Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Just Confusing: Walking with Kids from Hard Places

Walking through life with kids from hard places is rewarding, challenging, aggravating, joyful, inspiring and discouraging. In other words; it's a mix of a lot of things. My latest experiences have reinforced this concept that taking consistent steps to journey alongside these kids is oftentimes just plain confusing. Do I give them space? Do I take charge? Do I take all the words (or lack thereof) at face value? The damage that has been done to these kids was done in a relationship of some kind and the only way to restore, heal and rebound is within that same context. They need us. In order for a kid to start trusting again, a time out to "think about what they've done" just won't work. Our hope may be that these kinds of strategies will magically provoke developmental growth spurts making up for years of loss and trauma, but the scars run deeper than mere behaviour can communicate. I know that if God has placed this child in my life it is because He has chosen me to be a part of the restoration process and I can't play that down. But some days it's just so confusing.


In order to speak some sort of reason and light into the confusion, I feel like a good place is in front of the mirror. On the days when my own behaviour sends a hundred different signals as to what I am truly needing, I wonder what God, seated on His throne, thinks about when He sees me in that state. I trust He doesn't feel confused and that in spite of my lack of effective communication, He somehow knows me so well that He mysteriously works even the most difficult things for my eventual good. God is stronger, wiser, kinder, more secure and above all, ruthless in His love for me. And that is exactly what these kids need from us. In Ephesians 5:1 we are called to be imitators of God as His beloved children. In order to respond to the confusion that gushes from our relationships with kids from hard places they need adults to understand two things: Primarily, that we come to terms with our own identity as dearly beloved children. Kids of a king that are deeply loved and valued. If our posture and behaviour springs from knowing that whatever happens, our identity cannot be taken away from us and absolutely nothing in all of creation could separate us from God's incredible love, we are more likely to act in ways that will transmit that same assurance to our kids.

Secondly, we need to imitate God as a Father. When our child lashes out in situations with no apparent trigger, we are to be wiser. When our teenager adamantly chooses to abandon the use of words in exchange for eye rolling, sighs and looks of disdain, we are to be more compassionate and benevolent. They are looking for us to be stronger, wiser, kinder, more secure and above all, ruthless in our love for them. Sound familiar? Whether we like it or not, kids that have been through trauma are going to have a hard time grasping the idea of an invisible heavenly Father that is kind and gracious. And that is why God has placed YOU in their life. He is asking us to imitate Him so He can show His love to them through us.

I can feel the look on my face when I am baffled and don't know what to say or how to act. I get wrapped up in my own negative emotional cycles and get thrown off by unexpected responses. But I strive to learn from the only truly good Father. Constant, steady love calms the waves of confusion and will eventually prove to this child that I am to be trusted. I am safe. I am for them. Not because I am awesome and capable, but because I am imitating the one Father who is all this and more. The bewilderment I am currently feeling is most likely being fed by the confusion my child is experiencing and no amount of science, tips or tactics will be able to speak lasting order into this chaos. Confusion is calmed by consistent and steady love, and you, as God's beloved child, are the one He has chosen to show them what this rich and unconditional love looks like.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Lo Que Sucede con el Hogar Seguro


Vivimos en un mundo completamente inseguro, rodeados de amenazas que fomenta una cultura de temor, sospecha y crítica. Tuve el privilegio de servir durante 6 meses en la Secretaría de Bienestar Social (SBS) al lado de una Sub-Secretaria altamente capaz y preparada, entrando con mucho entusiasmo y esperanza en un momento sumamente difícil, posterior a la tragedia del 8 de marzo en donde 41 niñas respiraron por última vez. Sumergidos en la tormenta del Hogar Seguro, intentamos con todo nuestro esfuerzo implementar programas diferentes que realmente respondieran a las necesidades de los jóvenes con un enfoque más allá de derechos fundamentales, pero con amor, aceptación y oportunidades. Llegamos armados no con buenas intenciones sino con métodos que han sido implementados con éxito en contextos igualmente dificiles. 

