Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Prayer for Humility


For my focus on myself,
Give me a clear vision of You.

Grant me deep, true love for others
Instead of using others to make myself feel loved.

As I give You my plans, abilities, and aspirations,
Refine them and direct my passions with Yours.

And when I begin to excuse my selfishness,
Be merciful and bring me to repentance

That I may cast away my sin with distaste
And live again in the radiant light of Your Presence.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

a fun reminder

I was walking down the sidewalk, my head in overdrive with things to be accomplished within the next few hours and days. I hate when I get like that. All tense and only semi-conscious to the world around me.


I looked to see who had yelled, and a middle-aged African American guy waved from across the street.

"Yo sure are pretty!" His smile took up half his face, and he kept bobbing his head respectfully.

I waved my thanks and walked on, smiling and relaxed.

And I remembered the words God had dropped into my thoughts earlier: "in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).

Beauty. Quietness. Confidence. Strength.

They're linked, somehow.

Linked, and the result of finding deep rest in God.

Trusting that He sees.

He knows.

And He is capable.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

wishes and dreams

This is one of those weeks in which I walk around with my mouth in a comical twist, caught halfway between laughter and tears. I've always said that I could never be a foster mom; I was sure I couldn't survive the constant loving and letting go, especially when the letting go means sending them into an environment you wouldn't choose for them.

Pretty sure God looked ahead to what I'm doing now and chuckled quietly. Anyone who works in human services, especially in a residential setting, is subjected to high volumes of love and loss, pride in "their" kids' accomplishments, and sickening fear while watching them make really hurtful choices. Saying possibly permanent good-byes to (I'm guessing here) 90 teens in a year takes an emotional toll. Because of confidentiality laws, I am not allowed to contact my girls once they leave, not for three years or until they turn 18. They are allowed to contact me through the agency, which happens infrequently. When it does happen, sometimes it's at 3:00 AM and they are out on the street, partying, and you can hear the hunger for stability and love in their voices. And I wish they would still be here, where I could make sure they are safe from the person who is following them and freaking them out. I could share my crackers and cheese with them when they wake from bad dreams and send them back to bed with a hug and an extra blanket to keep them warm.

Not long ago, several of my girls watched a scary movie right before they went to bed. Bad idea. This has resulted in some severe insomnia and sleeping in the living room before. These girls have lived through shootings and seen some pretty crazy spiritual activity; I have no idea why they watch things that will trigger their own worst fears. Especially before they go to bed. But I did find out later that, while they were watching the movie, M. said, "Maybe we shouldn't watch this at night." And J. replied, "It's OK. Becky works tonight. She can come in here and rebuke the devil." When K. told me, I laughed (I could just HEAR her say, "and reBUKE da DEBbil"), felt extremely honored, and remembered the time I prayed with two of them and invited the Presence of God into their fear and into their room, asking Him to help them feel safe enough to sleep. Immediately, they had.

This time, three of them lay on their mattresses just inside their doorways so they could see each other and talk quietly. With their lights on. Until 4 AM. Because it was a weekend, the time thing was no biggie to me. I asked them if they wanted me to pray with them, and J. said, "When we was all trying to go to bed, I said a prayer and we all said 'amen'. So I think we're good." Oh, mercy. They make me laugh so hard sometimes. Finally, all but J. fell asleep. She literally raised herself, has fought on the streets since she was 9, and is tougher than I will ever be, but she asked me to check her room every 5 minutes to make sure she was still alright. An hour later, she had fallen into a light sleep. When I stuck my head quietly through her open doorway, she bolted straight up in bed, her irises dwarfed by the whites of her eyes. She saw it was only me, and slumped with relief, panting.

