Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Courageous Change

Sometimes we are pushed outside our comfortable parameters by unforeseen circumstances or relationships. In 2009 our lives were gloriously and beautifully altered through an unforeseen relationship. Through that relationship we have become associated with a wonderful institution, The Walter Hoving Home in Garrison, NY.  It is a residential facility for women dedicated to the mission of “rebuilding lives shattered by drugs and alcohol”. We have had the opportunity to walk closely with a few of the ladies as they have gone through the process of rebuilding, but through the time we have spent there we have developed an affection and appreciation for every woman who has the courage to leave the familiar present, even if it is one controlled by addiction, and move to an unknown future. Here are a few lessons I've learned from these beautiful and courageous women about what it takes to truly change.

Courageous change begins with humility. The women we have encountered at the Home come from many walks of life, from pastors’ wives to former prostitutes, but they have one thing in common. Every woman who arrives at the Home has reached one of the lowest points in her life. Before she arrives she has to admit that her life has become unmanageable and that she is hopeless to change without help. The women who come to the home are broken and desperate, but that is exactly what enables them to embark on a journey of true change. Many of us never reach the place of being humble enough to admit our own weakness and need for change. As a result we never experience the exhilaration and refreshment of courageous change.

Are you and I ready to humbly admit our own faults and weaknesses and recognize our need of help in order to truly change?

Courageous change takes discipline. The Home has some pretty strict rules and, as Americans, really as humans, most of us have a hard time being told what to do and how to do it. There are reasons for every rule, meant to protect every woman who is in the 6-month to 12-month program. Sadly, many women refuse to abide by the rules and end up leaving, either by their own choice or by the request of the leadership. However, the women who submit to the discipline of conduct, schedule, responsibility and education gain the tools to live a new life when they leave the program. As they submit to discipline, their thinking changes.  As their thinking changes, their habits change, their character changes and their lives change. These are the women who will leave the program courageously changed and ready to successfully live a totally new life.

How often do I balk at the idea of doing something just because someone told me to do it? I would much rather come up with the idea myself, thank you! If I can choose to submit myself to the discipline imposed on me by my situation, might I change for the better?

Courageous Change needs the support of others. Each new arrival to the Home is paired with a Big Sister, a woman who has been there for a while and will help the new woman to get used to her unfamiliar surroundings. She may be terrified at this turn in her life and even more terrified of her uncertain future. The function of the Big Sister is to help her transition and become a part of the community in the Home so that she can begin the process of rebuilding her shattered life. Those first few days are critical in helping a woman to stay with the program.
 The women who succeed in the program recognize their need for each other. Although, like any place where groups of people live in close proximity with others, there are conflicts, at the heart of the experience at the Home is the sense of community. The women who stay in the program do become sisters. For many, they learn to feel the real pain of life for the first time without escaping into addiction and their sisters help them through that pain. They help each other in times of discouragement and weakness. They have fun and laugh. They share holidays and the joys of everyday life.

None of us were made to go through life alone. We all need others to help us when we face the trials that are inevitable in life. Just as Ecclesiastes says: “Two are better than one…If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) Do you have a few trusted friends to encourage you and pick you up as you face your own courageous change?

Courageous change takes commitment. One heartbreaking truth about the Walter Hoving Home is that only the women who stay will be able to fully embrace courageous change. Many women choose not to stay for a variety of reasons. Some miss their families too much. Some miss their street friends too much. Some who leave end up in jail, or worse. Some who leave end up coming back and successfully completing the program. But in order to graduate from the Walter Hoving Home a woman must, not only complete the program, but successfully live for a period of time free from the constant supervision and discipline imposed within the Home.  Many women leave the Home between Day One and Graduation Day which is what make Graduation Day such a glorious celebration. The women who stay for the long haul have earned the respect and admiration of all who have the privilege to attend. They have humbled themselves, submitted to the discipline, and received the support of their sisters and others along the way. They have followed through on their commitment and, if they continue to walk out all they have learned, will receive the prize of a gloriously, courageously changed life that will last, not only through their life on earth but into eternity.

Ready to commit to a journey of courageous change? It’s worth it!

Hebrews 12:11 “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

For information visit .

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dollar Store Mentor

 Have you ever picked up a book in the dollar store? While I was Christmas-stocking shopping for my family I saw a book that I decided to pick up and hand to my husband for my own stocking. (It’s weird, but, yeah, we do things like that!)  I figured for a dollar it was worth a curiosity read. The book was called “Dangerous Surrender” and was written by Kay Warren, wife of well-known pastor, Rick Warren, author of the best-seller “The Purpose-Driven Life” among other books.  I had read Rick Warren’s book, participated in several DVD bible studies by him and even heard him speak at a conference, but I had heard very little about Kay. I have greatly benefited from Rick’s ministry, so I was curious what Kay might be like. That book has turned out to be much more than a satisfaction of my curiosity.