Recuerdo el día que trasladamos a los jóvenes de la vacante mega-institución a una casa con capacidad para 12, y vi los rostros de los chicos al entrar a sus habitaciones, y ver sus sonrisas. Uno de ellos se volteó y me dijo "¿Es en serio que esto es para nosotros?" Es impresionante como las situaciones que vivieron les hicieron creer que no eran dignos de un lugar así. Al pasar los meses, ese momento de felicidad se descoloró siendo que las situaciones difíciles continuaron. Dentro de la SBS encontré muy buenas personas, llenas de conocimientos, entusiasmo y experiencia que lucharon en los momentos más oscuros para cuidar de los chicos a su cargo. Al pasar los meses ahí, también encontré que las mismas personas se decepcionaban con el sistema institucional, sujetos a candados y reglamentos que no los dejaban trabajar. 

En una ocasión, llegué a la casa de los adolescentes para hablar con los chicos y escuchar a los trabajadores y me di cuenta que, poco a poco ellos iban abriendo sus corazones y revelando sus sonrisas. Al escuchar sus historias, deseos y sueños detectaba un patrón en todas sus historias. Todos tenían la esperanza de que un día su familia llegara por ellos.

Antes de llegar a la SBS pasé muchos años caminando por los pasillos de los Juzgados de la Niñez escuchando los retos de las trabajadoras sociales, jueces y oficiales de encontrar lugares para adolescentes que, por naturaleza, traían retos muy particulares y no eran bienvenidos en la gran mayoría de los hogares privados. Además, muchos de los jóvenes habían sido víctimas de maltrato, abuso y negligencia que fue tierra fértil para las adicciones a drogas, afiliación a pandillas y problemas conductuales que ahora formaban parte importante de su expediente. Sin opciones y con mucha necesidad, los jueces se veían obligados a enviar los adolescentes a los hogares a cargo de la SBS y poco a poco, las casas diseñadas para 12, llegaban a tener 20, todos con perfiles diferentes, mezclando las maras con los abandonados. Una tormenta perfecta. 

Visitamos a docenas de casas buscando las condiciones ideales para los adolescentes, y pasamos largas horas tratando de ver cómo separar los perfiles y proveer servicios de rehabilitación, capacitación y atención según la necesidad de cada joven. Pero, a un año del traslado, las puertas de la sociedad siguen cerradas para esta clase de chicos. 

He aprendido que la situación actual no cambiará por la buena voluntad de las autoridades, ya que, más que un problema programático vivimos una crisis sistémica que no permite que las buenas personas trabajen o implementen nuevas ideas. Los chicos siguen con el deseo de regresar a sus familias a pesar de la pobreza, riesgo y falta de oportunidades que experimentarían. Y tienen todo el derecho. Nosotros entramos a una entidad a cargo de la protección, pero en todo momento fue reactivo. Al no contar con un sistema integral que buscaba proteger a los niños y niñas desde sus propias casas con programas que venían a rodear, restaurar y preparar a las familias, por cada uno que logramos reintegrar, ingresaban cinco más. El tema del Hogar Seguro no se resolverá a cambiar las autoridades actuales o ciegamente lanzar más dinero a programas. Se necesita un cambio estatal, considerando que el estado es el conjunto del gobierno, las personas y el territorio, y hasta el momento que la niñez no solamente sea tema de noticias del 8 de marzo y ahora 10 de abril, sino parte de la agenda de toda la sociedad no dejaremos de ver la crisis. La pregunta es, ¿qué estás haciendo tú para proteger a nuestra niñez? Los que trabajamos en este campo, lo hacemos con mucho temor y celo, sabiendo que la única manera de cambiar nuestro país es por medio de la niñez. Es la inversión más importante que un país puede hacer y el tesoro más precioso que tenemos. Seamos la voz de los niños, niñas y adolescentes, no solamente en el Congreso de la República o en las redes sociales, pero participando activamente con un alto nivel de responsabilidad. Si crees que no puedes aportar a la causa de la niñez, es muestra de que no has investigado cómo hacerlo. Ya no pongamos curitas donde urge una cirugía.

