to Africa

by Lisa Tramontana

pyles3After a three-week visit to their hometown of Baton Rouge this summer, Scott and Lee Pyles were ready to return home … to Africa.

Africa has claimed their affections for more than 20 years, ever since they answered a spiritual calling that tugged at their hearts from 7000 miles away. As administrators of L’hopital de Meskine in Cameroon, Scott and Lee have helped to provide spiritual and physical healing to thousands of patients since the hospital opened its doors in 1994.

As a young couple with two small sons in the early ’90s, Scott and Lee had participated in several outreach programs through Baton Rouge’s Chapel on the Campus, but they thirsted for something more meaningful. When Medical Centers of West Africa was founded as a medical mission in sub-Saharan Africa, the couple could see their future taking shape.

“It was not an easy decision,” said Lee, who realized that the couple’s plans would affect their children’s futures as well. “We were very young, but we both felt strongly in our hearts that we wanted our lives to count for something,” she said. “We wanted to help the ‘unreached’ find Jesus. After a lot of praying, a peace came over us and we knew … we just knew.”

Cameroon is a French-speaking country that borders Chad and Nigeria in northwest Africa. It is populated mostly by Muslims, and the area is marked by extreme poverty and lack of education. The hospital was built in the village of Meskine and that is where the couple settled. Their sons Michael and Charlie were joined by a sister, Jessica, a few years after their arrival. “We always told our children … ‘you don’t get to have an ordinary life,'” said Lee. “You get to have an extraordinary life.”

pyles1As for medical care, L’hopital de Meskine was a light in the darkness, and people traveled long distances to receive treatment at the 120-bed facility. Today, an average of 200 patients per day visit the hospital, where physicians and nurses do surgical procedures, treat infectious diseases, deliver babies, and provide pediatric care. Prosthetics are also a big part of the hospital’s practice. The hospital has two operating suites and an outpatient clinic. Other services include pharmacy, laboratory, physical therapy and radiology. The medical team is always changing due to volunteers from all over the world who donate from two weeks to two years of their time as medical missionaries.

Medical services are available to patients regardless of their ability to pay. According to Scott, a “poor fund” helps those who are destitute, but in most cases, families will get together to pool their resources in order to pay their bills. “If it means selling a goat,” that’s what they’ll do,” said Scott.

pyles2MCWA’s medical ministry is just one side of the coin. The bedside ministry is the other. “We never force our beliefs on patients,” said Lee, “because we know there is some danger of persecution in this part of the world. But we do pray with them and share our faith. Some people are not interested, and we respect that, but others are drawn to what we have to say and want to embrace God.”

“There is so much hopelessness in this part of the world,” said Scott. “We’re teaching people how to rise above their hopelessness and find a new way of life that will continue long after we are gone. We have seen a lot of doors open for ourselves and for others. We see that the Word of God is a powerful thing.”

If any one thing has threatened their mission, it is the political landscape. Their corner of the world changed abruptly in 2014 when terrorist attacks and kidnappings became frequent. When the violence came within 10 miles of the hospital, Scott and Lee knew it was time to leave.

“We didn’t want our presence (as Westerners) to put the hospital or its patients in harm’s way,” said Scott. “And now we are certain that this, too, was part of the plan. The safest place to be is at the center of God’s will.”

Their departure has had a silver lining, as the Cameroonian employees have had to operate the hospital on their own in the past year. That, too, has always been part of the plan. Volunteers train the locals to take over their jobs once they leave so that the hospital can eventually stand on its own. That includes nurses, therapists, technicians, builders and administrators. It’s hoped that the hospital will be self-sufficient within five years.

When that happens, Scott and Lee’s work in Africa may be done. “We’ll know it when the time comes,” said Scott. “In the meantime, we’ll continue to be grateful for the opportunity we’ve had to make such a difference in the lives of the people here.”

MCWA offers many opportunities for those looking for a way to serve God. If you feel a calling within your heart, contact MCWA, which is headquartered at 9611 Siegen Lane in Baton Rouge. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, call (225) 343-1814, or visit mcwestafrica.com.

Family Life, September 2015

Recovering from Tragedy

by Julia Summers

IMG_7717January 7, 2012. It was a normal Saturday night. Around 9:30 p.m., my mom got a phone call from her best friend, Sue Day, and everything changed. My family, already in our pajamas, rushed to our car and drove as fast as we could to the hospital. I remember sitting in the passenger seat of my mom’s car, crying, praying. We arrived at the hospital before the Day family did. When I think of that night, the first thing I see is my best friend, Kelsey, running into my arms. Tears were streaming down both of our faces, and we just held onto each other for a few seconds, praying.