"You poor girl!" was all I could say past the rushing of warmth that pressed on my heart. I sat on the edge of her bed, put one arm around her, and said, "God, J. is scared. Please help her to feel safe. Help her to feel how much You love her. Protect her. Thank You for her." The rigidity left her body, and she leaned against me. I held her tight and swallowed hard because she is not very affectionate and not at all demonstrative. The moment was sacred. She lay down, pulled her blanket up to her chin, and I tucked it in around her shoulders. "Sweet dreams," I whispered, then ran out to the staff desk and rummaged blindly for the Kleenex box through the tears of the blinding realization that this, in all probability, might be the first time she had ever been tucked in. I wished I could make up for the years of putting herself to bed, never getting what comes naturally to me because I received it; a little rough-housing while getting ready for bed, reading a story all snuggled in a rocking chair, saying prayers, then being tucked into bed with a goodnight kiss. Peace. Safety.

Five minutes later, she was breathing deeply. Fast asleep, with a little smile on her relaxed face. I probably could have turned the light off without her noticing, but I left it on because she had asked. I wished I could freeze that moment. Keep her safe. Keep HER. Forever.

I can't.

Within the past week, four of my girls were discharged. Three of them within 24 hours. All four are close enough to me to feel like family. One of them has been here for the length of my employment, over a year. That's rare. I tell them I am proud of them. They have changed so much, worked so hard to learn to control their behaviors so the judge will deem them stable enough for discharge. And they are. But only two of the four are returning to stable environments. One is going to another group home, to yet another group of people who won't even know her after another year has passed. One is 18, no longer in state custody, and ready to try to live on her own. I wonder who will be there for them when they are afraid. I know how easily they could end back up on the street, vulnerable to all manner of pain and harm. I know how easily they could be put in jail in a few years for following crowds that get them into fights and drugs. I will miss them.

I love them, but I have to let them go. Let them try their wings. Trust God to protect them and heal them when they crash into walls. When they fall.

Fly high, little birds.

And God will take care of me, too. He always does. I laugh. I cry. I love and let go. I will forever carry the imprints of their faces in my heart, but the process of releasing them to their own choices teaches me to love like the Father loves. Like the Father loves them. And me.

When I arrived at work this morning, a note was scribbled on the white board in the living room. From Dae Dae*, who left yesterday afternoon.

"Dae Dae* is going to miss everyone (meaning Jaye*, Nehna*, and Becky). Keep ya'll heads up high, lovely gurls! :) "

Fly high, dear little bird.

*Variant spellings and nicknames used to protect identities.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

FBCS Class of '11

Nights are cooler, skies are more brilliant, and summer is slipping away.

Fall can mean only one thing for this incredible group of people. High school is truly a chapter closed. I wonder if they will feel a bit wistful. But I know they will remember the accomplishment, excitement, and the promise of a wide open future that they felt on their graduation last spring. Mine was the fun of capturing their energy, their maturity, their love for each other, and their desperation to live for God.

So... to the FBCS Class of '11...

You are loved, believed in,


talented and full of some crazy potential.


Keep celebrating this truth: God will finish the good work He has begun in you
and is applauding your accomplishments along the way.

Spending one evening with you bolstered my faith in the Kingdom of God that is here, alive,
and at work transforming our world. Thank you!

Monday, August 15, 2011


I clearly remember where I was when Anna told me. I had gone to visit her in the calm of her home, surrounded by the energy, noise, and sometimes violence of Lancaster City. Rocking her daughter as I sat on the couch, she asked, "Do you know what most people think of you?"

"I have no idea." But, inaudibly, I added, "They most likely see how deeply I question myself and probably think my life is falling apart at the fringes most of the time."

"They think Becca has it all together. I have heard countless people talk about how confident and knowledgeable you are." She looked at me dead on as I gaped at her.

That moment is so clear to me, years later, because it was the first time that I realized other people might see me differently than I see myself. I realized that sometimes I need to be honest and vulnerable about my fears and battles because... people can't read me as well as I thought they could.

Maybe I inherited it. Maybe I learned it. But this natural inclination to carry one's self with confidence despite internal questions is both a blessing and a curse.