Espero que no llegue otra ola momentánea de asistencia y solidaridad como llegó después del incendio en el Hogar Seguro, que rastreó a muchos y dejó el lugar más desolado que antes. Necesitamos una lenta y estable inundación de acciones concretas y permanentes, soportadas para una red que la conformamos todos. Nuestros niños valen la pena. 



Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Life is not fair. Not even for twins.

There is something inside of us that instinctively cringes at injustice and longs for life to be fair. When someone shares with me about an opportunity that should have been theirs and was given to someone else, or that God is blessing someone whose life does not line up with their beliefs, I don't always have an answer for them. I tend to look deep into my own bag full of ideologies, beliefs and theology to decide what response to give, but God's answer to this dilemma isn't necessarily a feel good one.

This situation plays out most days in my own home as we parent twin 3 year old girls. The idea of life being fair is something that I involuntary push on them. When one of them gets a gift, my knee-jerk reaction is to ask "What about the other one?" I have been tempted to rip teddy bears in two to appeal to this urge to make life as fair as possible and be free of the pain that comes with jealousy. However, that definitely isn't what the bible teaches.

The other day, one of my girls lost her beloved Cars shorts. Most parents can identify with my frantic and chaotic hustle to rip the house apart searching for these blessed shorts all to the tune of sobs and whimpers of my troubled toddler. So, as I was solo-parenting that day and didn't have much on the agenda, I broke down and offered to take them to buy a new pair of shorts that would replace her beloved possession. As we walked into the store and saw the heavens open over the rack of kids' shorts directly in front of us, my  heart was filled with joy. We tried the shorts on and they were a hit. But, as my one girl was rapidly filling with glee, her counterpart was steadily breaking down from the inside out. Her initial excitement at her sister's new purchase transformed into tears as she was now overwhelmed by her desire for her own pair of new shorts. I knelt down and gently lifted up her head to look into her big wet eyes. Through my mind ran two ideas of what my response could be. I could pull her close, telling her that we came to get her sister shorts and that we wouldn't be able to get her any, or I could pick her up, walk back to the rack and have her pick out a pair of her own. The battle in my mind was between temporarily comforting my daughter with a swipe of my credit card, or being present with her through the lesson that we don't always get what other people have.

With my girls, my goal is not to always provide equality because that will not prepare them for real life and it will definitely not expose them to what Jesus so explicitly taught. Rather, I give them opportunities to feel pain in a safe moment with a steady companion to wade through the hard feelings and overwhelming emotions when we see our best friend and sister get something that we want and can't have.

Rain falls on the good and the wicked and the labourer who worked a whole day received the same recompense as he who worked a single hour under the same now-setting sun. If my goal is to offer equality and fairness to my kids at every turn, they will one day be confronted with the overwhelming reality that life on this earth is far from fair. We don't always get what we think we deserve and other people get a lot more or a lot less than we do. If my girls can begin to understand this concept, I am setting them up to one day introduce and genuinely define a reconciling word that will reveal the heart of the Gospel: grace.

In the same way that it hurts that I can't have what my neighbour has, there is another neighbour down the road that feels the same way about me. Our DNA is lined with a longing to see justice, fairness and equality but this temporary home of ours will never meet that need. The only way that our hearts can be comforted is by the fact that God chose to sacrifice his own son so that we could all receive the most incredible and eternal gift. Everybody. It is a gift that is given without prejudice, bias or point systems. So as we parent, we need to have eternity in mind and not focus on temporary fixes to construct a facade that life on this earth is fair. One day, our heavenly Father will come close, lift our heads and look us in the eyes as we embark on the true meaning of justice that is intrinsically bound up in an eternal relationship free of tears and sorrow. But, until that day, the last thing I want is for my children's gaze to be fixed on the temporary and comforted by the material.

And so, as I parent this dynamic duo I am slowly learning to quiet the urge to artificially and unnecessarily protect them from the pain and sadness that springs from the comparison trap. I cannot offer them equality in all things, but if I am rooted in His word, I can point them to the only one who rains down grace and comfort that soaks deeper than the pain. To be honest, I ended up buying my second daughter her own pair of shorts that day. I may have given in to the temptation of the temporary, but I am slowly learning to parent with eternity in mind and with a heart that sees beyond cheap grace and the false teaching that life on this earth is fair. Life is not fair. But thank God for grace.