One of my closest family friends, Caleb Day, was shot that night. He and his friends were sitting in the boulevard at the Mall of Louisiana, and all of a sudden he was on his feet, running for his life. “The first thing I remember from that night is kneeling in a pool of my own blood.” Caleb says. “Right when I realized that I had been shot, I got a little scared and a little overwhelmed, but I said a quick prayer. After that, I felt calm.”

That night, my biggest fear was Caleb dying. I did not know how bad his injuries were, or if he would even make it through the night. Caleb, however, was not afraid of death.

“To be honest with you, I was not scared I was going to die.” Caleb says. “There was something that came over me that allowed me to feel comforted. I knew everything would be okay. Most of my fears had to do with my parents and sisters, and how they would deal with it. Another concern was never being able to play baseball again.”

God has done miraculous things in Caleb’s life since the shooting, and the shooting has impacted the lives of his friends and family forever. Not only has Caleb recovered physically, but he has also grown tremendously spiritually.

“God has given me a new perspective of life in general. You always hear that you can’t take any day for granted, but after going through something like I did, it becomes real.” Caleb says. “After going through that, I fully understood that you really do have to live every day for the Lord.”

A verse that has been in my heart for a long time, and that encouraged me during Caleb’s shooting, is James 1:2-4. It says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” This verse always reminds me that God places hardships and trials in our lives for a reason. He is testing our faith, which is allowing us to grow closer to Him.

Caleb’s recovery was grounded in prayer and faith in God. He knew from the night of the shooting that God was in control. While Caleb faced physical and spiritual struggles, he held onto his faith and persevered. As we begin this school year, I want to encourage you to never give up, persevere, and remember that God has a plan for you. No matter how hard things get, keep James 1:2-4 in mind. God is teaching you something in everything He does, and it is our job to trust that He will remain faithful to us.

Healthy Life, September 2015

Your Health is Your Wealth

by Kristen Hogan, YMCA

There are lots of things money can’t buy and your health is one of them. Having a healthy lifestyle is about more than losing weight for vanity sake. A healthy lifestyle is a balance of a healthy spirit, mind and body. Sometimes we don’t realize the value of our overall health until we are faced with a situation that puts our health at risk.

Increase the wealth of your health daily by focusing on your physical, mental and social well-being.

Linda JohnsonBeing healthy can actually extend your life expectancy. A recent study found that middle aged individuals who exercised 150 minutes per week can expect a one to seven return: seven extra minutes of life gained for each minute of exercise. Not only will a healthy lifestyle extend your life but it will also save you money. For an unhealthy individual the cost of prescriptions and doctor’s visits can add up. According to the Center for Disease Control, the average cost of health care is 41% higher each year for an unhealthy individual.

A healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body. Train your mind like you train your body. An increased level of stress can cause depression, weight gain, headaches, anxiety and more. Train yourself to think positive thoughts; try to see the good in all situations and learn to control negative emotions. Training your mind will reduce your feelings of stress.

Joe SimmonsImproving your overall health also includes your spiritual well-being. A healthy spirit gives you a deeper connection with yourself and can improve your overall health. A daily spiritual routine can help you understand the purpose of your life. Spiritual reflection lifts your mood, provides clarity, renews a sense of hope, and improves personal growth. A recent study found that individuals who have a spiritual routine are 56% more likely to have a positive outlook on life.

A healthy lifestyle is more than just the way you look; a healthy lifestyle has many contributors. You must obtain a balance between healthy spirit, mind, and body. Having this balance proves that our health really is our wealth.

“Without my health I would not be able to do the things I love. So a healthy lifestyle is something I will always strive for.” – Tessica Meloche

Ashley Pourciau and Tessica Meloche“It’s important that I take time to invest in myself for my overall health and well-being. A daily workout gives me energy, helps me clear my mind and keeps me healthy. I want to be a positive example for my kids and maintain a healthy mind and body.” – Ashley Pourciau

“I exercise to keep my body healthy, off of medication, and to stay active and mobile. Helps keep me stronger.” –Linda Johnson

“Health is a major part of my well-being. I gain a peace of mind when following a fitness routine. Being active enhances my ability to enjoy life.” –Joe Simmons

Pastor's Perspective, September 2015

Facilitating Hope for Humanity

by Russ Cripps, AcaciaChurch

_MG_5580-EditMy wife and I had saved up frequent flyer miles for years, we had deposited every quarter and dime we could find, all in the name of experiencing a Mediterranean cruise to celebrate 20 years of marriage.

From Rome, the cruise liner charted south where we traveled through the historic Straits of Messina. On one side of the ship are the mountains of Old Sicily and on the other side there is the southern most tip of Italy. It didn’t seem far to the naked eye, but the Straights are easily two or three miles wide with rapidly moving currents. To say the entire moment was pretty would be a vast understatement; it was utterly breathtaking. As we stood on the rear of the ship I gazed deep into the eyes of the one I had loved for the last 20 years. In a gentle voice I asked, “If I pushed you off this boat, you think you could swim to Sicily?”

