Push vs. Pull : Working with Kids from Hard Places

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When doing any kind of Outreach Ministry to children, one thing that you typically experience is interactions with children that are “unchurched.” It’s the very reason we DO outreach. However, working with kids that come from traumatic backgrounds, as many of the children have had, can prove to be a challenge. There are some children who are in such a desperate need of love and attention that they soak up every single thing you have to offer. Then there are other children, who are the complete opposite. They will be belligerent, defiant, disrespectful, rude, etc. Your first instinct may be to expel them from the program as a form of “discipline.” This is where I am going to spend my time today, examining a little closer, this behavior of a child that makes your program hard to administer.

There are two schools of thought in this area. The first one we will examine is the typical punitive response. Usually, this is something like time out, exclusion, etc. For people that have little experience with “hard” children, this is typically the response we see. Now these people may genuinely love kids, have a lot of experience with kids, and not have any bad intentions. For children that have grown up in a loving, stable home, this type of discipline can be used as one of the tools in the “discipline” tool box. However, for kids that have not necessarily grown up in the most stable of homes, this type of discipline can prove to be detrimental.

To a child who has experienced rejection, it speaks rejection. To a child who has experienced abandonment, it speaks of abandon. To a child who has experienced chaos, it speaks confusion.

If a child has come to church, or to your Outreach site, then usually that is a result of being compelled to come to a ministry or event that has the goal of reaching out in love. But if that child is then rejected from that very thing held the promise of love, what is that child going to think? Pushing a child away communicates that their behavior determines your emotion towards them.

Children that come from hard places are often dealing with a heart that has been damaged somehow. They have learned that it is easier to start off with aggression and sometimes even ridiculous behaviors to push you away. Especially if you have somehow communicated love or acceptance to them. It scares them, they almost don’t know what to do with it. In their mind, it is easier to push you away then for them to risk letting you in and being hurt by you later. We see this in kids that have experienced loss. Kids in foster care, kids that have lost a parent, or kids that have learned to live without the presensce of a stable parent, will often act out this way.

However, if a child is acting this way in the middle of your service or event, it obviously can derail the event. Are you supposed to ignore the behavior and hope it goes away?

I would like to suggest an alternative. This is the second school of thought that I personally use when dealing with kids from hard places. Instead of pushing a hard kid away, I draw them closer. Instead of a “time out” use a “time in.” For that disruptive child, I will often take them aside, sit with them, spend time with them, and then visit or connect with them throughout the week. This one on one time does not necessarily have to be long. However, intentionally seeking out a relationship with a child does two things:
1. It teaches them that you sincerely care about them. This is something that many street kids don’t understand: the legitimate concern of an adult that wants nothing from them other than to help them and love them. Current research shows that 1 out of every 5 children are sexually abused. 1 out of 5! That means that if you have 20 kids sitting in front of you, 4 of them are sexually abused. And as is often the case with Outreach sites, many of these kids are sibling sets which means that it is probably higher than that. This has an impact on how kids understand and receive information. They have been taught that adults are not safe. They have learned to put up walls. Walls mean defiance.
2. It creates the foundation for relationship. Relationships are how you minister to the heart of a child. Rules without relationships often lead to rebellion. Relationships with kids, quickly, become the motivating factor for them to behave. Respect is earned only after trust is earned. Trust takes time.

The great thing about kids, even hurt and hard kids, is they don’t take a long time to come around. Once they realize you aren’t going anywhere, you are sincere, then you will see the real needs come out. The needs for love and acceptance and nurturing. When they realize they can get that from you, you will see an entirely different side of them. Things will not be perfect. This is a process. There will be days where you feel like you have made great strides, and other days where you will feel like your moving backwards. That’s ok. Press on. Your consistency, not just in showing up, but in loving and responding in love, will communicate to the child that their behavior DOES NOT determine your emotions towards them.

As ministers of the gospel of Jesus, it should be our highest priority, at all times, to communicate to children that they are loved beyond measure, regardless of what they do or who they are. On paper we may agree with that, but do our actions agree with that?

This morning I read these words from scripture that spoke to this very thing:

  1 Corinthians 4:20-21 For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by   God’s power. 21 Which do you choose? Should I come with a rod to punish you, or should I come with love and a gentle spirit?

