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WALKING IN GOD’S GRACE – A JOURNEY OF TRANSFIGURED LIVING

This has been a very special weekend and I’m sure many of you don’t want it to end.  But today the weekend will end and all of us will return to where we came from before we walked through those doors.  I wish I could tell you that the joy will automatically continue with you when you return to your world, but I can’t.

What I can tell you that is that what you have experienced this weekend is just another part of a journey that began long before you were born.  That’s right, before you were born.

In Jeremiah 1:5 God says:

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  Before you were born, I set you apart.

So, it was and is God’s intention to grace you, or sanctify you to be the man you were created to be.  To be set aside for God’s work.  And because God is doing a new thing in your life, He has prepared you and will continue to prepare you for this life’s journey to make a difference in the life of the community you are returning back into.

Jesus talks about this very thing.  Let me share a story with you.

One day Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, led them up on a high mountain to be by themselves; and then something amazing happened, Jesus was transfigured or changed before them.  Now I’m not talking about a small change, but a change where Our Lord’s face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the brightest light you can imagine.  And if that wasn’t enough, the three disciples saw before them Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus.  Peter being Peter says to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, let us make three shelters, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  And while he was still speaking, mid-sentence a bright cloud surrounded them and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud saying, “This is my Beloved Son, In whom I am well pleased.  Listen to Him!’  Well that sealed the deal for them.  They wanted to stay on top of that Mountain, but Jesus told them they had to go back down the Mountain to face the world.

If you have ever heard that story before please raise your hands.  Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose only Peter, James and John to go up with Him to the top of the Mountain?  Well, the answer is simple – they were set aside by grace for this great moment and for greater moments to come.

As the disciples were called to go down the mountain we too must go into the valley where the mud and muck are.  Farmers will tell you that where mud and muck are, there is the most fertile place for growth – your and my growth.  Growth for what?  To do what God created us for.  To be made ready for valley duty.

When you leave here, you will meet other people who are experiencing their own struggles with little or no guidance.  This is where you come in.  Armed with God’s wisdom and grace, you become an example of God’s mercy and grace to others.

So how does one experience the fullness of God’s grace after you leave this place of joy and never-ending cookies to return to the compound? Here are some tips I believe will help.

First of all it’s important to know that more than anything else, Jesus wishes to have a relationship with you.   And in order for you to have a relationship or friendship with Him three factors need to be in place.   SPIRITUALITY, DISCOVERY THROUGH STUDY, and CHRISTIAN ACTION

Think about a three-legged stool.  If we name each of these legs, Spirituality, Study, and Christian action, it reminds us that if we are going to have a life in Christ each one of these legs are important and needs to be firmly in place to withstand what life throws at us. Take away one leg, what happens?  You’ll hit the deck fast, I guarantee it!

The First Leg:  SPIRITUALITY

Spirituality is about our personal journey to become Christ-like.  We will never become perfect as Christ is, but we can become holy in our daily walk.

For it is written, be holy because I am holy.  1 Peter 1:16

I feel it’s important for you to understand that you found favor with God, better said, you were graced by God.

You see God takes the initiative in all things.  He gave you the seed of grace before you born because He loves you.  We only have the capability to love because He loved us first! 1 John 4:19

God doesn’t play games with us.  You might have understood love as having strings attached and you may have a poor concept of what true love is because your love was broken by lies, but true love is sacrificial. If it’s true it gives without any conditions.

Here’s the full measure of God’s love – God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for us.  That everyone who believes in Him will not die, but have everlasting life.  John 3:16

But wait a minute, you might be thinking.  I’ve done some pretty terrible things in my life; how could God love me and forgive me for what I have become? 

We always concentrate on John 3:16, but rarely do we get to the next verse which is just as important as the first in understanding the extent of God’s love for you.

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:17

Remember, you are the highly favored of God.  If this wasn’t true then He would not have undone your sins by giving His Son up on the Cross for us.  He paid the price so you wouldn’t have to.

If you want to experience the full measure of your SPIRITUAL growth in Christ here are some things that are working for me and I want to share them with you:

  1. Pray Daily
  2. Read a daily devotion to God
  3. When you pray do so with a spirit of self-examination
  4. Be in community with other Christians
  5. Spend quiet time to listen to the Holy Spirit speak to your heart
  6. Stay diligent in your faith
  7. Go to chapel services and worship
  8. If you don’t have a bible, then ask the chaplain for one.  And when you have your bible, READ it!

Like any garden, you have to attend to it daily if you hope to have a good harvest.  When you pray, have a conversation with God as if He is your friend, your brother.  Remember, if love is not given and received daily it will fade away.  If a child is not picked up and nurtured, he or she will suffer a failure to thrive.