Not exactly the question one usually asks while celebrating a 20-year anniversary, right? In fact, a question like that doesn’t allow a marriage to make it to the 20 year mark! Stephanie giggled at me but then actually gave me an answer that has deep meaning and a vast application. “Sure I could. As long as I could see the shore, I would have hope, and I could keep on swimming.”

While her logic is debatable among swimmers, her illustration about hope is powerful for all humanity.

Hope is arguably the most precious commodity among humanity. In fact it’s been said that someone can live without food for weeks, without water for days, without air for minutes, but not one second without hope.

  • Hope is powerful and the kind of hope I present today, the kind of deep hope that each of us crave, is different from simple optimism. Hope is a trusted state of existence whereas optimism is a conclusion reached through a deliberate thought pattern that leads to a positive attitude. Optimism is about the head; hope is about the heart.

Now let’s get personal. If you are, as Scripture says, “in Christ,” then you have experienced true hope. If this is you, then Colossians 1:27 describes you, “…it’s Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Or as one theologian profoundly penned it: “Hope came in person and surprised the whole world by coming forward from our future, directly into our present, all to erase our past.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, hope has a name. His name is Jesus. In other words, for those “in Christ,” hope isn’t something we do, hope is someone we have!

Here is where this can apply to you. This is where the hope that you have found can make an eternal difference in the life of another. Jesus said that the Church was His (Matthew 16:18). He also said He was going to build that church, and you and I get the privilege of helping Him in that endeavor!

My point is this: the local church is still the hope of the world. And if you’re a part of the church, then you are a part of that hope. Christ chose the Church to be stations of hope for humanity. The local church, covered in bumps, bruises, flaws, and shortcomings, is still the hope of the world.

The local church remains the vehicle of choice that God uses to change lives. What we have to do is realize and embrace the fact that even though we’re broken, we can still bring hope. We (the Church) are facilitators of hope. We can do this!

We are the facilitators of hope that God uses to reach the hearts of humanity, and as long as others can see hope in us, maybe they’ll have enough strength to keep swimming toward the shore.

About Russ: Russ is the founding Pastor at AcaciaChurch, a young and growing church that is just over four years old. He is currently pursuing a Masters of Religion from Gordon-Conwell, and holds a B.S. degree in Finance from ULM (Monroe, LA). Russ has years of experience in various types of ministry and he completely “believes in believing in people.” He can also run really fast downhill.

Family Life, September 2015

A Marital Revival

by Tonya Woodridge-Jarvis

PicutureWe know in marriage that nobody can ruffle your feathers like your spouse.  It is designed that way because the two of you are learning to become one. Normally one personality is a bit more dominant than the other, and it shows. Can you imagine what Mary and Joseph’s marriage was like? Think about the overwhelming love and trust that Joseph clearly had for Mary. Why are marriages not like that in today’s society?

I can go on to name a few excuses, not reasons, but excuses, as to why they aren’t. Are you poisoning your marriage with your emotions? Often times we carry emotional baggage that has never been allowed to heal from past hurt and pain. Meaning, your spouse did something you didn’t agree with in the past, you all had a discussion to end it then, but when something else comes up you replay the last discussion.

That’s one type of poison. Do your co-workers see you more than your family? That’s another type of poison. Marriage is a never-ending lesson. Your marital quest is a journey to the work that God wants to do in you and He has given you an all-star team to do it with.

Like revival (spiritual awakening) in church is much needed, revival in marriage is needed as well. Marital revival means reestablishing the marriage, or awakening it. In Christian marriages we often don’t realize that we are under attack even more than non-Christian marriages. In some recent studies the divorce rate of Christian marriages almost matched the divorce rate of non-Christian marriages.

Why is that? Is God at the center of your marriage like He once was? Sometimes God will take your marriage through the ringer because He wants to draw you closer together. Will you be a survivor through the revival?

Marital Revival Techniques:

  • Acknowledgment of the problem (come clean, be transparent)
  • Seek Counsel to resolve the issues
  • Pray that the change has already taken place
  • Be patient
  • Help another couple the way that you’ve been helped
Healthy Life, September 2015

Living Your Best Life with Diabetes

by Stephanie Ryan Malin with Kate Blumberg, LDN, RD, CDE

_S5A0419-1Recovery often requires change. At times, recovery means accepting a new normal and making a commitment to living your best life with some adjustments.

A diabetes diagnosis for yourself or a loved one is certainly one of those times, but for people with diabetes—that is 1 in 10 of us—a commitment to better nutrition and more physical activity can enable a longer, healthier life.

“A diabetes diagnosis can certainly feel shocking at first, but with a little help, you can fine-tune your routine to ensure that your food has plenty of flavor and that your blood sugar is properly managed,” said Kate Blumberg, a registered dietitian at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, whose mission is to develop methods for better treating and preventing chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.