Mentors aren't always people that we see face to face. A mentor can be anyone who instructs and inspires by their example. I have found a mentor in Kay Warren, a woman who has learned to come out of her box and experience a life beyond comfortable borders.

In “Dangerous Surrender” (updated and republished as “Say Yes to God” in 2010, thus the dollar store) Kay describes her journey from content pastor’s wife to passionate global HIV/AIDS advocate. Although up until that time her world was already bigger than most of us will ever experience, she was inside a “box” and content to be so. Then she heard a call she couldn't ignore. She shares how her eyes were opened to the global HIV/AIDS crisis and how she couldn't escape the burden that something had to be done and that she was the one to do it. She describes her life as “Before HIV/AIDS” and “After HIV/AIDS”. She has gone places, met people, done things and spoken about topics that did not show up on her radar before that moment. She has overcome obstacles, including two bouts with cancer, weathered criticism, and still stayed the course, never wavering in her objective to advocate for those with HIV/AIDS and the children orphaned as a result of the crisis.

So what have I learned from this new mentor I found in a dollar store? Many things and I expect to learn more as I observe her from a distance. But here are a few lessons.

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. Kay shared her lifelong struggle with accepting herself as an ordinary person rather than someone extraordinary. Then she answered the call and realized that it didn't matter that she was ordinary. She could accomplish something extraordinary and God would get the glory for it.
You and I can definitely do that! When we answer the call and receive the empowerment that comes along with it, we can accomplish extraordinary things. It begins as I start to take the steps. Why not?

Genuine, committed concern for others causes me to move beyond my own comfort zones. Until the day Kay became fully aware of the HIV/AIDS crisis she was content to serve in ways that had become comfortable and familiar. When her heart was overwhelmed by compassion for those suffering with HIV/AIDS she began to move out of the comfortable in order to act on their behalf.
Motivation to move in an unanticipated direction comes as I respond to the call to act on behalf of someone else. You and I exist for the benefit of others, not to pursue our own comfort and pleasure. When we commit to that we will find ourselves on a new and satisfying path.

The deepest motivation to explore my own perimeters and take some pioneer action comes from a commitment to say “yes” to God no matter what the cost. I could relate to many of Kay’s struggles as she shared her journey, but what I could relate to most was her desire to follow God, to say “yes”, to honor Him no matter what. When I get right down to the bottom of it all that is my greatest desire and has been the greatest motivation to move beyond my own comfortable borders and explore my own pioneer territory.

Thanks, Kay.

Check out Kay's website to be instructed and inspired.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Pioneering is Risky Business

So, the idea of pioneering may seem exciting to you. If you've been a box-dweller who has just begun to explore your perimeter the land beyond may be starting to take on a glamorous glow. Not to take the wind out of your sails, but be prepared for the unexpected. You just don’t know what you’ll face, and although you may reach your planned destination, you may find some disappointments along the way. In addition, the reason why you choose to make the journey may not be the legacy you leave behind.  I've learned some of this from the story of an American pioneer woman named Narcissa Whitman.

I had never heard of Narcissa Whitman and her husband, Marcus, before I began delving deeper into my study of pioneers. She and her husband left Western New York State with another couple in 1836 to head for Oregon Territory as missionaries to the Cayuse tribe of Native Americans. They started a mission near what is now Walla Walla, Washington. Here are a few things I've learned from her story.

The most important reason to make the journey is in answer to the call. Both Marcus and Narcissa had committed their lives to following Christ and had individually volunteered for missionary service among the Native Americans of the western frontier. Though willing and able, Narcissa was not accepted as a missionary at first because she was a single woman. Marcus received his appointment as a missionary doctor and could have made the journey as a single man, but it was expected that missionaries be married. (Jeffrey 1999) The Whitman’s marriage was very likely a result of their individual callings and mutual commitment to following the missionary call rather than a romantic attachment. They started for the Pacific Northwest the day after their marriage. (Narcissa Whitman biography 2013)

We each have a calling. Part of discovering that calling is a willingness to do whatever it takes to fulfill that calling. How committed are you and I to answering the call?

Someone has got to be first. The Whitman’s successful arrival in Oregon Country proved to a skeptical society that women could actually make such a difficult journey. Narcissa and her companion, Eliza Spalding, were the first white women to cross the Rocky Mountains. As a result of her willingness to pursue a pioneer missionary calling, Narcissa had opportunities and experiences that would never have been open to her if she had remained in New York State. She taught, led worship services, studied the Nez Perce language, and ran the mission while her husband was away.

Because Narcissa Whitman made the journey, countless women after her traveled across the continent and settled in the Northwest and on the west coast. Are you and I willing to make the difficult journey into new territory so that others can benefit from our experiences?