-David McCormick

Sunday, March 4, 2018

And the Oscar goes to...

I have always been a fan of Hollywood kind of stuff. I have loved watching awards shows since I was a kid and have always imagined what it would be like to be seated in that giant room; slick hair and fancy clothes, laughing casually at all the jokes and nonchalantly mingling with the stars. So with a scaled down feeling of Christmas morning, we sat down to watch the beloved Oscars. I pretended to know about all the movies and even rambled off a 3 minute discourse about the origins of opera, except our Guatemalan teenager had actually asked how OPRAH got her start. But as the show went on I began to feel differently about it all. Far from feeling excited, I noticed I was starting to feel a little sad. Some of the cast from The Greatest Showman sang "This Is Me" and it was hard not to get emotionally stirred as the performers emphatically raised their hands and sung with all their hearts to the beat of their own drum. Yet, I started seeing clearly through the smoke and realized that every day I am bombarded with this very message: this is me. That I just need to accept who I am and can find freedom in being the real me.

I am sure that this singer is laying in her bed with a pillow soaked with tears of satisfaction and contentment. She just sang at the Oscars! But "this is me" without Jesus is always a sad place to be. I wanted to jump to my feet and join the anthem of acceptance of the human condition, but I remember that I have been there before and it has never led to tears of freedom. And I imagined God looking down on that sparkly auditorium, longing for nothing more than to be close to these people and to adopt them as His sons and daughters. These people really don't know Jesus and it broke my heart tonight.


So, I shift hard into strategic planning mode and think that if only I could get to that stage and tell them about the one true hope that lies not in human rights, shiny trophies and stage time, but in a king who humbly took off His crown to save my life forever. To save me from myself. But I am pretty sure that the answer is not for some Christian actor or director to one day climb the stairs to that iconic stage armed with a 45 second platform to tell the word what God has done, although that might be neat to see. I am reminded that the way that these people would actually come to hear of Jesus, be intrigued by His love and come to know Him as a real person is if those of us who profess to follow Jesus actually lived like Jesus did. The message that would truly transcend and outweigh any Oscar speech or news broadcast, blog post or soap box, would be for God's children to love each other in incredibly sacrificial and unselfish ways. It is God's chosen and sacred language to convey His message of grace to the world. It's through us. The world will know that we follow Jesus if we radically love each other. I laid down to sleep and sensed that the sadness I felt that night paled in comparison to the feelings God has for us. He longs to bring all these people into His family. He will not leave us orphans and that is very good news. But the platform He has given us as followers and believers of this gospel is to love one another in such a way that the whole world wants to know what's going on behind the scenes. And when they ask, we can confidently walk up to the stage with a microphone in hand and point to the one who is the true source of life. And His name is Jesus.



Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Just look up



I am a fan of self-care, self examination and being self aware. I have seen the devastating consequences of people that are completely disconnected from themselves and utterly incapable of recognizing their own need to evaluate and take steps towards health.

But I am sure you noticed a recurring theme in there that may raise some red flags.
There is wisdom in all of this and I believe it with all my heart. But then I read this quote.

"For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ." - Adelaide Proctor


My constant attempts to go deeper into myself to find out what was wrong and to truly confront the deep issues in my heart seem wise and mature but I realize that for every look at Christ there have been hundreds of looks into myself. My genuine desire to "work through" stuff and arrive at a more stable place in life to THEN be able to encounter God on a deeper level. But there has been no freedom in and of myself. Me without Christ is a cavernous pit with only downward steps. It is so important that we open the door into the basement of our hearts and look around with honest eyes in hopes of restoration, but I think I overdid it when I slowly started moving all my furniture into the basement to be closer to the action. Jesus is the only way to find freedom and it His heart to give it to us. But this freedom comes as the words "I", "me" and "my" are replaced with "He", His", and "Him" and as I lift my eyes beyond myself into the vast expanse of who God is.