Kate says sticking to five key tips can put you on the right track to managing your blood sugar without sacrificing your favorite foods and pastimes.

  • Exercise regularly: Physical activity engages the muscles in your body that burn glucose—the more you move, the more glucose you burn; in turn, that helps lower your blood sugar. Additionally, exercise helps keep your heart, lungs and weight in check while giving you the added boost of extra energy.

Adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week – that means 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week, with enough movement to get your heart rate up to the point that you can still talk but not sing a song. Dancing, riding a bike, swimming, doing housework or gardening are all great places to start. If you are just getting started, try walking five or 10 minutes each day.

Pennington Biomedical is offering online training plans for its annual 5k and 1-mile fun run called Doc’s DASH. You can find a handy, easy-to-follow daily guide to either walking or running either race at www.pbrc.edu/DocsDASH.

  • Eat smart: A diet for people with diabetes is the kind of diet that most of us should be eating anyway: a diet that incorporates plenty of whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, plenty of fiber, whole grains and low or fat-free dairy products.

Making sure you have time for breakfast is crucial to avoiding crashes in blood sugar later in the day. Stay away from sugary or sweetened beverages, and make sure to keep small, healthy snacks, like a handful of nuts, around to help stave off spikes and drops in blood sugar that can happen between meals.

Working with a dietitian is a great way to better plan to manage your diabetes, and many of Pennington Biomedical’s studies include dietary counseling as part of the study. You can screen yourself to find out which studies you may qualify for at www.pbrc.edu/healthierLA.

Also, check out the DASH Diet, which was developed in part at Pennington Biomedical and has been named “The Best Diabetes Diet” by U.S. News & World Report, for five years running. The DASH diet focuses on many of the nutrition points mentioned earlier, along with lowering sodium intake to prevent or manage high blood pressure.

When your stress increases, it also increases your levels of stress hormones, which can lead to a spike in your blood sugar level and cause you to put on extra weight.

Manage your stress: When your stress increases, it also increases your levels of stress hormones, which can lead to a spike in your blood sugar level and cause you to put on extra weight.

Make it a priority to find ways to lower your stress naturally, such as exercising, taking a nap, working with a psychologist to identify stressors, joining a yoga or meditation class or carving out some time to talk and laugh with friends.

  • Monitor your blood sugar and take your medications: Research has shown that closely watching your blood sugar improves your ability to manage diabetes. You can work with your doctor to create the right testing schedule for your body. You may need to test once a day or multiple times of day, but staying on top of your blood sugar is the best way to manage your diabetes.

Taking your medications regularly ensures that your body is getting the right amount of medication to help you regulate your blood sugar. Try keeping your medication in a daily pill box placed somewhere you are sure not to miss it, like close to your toothbrush or in your kitchen. Setting an alarm can help you remember to take your medicine at a specific time as well.

  • Know your family’s risk: If someone in your family has diabetes, your risk of being diagnosed with the disease increases. In Louisiana, 1 in 3 people has pre-diabetes, and many do not know it. Pre-diabetes is a condition that, left untreated, can lead to diabetes.

Talk with your loved ones about screening for diabetes or pre-diabetes. They should ask their doctor to check their blood glucose and A1C levels. Your doctor can also advise you on diet, lifestyle, physical activity habits and body mass index when determining your risk.

With a few slight alterations, people with diabetes can enjoy full, active lifestyles and ensure that their days are not defined by their disease.

To learn more about research studies that could help you control your diabetes, visit www.pbrc.edu/healthierLA.

About Kate: Kate is a registered dietitian and project manager at Pennington Biomedical Research Center.  Kate specializes in nutrition therapy for diabetes, weight management, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), insulin resistant syndrome (IRS), and child nutrition. She received her degree in dietetics from Louisiana State University and completed her internship at North Oaks Medical Center. Kate is a certified diabetes educator and is certified in childhood and adolescent weight management.  She is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Louisiana Dietetic Association, and American Association of Diabetes Educators.

Family Life, September 2015

Finding Freedom by Overcoming Addiction

by Beau Dantin

BeauMugsmall2I have heard many addiction professionals talking about the opiate epidemic that has gripped southern Louisiana over the last decade. It is truly a heartbreaking and an alarming reality insidiously plaguing our city. The effects have become much more devastating the last few years. The Baton Rouge Coroner’s Office has predicted 50 heroin related deaths to occur in the city of Baton Rouge in 2015.

From my observation, as the year moves forward, it appears their prediction will easily come true. That will be a 900% increase in deaths in only three years since 2012, where there were only five deaths. It’s roughly one heroin death a week. That is a staggering statistic. The people that are dying are not no name faces in our communities. I stood beside one of my close friends last spring at his brother’s funeral. His death was the result of a heroin overdose.