There have been times in my life where I have been walking in rebellion. Maybe it looked different than yours. But how would you like to have been approached? Which one would have been more effective at getting to the root of the behavior or issue?

It is my sincere prayer that as you step out to minister to God’s kids, that you are empowered with the tools you need to be successful. Take some time this week to think about that “one kid” that we all have that could use some extra time and attention this week. Start by praying for that kid and look for an opportunity to have a “time in.” I will be praying for you as you do.

 

Be Blessed,

Rachael

I will NEVER not see you

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This past week, I saw my dad at the gas station. I looked up and locked eyes with him, but he ignored me, pretended not to see me. As he pulled away, I felt a drop of pain added to the pile that I hid deep in my heart. Quickly pushing the thoughts of rejection away, I resigned to not think about it. But it spoke to that place in my heart that is raw from years of rejection by my father. As I went throughout the week, when that rawness would surface, I would quickly bury it under a pile of ice cream or social media.

Saturday morning came. It was my one day a week to sleep in. The kids had already been prepped….. there were breakfast bars on the counter and the tv remote was on the couch. No one was to wake mommy up before 7. Yet at 6AM, I woke up with a song on my heart. As I snuggled under my warm comforter, I heard the Lord whisper, “come away with me.” I thought about how tired I was and how comfortable I was. “Come away with me, ” I heard again. As I heard that beckoning, the still small voice was too loud to ignore.

Still sleepy, I meandered out to the couch and tiredly fell down onto it. As I sleepily laid there, half awake, I still had the same song on my heart. So, I pulled up the song on youtube and sang along. I found myself wondering if the song was based off of scripture.

The Lord prompted me to look up what that song was based on, and I found out it was Psalm 103. So I started to read Psalm 103. As I read, I suddenly was waken right up with a portion of that word. It was this verse that hit me:

Vs. 13 “The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” Psalms 103:13-14 NLT

Wow. It says the Lord is like a father. Immediately my mind went to the gas station. Then I heard the whisper,

                                                        ”I will NEVER not see you.”

Tears immediately came to my eyes. God woke me up early to tell me that He sees me. Even when my earthly father doesn’t.

As I kept reading through the Psalm, with blurry eyes and a softened heart, I came to this one:

“But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children” Psalms 103:17 NLT

                                                    “I love my grandchildren.”

God spoke directly that place I have as a mother…. a momma bears heart. The kind of love that God gives is one that knows you intimately, as He is the one who knows your innermost thoughts.

Even the ones you don’t want to speak out loud.

On Fridays, I cry.

On Fridays, I cry.

Saturday through Thursday, I pretend nothing is wrong. I put a smile on my face, I go about my day, I keep it together.

But on Fridays, after my husband goes to work and the kids are at school, I’m all alone. I start out thinking that this Friday might be different, that I won’t need to cry. But then I realize that there is this place in my heart that has been swelling all week. There’s a bit of a guard there, so if anything pricks it, the guard doesn’t let it in. That surfaces sometimes as disinterest or busyness. Or withdrawal. Don’t let that fool you, that’s to cover up what’s really going on. Inside, my mind is overwhelmed with just sadness. But if it’s not Friday, I don’t pause long enough to think about it.

But on Fridays, I think about it. I think about how much I miss her. I smell her sweatshirt that I have hidden in my closet in my bedroom. I look at her picture, and I hold it tight. I think about all the lost moments and the unsaid words. And I cry.

It’s been a little over three months since I lost my Nana. For all intents and purposes, my mother. She raised me when my own mother wouldn’t. She took me and loved me and called me her own. And now she’s gone.

So on Fridays, I cry.

So many people expect you to quickly pick up the broken pieces of your heart after you lose someone. There seems to be an acceptable time of grieving, to be sad, and then it’s time to move on. Except that’s not how grief works. It’s like being at the ocean, only you have no idea when the next wave is coming. At first, they are quick and crashing and close together. Until they aren’t. Then, when you think the water is calm, and you can breathe a little, you get slammed with a wave so huge you get knocked down. And it takes you a couple minutes to catch your breath.

So on Fridays, I cry.