The Second Leg, DISCOVERY THROUGH STUDY

Study is the gateway to understanding

Think about discovery this way, if you look at a drop of water, you are going to see a clear liquid, but if you looked at the same drop of water with a microscope, you’ll discover there is a world there that you wouldn’t have otherwise imagined.

The same thing is true with reading God’s word.  Every time you read His word, you’ll discover something new about yourself and the world around you.  The Holy Spirit never rests in teaching you.

The Third Leg, CHRISTIAN ACTION

Look around you and what do you see? Pure, unselfish, sacrificial Agape love.  Every man in this Holy Place is here because they wanted to be here.  These men could have been with their family, their work, any place but at the Price-Daniel Unit.  And would you believe these men paid to be here.

You don’t act in love because you are a nice person.  Even a non-Christian can do that.  You act in love because Jesus acted in your heart first through His Holy Spirit.

God wants us to care for each other.  We are human beings and we need to receive love and give love.  To forgive and to be forgiven.

We are called to be out there to share what we have in Christ.  How could we not?  The truth be told, If I didn’t come down from my mountaintop experience to walk in God’s grace in the valley I wouldn’t be with you today because I probably would have died.

Years ago when I was in the Air Force I experienced trauma not only to my body, but also to my soul and nearly lost everything I held dear to my heart: my wife, children, a stellar career and last but not least, my sanity.  There are some wounds that are visible to the eye, but there are others that are not.  Wounds of the soul that cannot be seen but are violently punishing so much so that in my case I couldn’t see much use in living any longer.  The fear and physical pain that wrecked my body was so complete that I slipped into the fog of alcohol and pill addiction to numb it all.  Just when I had given up and believed my life was over, I was rescued in ways I can only describe as miraculous.  It was just in time, God’s time, that I began my sobriety.   It was a long and painful struggle to climb out of the valley, but in 2012 I earned my graduate degree in marriage and family therapy and became a licensed chemical dependency counselor.  I truly wanted to understand what happened to me and felt that going back to school would help provide the answers.  Not only that, I had a strong calling to help people through their valley moments.

Now, I shared my story with you because I know deeply what it means to feel like you’re on top of the world and how good it is to stay right there and not return to a place you may not want to be.  But if I didn’t go down into the valley, I wouldn’t have lived out the life that God set me apart to live, right here, right now with you.

So how are you going to thrive in Christ after this weekend has concluded?

Let me just share with you one last story:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a prisoner in a Soviet prison in Siberia. He became so weak and discouraged that he wished he would die. The guards would beat and usually kill anyone that stopped working. He decided to stop working so that the guards would kill him. As soon as he did so, another Christian drew a cross where Alexander could see it.

Alexander said that he was encouraged by remembering that God gives hope and courage. He decided to continue working because of a Christian who cared too much to let him give up.

Paul in his letter to the Romans in Chapter 8:38 says,

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

That’s not my truth, that’s not your truth, that’s not Catholic or Anglican truth, not Methodist truth, not Baptist truth.  What it is is divine truth.  And if it’s divine truth, it’s God’s truth.  And if it is God’s truth, then it is The Truth.  Amen?

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Over these many years I have come to learn how amazingly surprising God can be when dealing with His children.

I am the pastor of a small Hispanic congregation of the United Methodist Church.  As small as we are, we are blessed to be rich in ministry.  On the third Saturday of each month men of our community come together for a Menudo breakfast.  By the way, according to Wikipedia, Menudo, also known as pancita or mole de panza, is a traditional Mexican soup, made with cow’s stomach in broth with a red chili pepper base. It shares a name with a stew from the Philippines made with pork and pork liver. Hominy, lime, onions, and oregano are used to season the broth.    Now, if that doesn’t make you want to visit your local Mexican restaurant, I don’t know what does.  But on with my story…

I really wasn’t supposed to go to the breakfast this Saturday since I had a surgical procedure done on me the day before and wasn’t really feeling up to it, but I went anyway.  As it turned out, the guest speaker bailed out at the last minute and our church elder looked at me and well I became the guest speaker.  The first order of business was for me to pray because I had no idea what I was going to speak (preach) about.  Early that morning I got up as I usually try to do and went into God’s word.  I read a passage out of the First Epistle of Peter and the words spoke to me of how precious we truly are in God’s sight.  That even though we’ve been through and are going through trials now, because of the genuineness of our faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, we may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 1:7.

Considered precious, tested by fire, found to praise honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ…all of this and more seemed to be more than enough to speak about.  So the men came, gave thanks for their meal and had fellowship.  All the while I was prayerfully thinking about this scripture passage in the context of The Xena Project.  I shared these thoughts with the men, and as I did, the majority of them nodded their  heads in agreement and gave their amens to God’s voice clearly being projected to their hearts.  I didn’t fully realize until I was done that the majority of the men served in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  They were all brothers and God brought all of us together in the fullness of time.  But there was a young man there who was a Marine who was home doing hometown recruiter duty.  I’m sure the stories he heard from us old war dogs impressed him and we had a brief, but good visit afterwards.  I thought about how he was a reflection of our past and the hope for a better future.