The journey may cost more than you bargained for, but there is no going back. A cost for Narcissa Whitman was that from the moment she left home after her marriage she never saw her family again. Although she was able to correspond, the time in between receiving letters from home was long. Many of her letters were published after her death, leaving behind a very personal description of her experiences. She was often lonely, but found comfort in caring for her daughter, Alice. Tragically, another cost of her pioneer life was the loss of Alice, at the age of 2 to an accidental drowning.  

Although the Cayuse were initially friendly and curious in listening to the Whitman’s message, after eleven years not one converted to Christianity. (Jeffrey, Narcissa Prentiss Whitman 1999) Many Cayuse began to feel threatened and angry at the increasing presence of whites in their territory. The final cost for the Whitman’s was their death, with eleven others, on November 29, 1847 at the hands of several Cayuse who, in addition to feeling  threatened,  were angry that Dr. Whitman had not been able to prevent many Cayuse from dying after an outbreak of measles. (Biography of Marcus Whitman 2013)

Although some costs can be foreseen, others cannot. Are we willing to risk the unforeseen in order to venture beyond the comfortable into the unknown?

Making the journey is really more important than the success of the journey.  Although the Whitman Mission was not successful in converting the Cayuse to Christianity, the Mission became a welcome stop along the Oregon Trail for many a weary traveler. The Mission was often a wintering place for other pioneers before they headed to their ultimate destinations. The Whitman Mission is now a National Historic site and the Whitman’s legacy continues to be discussed. The Whitman’s are not remembered so much because of their missionary work, but because they made the journey across the continent and helped others to do the same.

When we begin our journey as pioneers we are not guaranteed success, but if are we willing to make the journey anyway, we just might open the way up for someone else. Wouldn't you consider that success?

Visit the National Parks Service website for more information on the Whitmans and the Whitman Mission National Historic Site.

Works Cited
Biography of Marcus Whitman. February 20, 2013. (accessed March 13, 2013).
Jeffrey, Julie Roy. "Marcus Whitman." In American National Biography.Vol.23, by John A., and Mark C. Carnes. Garraty, 278-281. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
Jeffrey, Julie Roy. "Narcissa Prentiss Whitman." In American National Biography, Vol. 23, by John A., and Mark C. Carnes. Garraty, 279-281. New York: Oxford UP, 1999.
Narcissa Whitman biography. March 10, 2013. (accessed March 13, 2013).

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Pioneer? Me?

God gets my attention in pictures. God knows me. He knows just the way to get my attention and give me an idea of what He is asking of me. There are times when I get a picture in my head that comes from nowhere and stays with me. At that point I begin to ask God if there is something that He is saying. He knows that I am a researcher and as I research I begin to uncover all that the picture means and the layers of what He is trying to tell me. More than ten years ago I had such an experience that continues to speak to me.

A what? It was during the ending prayer time at a church conference on discovering and using God-given gifts. Out of nowhere there was a picture in my head of a Conestoga wagon! How spiritual! But as I began to think about it, and to ask God about it, I realized that like those who loaded up those wagons so long ago, God was calling me to move out of my comfort zone and be willing to move to uncharted territory. To be a pioneer. The specifics of that calling weren't clear at the time, but I had some ideas and began to explore them, to explore the perimeter of my comfortable box and begin to imagine, to dream of new possibilities. Over time I began to actually move toward some of those dreams.

Another picture?! But here is the real kicker to that story. Just a few years ago my husband and I were able to visit Walt Disney World with our youngest daughter. One of the attractions we visited was the “American Adventure”, a journey through American history Disney-style. As an image flashed on the screen of a pioneer woman pushing a plow, I looked at her face and thought, “She looks like me!” The next moment my daughter leaned over and said, “She looks like you!” Yes, God can even speak to me on my vacation at Disney World. That image not only brought back everything associated with the Conestoga wagon, but brought clarity to decisions I had made since and helped me realize just how much farther along the road I had come since that time. My pioneer journey had not only begun, but was progressing. What an encouragement!

Some lessons from the pioneers. So, here are a few things to encourage you on your pioneer journey.
  1.       The journey starts with an idea. Before pioneers packed up and took off, they first had the idea to move. They considered actually making the journey and decided to go. Time to start considering!
  2.        The journey continues with preparation. Pioneers didn't decide one day and leave the next. There were many preparations that had to be made before they could actually leave. Supplies and transportation were procured. Perhaps they had to learn more about the place they were planning to move to or skills they would need when they arrived. Time to prepare!
  3.        The journey begins with good-bye. Traveling to a new life can really only start when we are willing to leave behind the familiar and comfortable. Pioneers left behind family, friends, everything they knew, in order to make the journey. They didn't know what to expect along the way and they didn't really know what to expect when they got there. They only knew that they had to go. Time to start saying good-bye!

It’s your turn to start your journey. Consider. Prepare. Say good-bye to the past and begin your adventure. “A pioneer? Me?” you say. Why not?!