I frequently read posts, books and blogs by people that are drowning in themselves while trying to help other keep afloat. I think this is why we love tips, tricks, life-hacks and ten steps. We want the life giving change that only Jesus can bring by looking everywhere except in Jesus himself. We can't give something we don't have, and more than anything, I just want to give people Jesus. The world is aching and longing for Jesus' followers to rise up; not on platforms and pedestals built by man, but on humble feet, firmly planted in the good news with eyes firmly fixed on the only one that can save us. I don't think from here you should jump to your feet, smashing all the mirrors in your home and vowing to never repeat the word "I" as long as you live, but for those of us who are longing to go deeper and become more authentic, let's remember that we can't be the centre and we definitely aren't the source. We weren't created for that. It's like asking my dog to start paying the bills. I am only setting myself up for failure, resentment and confusion. We aren't supposed to the be centre of it all even though everything around us broadcasts a completely different message. So, let's look up, readjust the lens of our souls to focus earnestly and recklessly on Jesus. I am pretty sure He will take care of the rest.



Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash

Friday, February 23, 2018

Feelings: friend or foe?


We all walk through dark seasons marked by feelings we would rather not have, where the mingling of these emotions become the white noise of our journey. I have walked through seasons where a recurring sense of frustration is like a bad case of the hiccups that just won't go away. I have been in seasons where anger was always just one word below the surface. Seasons of sadness, desperation, confusion, grief and guilt. In my world, I speak with a lot of adoptive parents, social workers, pastors and kids and although we all have varying abilities of putting words to these seasons, we are all feeling something. 

So what do we do about it? How are we supposed to navigate the turbulent waters of rebellious kids, lack of good friendships, hard decisions and an underlying belief system that maintains that we should be better than this? We should be able to pull a 180 and find joy in the midst of any storm. We should know the steps to broadening our perspective, breaking through our mental constructs and emotional strongholds to find freedom and open spaces in the middle of our confining circumstances. But you can still hear the white noise. Like a constant static that we manage to turn down but just can't completely mute. I believe there are people who have been so out of touch with their own emotions for so long that it would take a good long while to find them again. You cannot selectively turn down one of your emotions and as we turn down one of them, we, by default, turn them all down. For Christians, having emotions is sometimes equated to ego-centrism; simple distractions that true maturity would free us from. Yet I believe freedom does not lie in learning techniques to systematically turn down our feelings or to see them as weakness as we simultaneously lather judgement upon the "weaker" brothers who seem to have a wide range of emotions. We equate feelings to flesh and emotions to sin: earthly burdens we carry that heaven will one day free us from. 

So what do you say to the adoptive dad who is on the brink of giving up and neck deep in guilt? To the devastated woman who discovered that her employers have exploited her for years and paid her far less than her male counterparts? To the fearful man who takes a courageous stand for justice and truth in the midst of a scandal, knowing that it will potentially mean career suicide? Is our Christian advice for these individuals simply to tune out what they are feeling and just "faith it out"? 

I believe there is divine richness within our emotions that few are courageous and disciplined enough to uncover. Our feelings are certainly not a compass or road map, but they are a language that not only bonds our hearts to others humans, but to God Himself. In the Bible, God was never shocked or turned off by big emotions, rather He expressed his own emotions in real ways. If we will quiet our hearts enough to listen and lean into the reason behind our emotions, we will not only mature and grow deeper, but we will actually embrace our created form and connect with God in a more profound way. If Christians are know for being numb, then we have truly lost sight of the Jesus of the Bible. Emotional numbness may have the appearance of wisdom or maturity but will completely lack any life, freedom or power. 