Of course, God has done this kind of thing before.  During our Monday morning bread ministry when the poor of our community come to our church to receive food, I was giving the morning devotional and couldn’t help speaking about my own testimony and struggle with PTSD.  At the conclusion of my sermon, a woman stood up and with tears described how pained she was because her son returned home from war changed.  She didn’t know what to do except pray hard for His help in was certainly a desperate situation for her.  But it wasn’t just her, but another mother stood up with her and then another.  All shared in a bond of sorrow and pain and they all also shared in the hope that God would grant a mighty miracle to enter into their and their children’s lives.

I  learned long ago that when these wonderful blessings take place it’s just God doing His mighty works among His people, turning tears into joy, fear into boldness, weakness into strength.  And the most marvelous thing about it all, it has nothing to do with our timing but His – in the fullness of His time.  Amen?

 

Today I received an e-mail from Representative Rick Miller asking me to join him and others to provide testimony for the integration of Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) into Texas Child Protective Services trauma-bases instruction. Unfortunately, because of work commitments, I will not be able to attend.

As a TBRI Practitioner and Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor, TBRI has been a vital part of my practice in providing training and ultimately recovery to families broken by addictions and parental separations caused by long periods of incarcerations. I use TBRI in couples therapy, helping parents understand how they can not only help their children through their trauma, but also bring mindfulness to the couples understanding early trauma that may have contributed to their addictive and abusive/neglectful behavior.

It is my opinion that if we do not work with caregivers who have unresolved trauma issues, the cycle of abuse and neglect will continue. It is unfortunate that the only relief has been drugs and alcohol which our society and our children are paying a terrible price for a lack of proven interventions such as TBRI. Perhaps this will all change after this House Bill passes. Here is the text of the Bill which proposes key changes to informed trauma-based training.

Bill Text: TX HB2335 | 2017-2018 | 85th Legislature | IntroducedTexas House Bill 2335
TX State Legislature page for HB2335

Bill Title: Relating to requiring training in trauma-based care for certain child-care workers and child protective services caseworkers.

Spectrum: Partisan Bill (Republican 1-0)

Status: (Introduced) 2017-03-27 – Scheduled for public hearing on . . . [HB2335 Detail]

Download: Texas-2017-HB2335-Introduced.html
85R8662 MM-D

By: Miller H.B. No. 2335

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED AN ACT relating to requiring training in trauma-based care for certain child-care workers and child protective services caseworkers.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF TEXAS:
SECTION 1. Subchapter B, Chapter 40, Human Resources Code, is amended by adding Section 40.036 to read as follows:
Sec. 40.036. TRAUMA-BASED CARE TRAINING REQUIREMENT FOR
CASEWORKERS. The department shall ensure that each child protective services caseworker who interacts with children on a daily basis receives training in trauma-based care.
SECTION 2. Section 42.0421, Human Resources Code, is amended by adding Subsection (e-1) to read as follows:
(e-1) In addition to other training required by this
section, the executive commissioner by rule shall require an owner, operator, or employee of a day-care center, group day-care home, registered family home, general residential operation, foster group home, or agency foster group home to receive training in trauma-based care.

SECTION 3. This Act takes effect September 1, 2017.

 

All of us at one time or another find ourselves at life’s crossroads.  These moments in our journey can be difficult, full of challenges, and unpredictable.  Our decisions on which direction we should take is often based on past experience – lessons learned, failures and successes.  It sometimes just takes a gut feeling on what path would lead us to a better outcome.

But what about people whose life experience has been distorted by violence, repeated – gut-wrenching disappointment, and unresolved pain that seemingly can only be coped with not by the promise of hope found in a nurtured, well-adjusted life but in brokenness.

As a therapist, I work with people who stand daily at life’s crossroads with life experiences that are full of pain which lead to taking paths that are self-destructive.  The people I am speaking of are men and women who as children came from hard places.  The path they have taken at the crossroads of their lives often leads to self-destruction through drug addiction.  After all, what coping measures do they have that would bring them the hope and nurturing all human beings need to live and thrive?

Alpha Recovery Centre (Please double click on the link to visit Alpha Recovery Centre) has served West Texas communities since 2006, providing substance abuse and mental health services to individuals and families.  In addition to serving the Midland, Odessa, Big Spring communities and their surrounding rural communities, we provide aftercare to individuals who are currently in both the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Federal Bureau of Prisons Substance Abuse Recovery Programs.  I have been given the privilege to work with parolees of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.  I am discovering that the majority of my clients have come from some very hard places and never had a chance to experience the loving and nurturing care all human beings desire and need to thrive.  When they came to the many crossroads in their lives, they chose paths that only temporarily numbed the unresolved pain of their violent childhoods, but sooner than later only brought them down further into a deeper and darker abyss that time after time grows more difficult to climb out of.