This is just the latest news on heroin, I haven’t even touched the psychotic effects of synthetic marijuana, the legalization of marijuana, and many other disheartening issues currently effecting not only our community, but our nation as a whole.

I have also heard a lot of opinions why our city, state, and nation are losing this battle with addictive substances. Everyone has their own opinions and they range from one side of the spectrum to the other. We can blame pharmaceutical companies, doctors, psychiatrists, politicians, class system, the beverage companies, justice system and culture.

Undoubtedly all of these entities play a part, but the most important factor in the health of any society is the health of that society’s family systems. It is no secret the health of the family system in America is on the decline. Baton Rouge is simply a microcosm of a macro problem in our country.

First and foremost, that problem has been the removal of a Jesus centered family unit. No one has made the modern American family do this it has been a choice. The modern family’s goals are comfort and ease. Not seeking God’s heart.

Most families spend more time with the Kardashian/Jenner family or on Facebook than they do in God’s Word or active in their communities on a weekly basis. The effect of this has been the removal of and the fighting to remove anything and everything Christian that our nation was founded on. Not the other way around. We did not lose Christ in schools then lose it at home.

Look at it on an individual level, the further you get from Christ the more empty you become, and the more desperate you are to fill the void caused by his removal. It is a fight for spiritual survival and most people use physical and emotional things to fill it when it is a spiritual problem. Drugs have been shown to be one of the most deviant and ensnaring ways because of how addicting they are to the human brain. Yes, addiction has biological, psychological, and social factors for sure. But at its core, as with any other sin, it is a spiritual issue.

Unfortunately we see a growing number of people trusting in substances rather than Christ. The most lasting and fulfilling change I see is when people surrender, changing their belief system from being a slave to a substance to being a follower of Christ.

Here is some professional advice for addicts, families dealing with addiction and for our community:

Addicts: Get treatment from a reputable facility. Learn about addiction, get involved in therapy, and surrender your addiction and life over to Jesus. Upon completion join Alcoholics Anonymous, continue therapy, and keep walking with Jesus.

Families of addicts: Stop enabling their addiction in any way. You are taking an active role in their addiction by doing so. Put up firm boundaries and expectations for them to get help. Educate yourself about addiction. Pray for them continuously that God will soften their heart to surrender and change.

Baton Rouge community: Pray for our city and the families that live in it. Take an active role in supporting our youth and at risk kids.

About Beau: Beau Dantin is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) and a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC). He is the Clinical Director and Family Therapist at The Serenity Center of Louisiana and is a therapist at Baton Rouge Counseling and Associates.

Faith Life, September 2015

Forgiven and Set Free

by Susan Brown

 

133“You hear in society that it’s no big deal. You hear, ‘Oh, you need a quick solution, go have an abortion and then you’ll never have to deal with it or think about it again.’” That, says Georgia Small, is a lie, and she’s stepped out in faith to take her own story of healing and restoration to women who share her experience.

“They are human beings, too, just like the life that has been lost,” Small explains. “Sometimes that message gets lost in the pro-life issue. I think everyone is obviously concerned about the babies and they often treat the women who’ve had them as if they’re a non-entity.”

Her ministry embraces post-abortive women through small, Bible-based classes on the book, Forgiven and Set Free (Baker Books, 1996). Author Linda Cochrane recently held a workshop to train leaders from pregnancy centers and local churches to walk other women through the emotionally-charged process of healing. They hope others will catch the vision – and have the courage – to start similar ministries.

The courses are saturated with scripture, surrounded in prayer and confidential, Small says, because they involve a sensitive, spiritual battle. The next class begins Sept., 16 at River Community Church in Prairieville.

There are many who carry around this secret burden, according to Small. The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals reports that 10,211 induced terminations of pregnancy occurred in Louisiana in 2014. Some 14 percent of pregnant women underwent abortions in Louisiana compared with 18 percent nationally in 2011, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit policy research institute originally affiliated with Planned Parenthood. About 1-in-3 women in the U.S will have an abortion by the time they reach age 45, institute research reveals, and 73 percent report a religious affiliation.

“You’re sitting next to them in church, they’re in your family, they’re your friends,” says Small. They haven’t told you because they’re scared to tell anybody. So it is an issue that everyone should be concerned about, and especially churches.”

But it was hard to convince many pastors that an abortion recovery ministry was needed, since few women talk openly about their abortions. Some pastors found it difficult to encourage grace – and at the same time – discourage future abortions. Small recognizes that there are no easy answers once an unwanted pregnancy occurs.

“Having a child out of wedlock or putting a child up for adoption leaves room for hope and time for God to write the end of the story,” says Small. “Abortion ends a life and leaves a void that can never be filled. There can be healing to be sure, but the consequences must still be endured.”