We need to have meaningful conversations about our emotions in places where vulnerability is encouraged and being real is the norm. The only way to go through these deep and sometimes overwhelming emotions is THROUGH them (Psalms 77:19). There are no shortcuts. So, whether you are fighting with frustration or fighting through sadness or anger, take the time to think about what walking THROUGH these emotions looks like. Spoiler alert: you can almost never do this alone. We need safe places with safe people to work through the toughest and most shameful feelings. The church should be a place full of humble pilgrims, willing to take others by the hand in meaningful non-judgmental ways. People whose reflex is to listen and not preach, unafraid to embrace the shocking and uncomfortable. Community is key as others help us to unclog our filters of the lies that Satan would have us believe as die hard truths.
Healthy, safe connections help us to reframe and realign our experiences and the words that have been spoken over us with the TRUTH of who we are. Numbness and indifference are far more dangerous than hate and resentment. Anger and sadness can eventually enrich, but numbness inoculates us from truly connecting with others and with God Himself. It's scary because we don't want to focus on ourselves or think that the Gospel resolves around my emotional state, but the other side of the spectrum is just as dangerous. Emotions are not the gospel and they will not save you, yet if processed and understood they will most certainly help us comprehend the Good News and the God who bears them. They can take us from mindless submission to heartfelt obedience in the context of a deep and rich relationship with a God who is not shocked or turned off by our most raw and vulnerable selves. He also values us too much to have us live there. 



Photo by Connor McSheffrey on Unsplash


Saturday, February 17, 2018

Freedom comes in Family

If you have ever spoken with a child or youth that doesn't have a family of their own, you most likely remember the look in their eye more than the words that were spoken. Some say that our deepest desire as human beings is to simply belong; just to be an irrevocable member of something greater than ourselves. Here in Central America, the gang crisis has exploded over the last two decades, bringing in thousands of wandering youth into the comforting arms of belonging and purpose. Kids who once felt alone in their homes and in their hearts, have encountered the life-giving feeling of being united with others in a visible way. To belong to a gang looks like haircuts, tattoos, holding fast to the higher order and sacrificing oneself for the greater good of the tribe. For families, the tribe membership means last names on birth certificates, generational traditions and affiliated behaviours but even in the most amazing families there are kids who don't feel like they truly belong. In the midst of this earnest pursuit to belong, the child grows up, the walls in their heart continue under construction, and the search for belonging continues. Belonging is more than just membership.

In Galatians 4:5 it says that God purchased our freedom as he adopted us into His family, giving us His very spirit in our hearts that allows us to call back to this mysterious and infinite father in the most intimate way. Belonging in this family, we may acquire new traditions, change the way we dress and even grasp new perspectives of life and humanity that give us greater empathy and compassion but the deepest changes in our new found identity is something profoundly spiritual.

Over the years, I have had conversations with kids that long for family and I have seen it in their eyes. More than wanting a new last name, they are longing for the assurance that they would be a part of something; to be loved and received, valued and cherished. Their eyes speak of the desire to belong. But it's not just them. Today, I choose to look in the mirror and cut through the religious rhetoric and esoteric noise to take an honest look into my own eyes. Days like these, that I look into the word of God, the one true mirror for my soul, and I find myself deeply longing for more of what these words say. I really just want to belong. I know that I have passed from lost to saved, from orphan to son and from victim to heir, but in all honesty, I haven't completely realized and walked into what this freedom is supposed to look like. Today, I am just a scared little boy, using grown up words but wanting something simple. To belong.  I love to advocate for these kids that have such apparent needs and incredibly obvious (although sacrificial) answers to their longings, but if we are honest, we all feel like orphans some days.

But I know that this life is so much more than feelings. I sit myself down and speak the words of promise and eternal truth and fight through the hardship. I know the only way through it is through it. I know what to do because I have been taught and I believe that, in Jesus, I certainly do belong. So, what if, as a Christian, I was less focused on rants, judging and justifying myself and a little bit more focused on relaying this God-given acceptance to others? What if, at the hands of Christians, the world felt primarily accepted as ones who bear God's very image with infinite worth and importance? What if we truly believed that it was God's kindness that led people to repentance and that Jesus was the only way to bring others close to God? What if we acted like God has chosen us to give this good news to others, not only in eloquent speech but in gritty and messy love? From the frightened orphan, to the child of privilege; the youth finding home in a gang to the mirror in front of me, the desire is the same. It's in our DNA. The whole world is just craving to belong, and Jesus is the only way to make that dream come true.