I wish there was a timeline. Some way to mark my calendar and plan ahead so I knew to be alone, or carry tissues, or to at least prepare myself. But instead there are faint warnings that come in the form of my daughter giving me a look that reminds me so much of her. Or a box that had been unopened but holds something of hers. Or a piece of clothing that I forgot she gave me. Or a book, unread, that was a birthday gift from her. Some days, those things don’t bother me. In fact, they remind me of her and they make me happy to have those memories to hold close to my heart. In those moments I love to share stories or recipes or habits that I picked up over the years. But then there are the other days. The days that, out of nowhere, there is a feeling of being pressed down so hard and so quick that you feel the wind being sucked right out of you.

So on Fridays, I cry.

I don’t think it will be like this forever. I think eventually, Fridays will be happy again. Eventually I will be able to think about her and smile instead of cry. Just not today. Today is Friday. And today, I’m going to cry.

Let me ask you a question…..

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Let me ask you a question….. Do you wholeheartedly believe that God likes you? (I don’t mean LOVES you….because theologically God can’t do otherwise… He IS love)….. And not when you clean yourself up, or go to church, or eliminate traces of ugliness, but right now. In this moment. Right Here. Today. With all your faults and weaknesses and shortcomings and failures. He LIKES you! A lot! Luke 1:78-79 says “because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” Have you ever lived in a place of darkness? I have. This verse talks about how when we are dwelling, living in that dark place, God’s compassion comes into that darkness, like the dawn, to shine light into the dark places and guide us back onto the road. I am so incredibly thankful for that. The realization that God is Just, but still offers mercy, brings me to tears. It is BECAUSE He is Just, that we can see how rich His compassion is towards us. He sees our weakness. He knows that thing that we do that we hide from everyone else. He remembers that we are mere dust. Yet, like a father who tends to His children, He tenderly and compassionately draws us to Himself. How can you resist that kind of love?

What if……

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What if…..

What if today is the day that God is planning on using you to do something incredible?
What if today is the day that your miracle is coming?
What if today is the day that all the things you have been working for are falling into place, and all you have to do is show up?
And what if today is the day you decide to give up? To speak death instead of life.

Doubt. Fear. Chaos. Ignorance.

The decision is yours. Walk in obedience, or chain yourself with your own words.

An expectant heart faces the day, despite what it looks like, and claims the victory that is already theirs.

A doubting heart looks at the day, and sees it with their own eyes instead of God’s.

Which one are you? The reality is, you have more control than you think you do. You could be the only thing standing in the way between God and your miracle. The missing links?

Faith. Expectation. Believing God when He makes a promise.

There is power in your words. Your attitude. Your thoughts.

Surrendering.

It could be the greatest act of war that wins the battle.

 

Lessons from the Laundry Pile

It’s gone.  I lost it.  Yes, it is thinning.  The color is faded.  There is a jelly stain on the left shoulder.  There is even a small hole where I snagged it on the raspberry bush that I was trying to plant at dusk that one day when it was warm and everyone was in bed.  The hem is unraveling.  But I still kept it. And now it’s gone.  It’s official: I lost my super mommy cape in the laundry pile.

That laundry pile has a mind of its own.  It has become my nemesis.  My husband bought me two shiny new red weapons to fight the monster, but that was only a temporary fix.  Now I have to fight the monster just to get to the weapons!  It seems to grow every day.  The very sight of it conjures up thoughts of defeat, and surrender follows soon thereafter.  I have tried attacking it with coffee.  That works for a day or so, but then it comes back.

A good friend of mine once said that doing laundry was a lot like stringing beads on a string with no knot on the end.  I must have an extra long string.

As I looked at that pile today, I realize that there is no one else in this house of five that is able to do the laundry.  My husband works long hours so the task rests on my shoulders.  Sometimes this causes resentment.  But today it’s a blessing.  I am the mom.  I am not a perfect mom, but I am THEIR mom.  As I start the never-ending chore, I realize that I am not just doing the laundry, but I am loving my family by serving them.  Muddy socks are from the cold day that we ran from the deck to the trampoline.  Tiny wet panties are from potty training.  The smock with paint on it is from an art project we did to decorate our windows.  A t-shirt with watermelon juice on it is from a picnic lunch in the park.  As I realize this, I reminisce over all the moments this dirty laundry represents.  They are parts of my day that I would not trade for anything.  They are the moments that I have gotten to experience with my kids.