As an act of grace and support, River Community Church in Prairieville, an evangelical Presbyterian church where Small serves as deacon, has opened its doors to anyone who wants to participate in the abortion recovery course – and at no cost. Healing Place Church has offered the class through its Friday evening New Beginnings ministry.

Small’s own story reflects the challenges and choices many women have made. Young, recently divorced and newly employed at a desirable job, she was not really in a relationship but hanging out with a male friend. When she got pregnant, he offered to pay half the cost of an abortion. She talked to other friends who had gone through abortions and they agreed; after all, she was not in the best position to have a child.

“And I really believed that I’d never have to think about it again, that it was just a procedure. I didn’t value human life then in the way that I do now. I didn’t see that as a baby. I believed that it was a fetus like you’re told when you go to the abortion clinic.”

She was not prepared for what followed. “That weekend was the worst weekend of my life,” she remembers. “I just remember just crying uncontrollably and just feeling like I was empty and lost.” After a weekend flooded with emotions, she turned off her heart.

The process of hardening herself led to low self-regard and accompanying behavior. “I felt guilty about my divorce, then I felt guilty about the abortion and I just felt like it didn’t matter what I did anymore.”

A few years later, she became a Christian and her life began to turn around. But she didn’t realize there were layers of emotion that still influenced her relationships. “When we ask God for forgiveness we’re forgiven,” she explains. “But if we haven’t done the hard work of going through the past then we don’t know what is driving, necessarily, our thoughts and emotions and the way that we relate to other people. It’s just been amazingly freeing for me.”

“My favorite scripture is in Isaiah 61 that talks about changing ashes for a beautiful headdress, and I love that it ends with ‘so that they be made oaks of righteousness’ (Isa. 61:1-3),” Small says. That really speaks to me because I feel like God has called me to go into this difficult place and try to help people turn their experience into something they can heal from.”

“By the end of the class, we feel like we’re sisters. You feel definitely like you have a bond and a connection with these people that you don’t really have with anyone else,” Small says. “By the end of the class they’re just coming in radiating joy.”

For more information on the next Forgiven and Set Free class, or other recovery classes, contact hisgarmentministry@gmail.com, or call 225-395-1172.

(Linda Cochrane is CEO of Hopeline Pregnancy Resource Centers in CT)

Faith Life, September 2015

Finding Joy on the Journey to Recovery

IMG_1814
by Krista Bordelon

2 Timothy 1:7 (the Day’s family scripture even before January 2012) “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

“What are we about to go through?” David Day remembers thinking to himself as they waited on news of their son in the emergency waiting room. “We were just at home watching the Saints. It was a normal, after the holidays, chill, Saturday night,” his wife Sue began. Their 15-year-old son, Caleb, had done everything he was supposed to do. His parents knew where he was, he had stayed where he was supposed to be, he was with the people he was supposed to be with, but that still didn’t prevent the phone call they had received moments before.

“What do you mean he’s been shot?” Those were the words Sue and their daughters Kelsey and Katie heard David speak into the phone before he jumped off the couch and ran to the bedroom to get ready to leave.

As a parent you live with bordering rational and irrational fears about things that could happen, knowing the chances are very slim, but that you can’t truly prevent them from happening. What do you do when it actually happens to you? What if your greatest fear came true? Then what? You’d be devastated. Then what? You’d struggle, maybe not even wanting to get out of bed for days or weeks. But then what? If you ask yourself, “then what?” enough times, the truth of devastation is eventually this – you have to get up, you have to move on, you have to heal. Things may never be the same, but you make life your own again.

The Day family had to learn the hard lesson of returning to a sense of normalcy when such an egregious event has happened. It’s been almost four years since that day, but it’s still a moment that is freshly relived at the drop of a dime.

Caleb was waiting for his friend’s dad to pick them up from the Mall of Louisiana when he heard the shots.

“All I could think was, ‘take cover,’ like in a video game, and we ran,” Caleb explains. “I couldn’t feel my arm, but I thought it was just the adrenaline. When I looked down that was when I realized I had been shot; there was just a big hole there. A guy came around the building and he got a rag and said, ‘Put this on your chest.’ When I asked him why he told me, ‘You got shot there too, buddy.’ I just sat there in a pool of my own blood waiting for the ambulance to come.”

The bullet that entered Caleb’s chest left three large, gaping holes where it exited his body, in addition to the large hole left on his right arm. The bullets had gone through Caleb and into his friend Trent Miller whose dad was already on his way to pick them up when the shooting occurred. Luckily, their other friend Nick Brooks managed to escape without being shot and was able to check on his friends.

“We were in shock mode,” Sue remembers, “They wouldn’t let us go back. We hadn’t gotten any details about what had happened and they had told us we just had to wait.” The family describes a moment they had in the waiting room where the four of them just gathered together to pray, not knowing what else they could do.