- When working in social services, especially with teens, sometimes you have to appear calm while, inside, you're crouched like a cat, ready for anything. Sometimes you have to make a rather large judgment call and follow through with it, even though you might be terribly afraid that you just made the wrong decision. I know that this ability to appear genuinely calm and confident has served me well. My co-workers have told me so. No matter what your work, there are often people in your care who need to rely on your strength. Even when you're just as scared as everyone else. Maybe even more so, because you know the implications of your responsibility. I'm not saying we should be walking oaks, impenetrable, or dishonest about our weaknesses and fears. But you get my point... before this develops into a study on what strength is or is not.

- Face it. Sometimes life is really hard and you wonder why on earth you're even here. Maybe this reservation of dignity is plain old pride, but I don't think the whole world needs to know when these times occur. I have an inner circle of friends who know Becca's weakest moments and most vulnerable side, which is a treasure I wouldn't trade for all of Buckingham Palace. But most of the world needs my head and dignity in plain sight. I do wonder if this inclination a wild result of all the stoic German in my ancestry mixed with the grit of the Scotch, French Canadian, Irish, and Native Americans who color my blood. (Mom says this eclectic mix is why we kids are prone to some rather odd adventures at times. Like riding in a car trunk for over an hour. Yes, that was me. At 20 years old. But I won't be starting stories here.) At any rate, sometimes you just have to [wo]man up and keep going. It's part of living in a broken world, and I think God redeems this as a strength we wouldn't know or need if the world was as He intended.


- Pretence. Sometimes weakness is required for redemption. It's hard to lay aside dignity and ask for help. Yet the moments that build trust in community are the ones in which everyone stops pretending they are fine. That they don't need. In fact, the truest connections are often centered around need. For further reading on that subject, check out my friend Josh's post. Be sure to read the comments, too, which are more entertaining if, as is my utter privilege, you know the commentators.

- People tend to assume you don't need affirmation if you look and act as if you don't need it. It is true that pretty girls often wonder whether they ARE pretty because everyone assumes they already know and don't need to be told. People who seem (and, most of the time, ARE) fairly confident in both their capacities and the Presence of God to sustain them in situations beyond their experience and skill level are rarely affirmed.

And we need affirmation. All of us. I have heard so many talented, competent, beautiful (or handsome, as the gender requires), and visionary people admit that they deeply question themselves. They wonder whether they are truly making a difference, whether they truly do have what it takes, whether they are attractive, or whether they actually are a good man or woman. Because no one ever tells them. This starvation is tragic.

So... when you're starving for affirmation, I'm sorry that someone might not notice. It feels so wrong to have to ask for it, but remember that only God sees your insides. And that your emotions can be invisible even to your doctor who, if he wants to, CAN see your insides. Maybe you need to let your dignity crack a little. Maybe you need to find some people with whom you can be vulnerable enough to let your biggest questions about yourself take the form of words. Maybe no one knows you need it.

And don't forget that the same is true of most everyone else. Give affirmation to people who don't ask for it. Realize when you are viewing someone as above the need for reassurance and look for ways to tell them that they are seen, valued, applauded, and loved. In your work, home, friendships, neighborhood, and church, foster an environment in which people don't need to ask for affirmation in order to receive it.

Now, just for fun, here is a list of some of the affirmations I have received lately. Please don't mistake this as a brag list. It is, rather, a tribute to the many people who speak words to me that I cup in my heart long afterward because I was wondering the opposite and needed to hear them. It humbles me to realize that, for most of these, I didn't even ask.

Carla: "You're just an incredible person." This came at a moment when I was feeling rather small in comparison to all life was asking of me at the moment.

One of my teen girls at work, as I arrived for my shift: "Becky, you getting so skinny!" I didn't notice, but what woman doesn't love to hear that?

Tatianna, a German girl I met in Ireland: "I've been watching you and wanting to meet you because you fascinate me. You remind me of a character from Pride and Prejudice." She said she wasn't sure which Bennet I resemble, but did assure me that it was one of the eldest. This is a vast relief, you will understand if you've read the book.