Recently, I was invited via web conferencing to dialogue with members of the Texas Christian University Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development concerning the use of Trust-Based Relational Intervention as part of our work with parolees and their families in what we call a Therapeutic Community setting.

In my presentation Utilizing Trust-Based Relational Intervention (T.B.R.I.) Principles in Helping Promote Behavioral Modification Among Texas Department of Criminal Justice Offenders  (please double click on the link to review and download this presentation) I drew behavioral comparisons of the traditional child populations TBRI has found great success in reshaping lives and TDCJ parolees who are under our therapeutic care.  What I am finding in my implementation of TBRI empowering principles to the TDCJ population is that their ability to gain mindfulness of their childhood trauma is foundational to their recovery.  This, and the integration of TBRI methodologies in redirecting and/or re-framing behaviors from negative to positive is helping bridge the gap of healthy nurturing care deprived during their early years.

We employ nurturing groups, known as Process Groups in the Therapeutic Community, to work as a family to solve issues that surround addictive behaviors.  In-line with TBRI practices, the clients work together to problem-solve whatever issues are being brought to the table during these group sessions.

Individual therapy is vital to helping the client identify the deep trauma that drives their addiction and daily ability to function in their immediate environment and in larger society.  Oftentimes the hopelessness of not being able to get a job or have a family is projected to a “rap sheet” that scars them for life.  The use of TBRI empowering principles helps clients come to know that they are not defined by their past, rather they are defining themselves for the healthy qualities they live every day outside of the penal system.

It was agreed that we would take up to a year of research to measure the success of using TBRI in helping our parolee population through therapy.

Trust-Based Relational Intervention as it is employed at Alpha Recovery Center helps our clients understand their inherit self-worth and puts in-place hope for a future that is not limited or worse yet, stifled by the past.

Please share with me your thoughts.

Art

 

 

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Sometimes I get an idea and when I have one of these moments of enlightenment it’s the result of something that I personally experienced or something that is one way or another tied to a verse or verses of scripture.

While on a Walk to Emmaus weekend, a dear sister in Christ came to me and asked if I would have any interest in spending a weekend serving as a member of clergy for a Kairos Prison Ministry weekend.  I said sure (I have a real tendency, so I have been told by my wife, that I really have a problem saying no).  Now, I have never been to a prison before so as the days began to speed by, my anxiety started to bump up quite a few notches.  To make a long story short, that weekend was one of the most incredible Spirit-filled weekends of my life.  I won’t go into the details about what Kairos Prison Ministries are all about.  I will just provide this link and you can read about it at your leisure Kairos Prison Ministry

It was not long after that amazing experience that I learned about Dr. Karyn Purvis of the Texas Christian University Institute of Child Development and her Trust Based Relational Intervention program.  If you want to know more about Trust Based Relational Intervention or TBRI®, then check it out by clicking on this hyperlink What is Trust-Based Relational Intervention?

I read The Connected Child which was authored by Drs. Karyn Purvis and David Cross, attended an Empowered to Connect Conference, and began to use the TBRI principles as a Foster/Adoptive Home Development caseworker while I was employed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (CPS).   Well, the impact TBRI had on my foster to adopt families was remarkable.  Children placed in their home began to respond to the interventions and behaviors began to change for the positive.

I left CPS to pursue a practice as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor on a contractual basis.  In this practice I will work with parolees who are under the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Substance Abuse Counseling Program (SACP).  SACP was designed to reduce the recidivism rate of offenders who use alcohol or drugs while on parole supervision, have a history of drug and/or alcohol use, or who request assistance  with drug and/or alcohol related issues during their parole.  For more information, visit Substance Abuse Treatment Program

It occurred to me that the majority of parolees had suffered all kinds of trauma during their childhood.  These were adults who never were given the opportunity to give voice to their pain when they were children which resulted in behaviors directly linked to those maladaptive experiences.  So it only seemed logical to use TBRI principles in my practice.

I found that where TBRI was most effective was in group work.

To get a better understanding of how TBRI can work in these settings, listen and watch Judge Darlene Byrne talk about how TBRI has helped foster parents and their children who come from hard places.

I have been offered the opportunity to have research done on the use of TBRI in programs like SACP.  I just have a feeling this idea will catch fire and just maybe, it might make a positive difference.

Like so many children who are traumatized by child abuse, Sara will carry with her many of the effects of her abuse throughout her life.

Given what you saw in this video:

  • What challenging behaviors would you expect Sara to express?
  • What messages do you believe are behind these behaviors?

Given your response to these two questions, we’ll explore how TBRI can help work with this child who has come from a very hard place.

 

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