When I was a young mom with only one child, it was very easy to keep up the appearance of the perfect house, the perfect career, the perfect mom, the perfect social calendar.  With two kids, it was a little more challenging but still manageable.  With three, it’s a losing battle.  My house is not dirty by any means, but on a typical day, it is a mess.  There are markers and Play-Doh on the table.  There are blankets and Barbies on the floor.  There are crumbs and sticky spots on the counters.  But there is music in the air.  There is laughter, and love, and happy moments.  Moments with my kids that I will NEVER get back.  Moments to teach them about baby birds, and baking, and mixing paint to make new colors.  My house might not be cleaned up everyday until 9:00 at night, but if you come over during the day, you will feel welcome.  You will feel connected.  You will feel accepted.  I have learned that I am not Super Mom.  Now instead of trying to do everything, I try to do the important things.  For me, that means spending the time that I can with the ones that I love most- teaching, growing, learning together.  You can always expect me to be blowing bubbles or coloring with my kids while they are still little.  You can expect to come over and step over the piles of toys, brush the markers aside, and join me for some coffee and homemade banana bread.  You can expect that I will have time for you.  I won’t even care if you forget your cape.  Just don’t expect the laundry to be done.

Keeping it Real

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This… Is the inside of my van.

It… Is… A… Mess.

No matter how often I clean it, it always ends up like this.

And you know what?

It… Is… Okay.

Its been cold. I have three small children. I am very busy.

There are days that I could have made the choice to bundle up and go clean it.

Instead…

I made hot chocolate and cookies.

Or painted.

Or had a dance party.

Instead of having guilt every time I open the door…

I made a decision today to be joyful for the moments I had with my children that I will never get back.

The moments that were not wasted.

One of these days I will (or I might) clean my van… while they’re at school and I am home alone… (maybe).

But Today…

I’m going to build a snowman.

Preschool Series: Loving them Like Jesus

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Loving them Like Jesus: Footwashing

Worship: (include bubbles and instruments and scarves)

Oh, How I love Jesus

Jesus is My Superhero

How Great is Our God

Prayer: Have a child pray to open up our time together

Welcome: Tell children you are glad to see them and ask them for a few minutes how their week was (we have the kids sit on carpet squares)

Review Last Week’s Lesson with a few questions (a piece of candy for those who remember the details)

Reminder of the Rules:

Scripture Reference: John 13:1-17

Bible Lesson: Today we are looking at the story of Jesus, washing the disciples feet. In the story, it is just before the Passover meal, and He was getting ready to leave them. The word says that “He loved them to the end.” The disciples had reservation about Jesus washing their feet, but Jesus told them “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” Although this is a small portion of scripture, unpacking it for preschoolers is a big thing. We tell the story in a couple of ways.

  1. Read it: from a child appropriate bible. I like the Jesus Storybook Bible, the Fire Bible for Kids, or the Veggietales Bible.
  2. Act it: Have a Few Kids represent characters from the story and retell it using the children
  3. Color it: Have the kids color a coloring page from the story
  4. Group it: Break the kids into small groups. Take one group to the footwashing station, one to a playdoh station, one to a snack station. Rotating the groups will cut down on behavior problems.
  5. Do it: Prepare ahead of time: Several cans of shaving cream, 2 flat buckets, tarp, towels:

Lay a tarp out on the floor. On top of the tarp lay out two flat buckets side by side. Fill one with shaving cream and one with warm water. Make sure to have towels or paper towels available to dry off.

Explain to the kids that you are going to wash their feet like Jesus did with the disciples. As you roll up their pants and help them in, talk about the texture of the soap, how it feels, and how it gets all over them. As you help them step into the water, wash the soap off of them. Talk about how Jesus washed the disciples feet just like you are doing. Then talk about how Jesus washes all the yucky stuff off of us (sin) if we ask Him. He helps wash our hearts, just like we are washing our feet. Make sure to look into the child’s eyes, and communicate love with your tone of voice as well as your words.

When all is done, regroup the kids and talk to them about how it felt to have their teacher wash their feet. Talk about how it must have felt for the disciples to have Jesus wash their feet.

Closing Prayer: Ask the kids, “Who wants Jesus to wash all the yucky stuff from their hearts?” and invite them to ask Jesus into their hearts.