My dear friend Sharon sent me an incredible email yesterday: "hey, i hope you are feeling loved and significant. (cuz you really are) seriously, of all the friends i have, you are doing some of the bravest and unconventionalest stuff. I am  proud of you -i know it probably doesn't feel very shiny most of the time, and that it is mostly very "daily", but be cheered :) I think God is happy about you." I was a rather extremely shy, cautious, and introverted child, and sometimes I look at the things I want to accomplish and just want to find a nice, cozy stump in a large forest in which to hide. She didn't know it, but this was one of those days.

My supervisor at work: "Some rather nice compliments were paid you at a hiring interview. Two unit supervisors used you as a model for how the prospective employee should relate to this kids. I thought you should know." Um, wow?! I try to do my job well... and see it as less of a job and more of a challenge of loving my girls well, and loving them the way Jesus does... but I do in fact wonder if I am truly doing it well.

Bekah: "You're going to be a great mom someday. Your kids will be lucky to have you." I see parenting as the highest, truest test of a person's character and love. And, though I hope to do it well someday, don't all of us wonder if we genuinely have what it takes?

Carla's 3-year-old son: "I love Miss Becca." And I wasn't even present at the time or had just done something to deserve it. Carla told me about it later. Unless they are made to believe lies for a long period of time, kids see through disguises pretty stinkin' fast. That's why I treasure this affirmation highly.

When I started making the list, I started thinking of more and more people who have deeply affirmed me. So please don't feel left out if you're reading this and you're one of those people. Thank you. Your belief in me and your loving me help me become a better, truer version of myself. You really and truly enable me to live and love with confidence and sincerity.

Let this list inspire you to affirm the people in your life. Make a point of one-a-day, and let it become an unconscious habit.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

after an hour of solitude

Beauty is freed through rest, and rest contained in trust.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

...to do justice, to love kindness...

In "What does the Lord require of us?", I gave a gut reaction to the grief I see caused by the current justice system and gave a few reasons I am opposed to it. 

  • I see the "trail 'em, nail 'em, and jail 'em" (kudos to Clair Kauffman for the great phrase) method as detrimental to all the individuals involved and far less than the healing God wants to grow in the community.
  • "Trail 'em, nail 'em, and jail 'em" is ineffective. It only reinforces a pattern of violence and estrangement that results in more crime and repeat offenders.

In this post, I hope to sketch the story of my interest in restorative justice, a synopsis of what restorative justice, hereafter called RJ, is, and a few models I have witnessed as effective. A lot of meat for one bite. Brace yourself, and I'll try to keep it light.

Prior to the 8th grade, I hadn't given the judicial system much thought. There were good guys and bad guys. But this was the spring before Timothy McVeigh was executed. My teacher told us the charges against McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing. He showed us the pictures of the dead children being carried out of the basement of the building, where there had been a daycare, and that image is still seared inside my eyes. Mr. Jay, as we called him, mourned those children and the others who died in the blast, but his reaction to the grief wasn't the anger and hatred I expected to see. He also showed us a picture of McVeigh's face and asked us to pray for him. Mr. Jay didn't tell us what McVeigh "deserved". He didn't ask big, theological questions. He only showed us that he cared about McVeigh, despite what he had done. He helped us see a person... a person whom God loved. 

(It was only later that I discovered McVeigh was protesting the rather insane government force in the Waco, Texas incident and, having had served time in the army, said a few things like this: "Bombing the Murrah Federal Building was morally and strategically equivalent to the U.S. hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq, or other nations." He had seen the inside of the judicial system on a national level and, concluding that the system was pretty messed up, thought his obligation was to expose it by using the same methods. Please understand that I am in no way glorifying or sanctioning Mr. McVeigh's actions. I only find his actions more tragic since he was trying to say something worth saying, but did it in a way that served up more horror.)