“Eventually, they took us down what we call ‘the longest hall ever.’ The whole time you’re walking, everyone is just looking at you. We had no idea what we were walking into, so we were kind of trying to just gauge their faces to get an idea of what was going on and how bad it might be. It was surreal but there was still this sense of peace.”

“Everything was still under control,” David continues where his wife left off. “There was just this overwhelming sense that for whatever calamity or chaos was going on [in that moment] or even in the very near future, it was still between the lines somehow. I knew that was God saying, ‘I’ve got this.’ He didn’t say, ‘Everything is going to be fine,’ but I knew He had it,” David says. “There was a fear, but it wasn’t an incredible fear. It was certainly over my head, but it was under His feet.” Whatever unknowns the Day family was about to face they knew two things: that it was all in God’s control, and that they had a hard fight ahead of them.

Each member of the family was forced to take on the added challenges when it came to healing from what they had gone through.

“We’ve never lived another life, so we don’t know how we would be, this is our normal,” David is quick to explain that when it comes to healing from this event, they don’t really know any differently, but their “normal” has certainly not been easy.

imageCaleb, a lifelong baseball player, struggled immensely with the recovery and David and Sue struggled with figuring out how to support their son. They describe the ways God orchestrated every aspect of the recovery, especially when it came to what doctors were available during Caleb’s treatment. He had always been a left-handed pitcher, but having been shot in the chest and right arm, he was told he would probably never play baseball again. The entire family remembers seeing the pain Caleb was in as he endured rigorous therapy to even be able to open his fingers.

“I’ve only cried twice in my life,” Caleb says. “Once when they told me I’d never be able to feel my fingers again, and during physical therapy.”

The “driving force” the Day family attributes to Caleb’s recovery (both physically and emotionally) was baseball.

“It pushed me to keep going and to get back to normal,” Caleb says. “I didn’t want to be seen as the wounded kid, and my parents continued to push me to be better. They didn’t let that fear stop me.” David and Sue seemed to take on one very important, albeit uncomfortable, role with their son, pushing him farther than he would have gone on his own.

“They kept forcing me out of my comfort zone, to be even better, to keep going,” Caleb recalls.

Sue remembers the day she told her son, “You’re going to have to start going out there [with the baseball team]. You have to be out there just like everyone else.” David adds that it went from going out with the team, to dressing out with the team, to doing drills with the team. Each step helping Caleb gain more and more confidence in his recovery. They also recall the fact that recovery wasn’t about simply being tender with their son, but it was about getting him back out there so he could succeed.

“As a mom, when I saw him in physical therapy with tears in his eyes as they bent his hand back trying to get his fingers to work again, I wanted to go momma bear on them, but I knew that this was the best person to work with our son to get him back to normal,” Sue says. Because of that, Caleb was able to go from being told he would never play again to actually starting his senior season.

As a side note, and something that Caleb himself almost didn’t even mention, there was one game Caleb pitched before starting his senior season. He was shot on Jan., 7, 2012 and on April 13, just three months after being told he

would never play again, Caleb managed to get out on the field for the very last game of his freshman season and pitch three whole innings.

Kelsey and Katie both recall how hard it was for them to see their older brother struggling so much, but they had their struggles as a result of the shooting as well. Now, as 15-year-old girls, they desire nothing more than to just be normal, something that is seemingly impossible when living under the shadow of family tragedy.

“This is something I’ve never really vocalized before, but it’s really true, they’ve extended grace to us. We’re still figuring all of this out,” David says as he gives each of his daughters looks filled with love and pride.

“That’s one thing that they live with: we as mom and dad still struggle,” Sue agrees. “We’ve had to have many open discussions when the girls are disappointed in a decision we’ve made. We have to try to help them understand our perspective and what we’ve gone through and how we felt, but we can’t let fear determine the outcome,” she says.

“Do you want to know where we were when we got word of the shooting in the Lafayette movie theatre?” David chimes in. “Caleb and Sue and I were eating in Whataburger, and Katie and Kelsey were in a movie theater. There was just this feeling at the table of ‘this is ridiculous.’”

“This whole thing has been a journey of seeing God’s hand of protection,” Sue shares. “He truly did protect him. It was within an inch of a very different outcome. He was in harm’s way, and damage was done, but God never said we wouldn’t go through trials. In fact, He says to consider it joy. That’s been our journey, finding the joy in the midst of the struggle.”

David adds to his wife’s sentiments, “Bad things happen, but God’s hand of protection was on us. God’s economy is different. We’d prefer bad things not happen, but He has given us a story and we are confident in sharing our story because it is God’s story.”

As is the case in every tragedy, the Days have certainly realized that nothing is guaranteed and time shouldn’t be wasted, but as parents David and Sue have been granted the great privilege of seeing their children in their youth overcoming obstacles and gaining a perspective most don’t get until much later on in life. The atmosphere in their home is one of respect, love and maturity that normally is not seen in a typical teenage household.

Even though there are certainly the normal struggles, the undercurrent of their experiences together is strong. It is proof of a family who has faced the unimaginable and made it through the other side.

“It’s easy to look back now and say that we are fine,” David says in closing. “But the last three years, it has literally been an uphill battle. Every time I post something about Caleb [on social media] I use #mountainman because he climbs mountains. The Caleb in scripture said give me the uphill battle because I’m strong enough, I can take on the tough guys.” The room grows silent as David chokes up a bit and looks at his son, “And his name is Caleb.”

Family Life, September 2015

How Teaching Children Healthy Coping Skills May Help Prevent Addiction

 

by Allyson Fox Pitre

IMG_4406 copyThe initial instinct of most people in society and in the church is to protect the innocent and vulnerable from any discomfort. This is true of parents, especially parents with small children. If pain can be avoided, it is the duty of a parent to guide their young one through the perils of early life and social interactions with only having positive experiences, right?

What if the obligation of parents is not going to extreme lengths to prevent failure for their children, but instead, walking them through ways to experience their pain and emerge from the other side in a healthy manner?

So often, parents will shield their children from rejection, betrayal, hurt, disappointment and other unpleasant feelings in childhood, and later be faced with adolescents and young adults who have no toolbox of coping methods to rely on. When someone experiences “negative” emotions, they often utilize means of coping they witnessed their parents using, or they apply what has been effective the past. But what if they have not had the opportunity to either witness their parents handle uncomfortable situations, or have not had the chance to exercise their own coping skills due to a lack of history of undesirable circumstances?

In working with my clients, I often see children and teenagers crippled by a negative experience and they begin to utilize maladaptive coping skills that they taught themselves, such as overeating, video game immersion, cutting, or using any means available to escape the experience.

The intention of the parent was to create a safe, pain-free environment for the child to grow up in, but instead, produced someone who does not know what it looks like to address negativity. Therefore, when faced with a circumstance of dissension, they are ill equipped to navigate this first exposure in a healthy manner. Often, when triggered by emotions they have not learned to cope with, maladaptive behaviors may emerge. This may present itself in addiction, which can be defined as using any means to escape from experiencing or facing that moment in their life.

It is helpful for a child to see how their parents experience the unpleasant consequences of life and ways to continue to engage even when it hurts. This does not mean emotionally regurgitating every possible point where the parent feels overwhelmed or hurt, but doing so in age-appropriate situations. For example, if a mother has a disagreement with a friend, it may be helpful to share, in generalities, that they are sad and hurt by someone else’s words.

The child can observe how their mother does not shut off the world, or even avoid her friend, but deals with the situation in a healthy manner. Children do not need to know details of their parent’s fears, but it is more important that they know their parents have them, and they do not let being afraid cripple them. It is much more powerful for a son or daughter to see their parents handle situations in a Godly manner, rather than teaching them with words.

It is important to find ways to educate children about facing failure or pain because it may give them vocabulary to express their emotions. Many children I work with cannot identify their feelings and therefore have difficulty being understood. When unable to communicate and find empathy, any person, regardless of their age, can turn to isolating as a means to self-soothe.

It can be important to not dismiss a classmate that did not invite a child to a birthday party as “mean” or “not good enough”, but instead remind them that being sad is natural. Then, show them how to go to God for comfort, because only He can satisfy. When seeing not only their parent utilize God’s presence as means to handle difficult situations, but also being guided through a method of coping when they are first navigating negative experiences, a pattern will develop. Proverbs 22:6 articulates how crucial it is in beginning to “train a child in the way he should go” during the early years because once healthy patterns are developed, “he will not depart from it” when he is older.

Teaching the young how to recognize and utilize healthy coping mechanisms is not a complete guarantee that they will not turn to addiction later in life. However, they will be much more prepared when the waves of life toss them into the wind. Preparation, exposure and methods of dealing with the difficult times can be the greatest gift a parent gives to a child and the greatest protection.

About Allyson: Allyson received her M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Denver Seminary in 2011 and has worked with at risk children, youth and their families since 2012. She has experienced leading and co-leading psycho-educational groups as well as individual therapy at various counseling agencies. She has been able to experience counseling relationships, where fighting against lies that clients’ believe about themselves is an important step in reversing an atmosphere of perpetual misery. She has been able to engage with families and clients through a community based approach to counseling and understand how a family system can influence the difficulties clients’ face. Allyson works towards transforming clients’ thoughts about themselves, as well as the structure of the home and community, into a place where change is possible. Allyson can be reached at: Allysonpitrelpc@gmail.com