After the school year ended and the date set for McVeigh's execution approached, I became more and more disturbed. Most people said that he deserved to die because he had killed. Intellectually, I almost agreed, but on June 11, 2001 I walked our half-mile lane to the mailbox with a heavy heart and sense of nausea I could neither shake nor explain. I was disgusted and felt guilty, the way I had in second grade when my teacher had made a public spectacle of humiliating a classmate for a wrong-doing, as if we "good kids" should take increased pride in our goodness at our classmate's expense. 

Living on the seamier side of Lancaster City at 20 years old taught me a lot about the judicial system. I saw how much harder and more broken my neighbor boy was after "doing time". I very quickly caught the "us vs. them" subculture created by a system that only focuses on the breaking of state laws and avoiding the enforcers of those laws. Witnessing several incidents of police racism and undue violence further clarified how this rift in society widens. When my neighbor across the street was jailed for dealing drugs, I saw the wide, dark eyes of his young siblings that I had often heard scream with laughter as he had slung them over his shoulder and had carried down the street with fingers outstretched and smiles that would have been blinding if they hadn't been upside-down. I wondered how the pain of losing the only adult male figure in their lives would affect them. Sure, accountability was needed. Just as surely, this sort of punishment was only creating more pain. Did "justice" equal more pain? Should administering "justice" desensitize its administrators and make them act power-hungry?

When I voiced these questions, Clair and Anna handed me a LAVORP newsletter. I read stories of healing for victims and testimonies of offenders that, for the first time in their lives, had to opportunity to face the people they hurt... how they made amends... how they were changed. It was my first introduction to Restorative Justice, and I was hooked. It was a cleansing wind in the confusion and chaos I saw.

So I met with the founder of LAVORP. And he told me stories of what happened when victims and offenders met in sessions facilitated by LAVORP volunteers, meetings where they saw each others faces. Victims voiced their loss and pain. Offenders had the opportunity to SEE the pain they caused. Questions were asked and answered: Who was hurt? Why were they hurt? Whose obligations were these? How could things be made right? 

Instead of crime being defined as a violation of the law and state, is was seen as a violation of people, relationships, and community trust.

Rather than violations creating guilt, they created obligations.

Instead of justice requiring the state to determine the blame (guilt) and impose pain (punishment), justice involved the victims, offenders, and community members in an effort to put things right.

In place of a focus on the offenders getting what they deserve was a focus on the victim's needs and the offender's responsibility to repair the harm. [Based on a list from Howard Zehr's "Little Book of Restorative Justice"]

After years of being privately funded, the state recently recognized the staggering amount of dollars LAVORP is saving them in a virtually non-existent repeat offender rate and is offering partial funding. What really excites me is that people are seeing that Jesus' ways of seeing and treating people... underserving, broken people... actually WORK. In fact, through working with some juvenile probation teens in a residential treatment facility, I learned last year that all of Pennsylvania's juvenile probation cases are being integrated with a RJ-based BARJ (Balanced And Restorative Justice) program. Already some programs like LAVORP are taking on adult cases, even murder cases. I pray that, in time, this model will affect how violence and crime is handled on a national and international level.

 LAVORP's program follows the RJ model pioneered by Howard Zehr and is part of a landscape of change. Through my contact with LAVORP and my reading of books like 

and, for a more in-depth sociological and theological look at both the argument for RJ and how the concept can be implemented in schools and homes as well as state organizations, 

I learned that justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive. When Jesus told His followers to love their enemies and turn the other cheek, He was equipping us with the vision we need to bring about healed relationships. And, not surprisingly, it works. In my five years of working with urban teens on both personal and professional levels, I have come to know some teens who are hurt and hardened to the point where they think nothing of utilizing violence. And I will tell you that, over time, all of them respond to love and very few of them have ever had the opportunity to make amends for their actions. They have only been taken from their families, sent to progressively more restrictive facilities, and left alone by people who should stay with them for life. And yet, they still respond to fairness and care... to justice for both the sins done by them and against them. Justice, as defined by the God about whom was said, 

3 “A bruised reed He will not break
And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
He will faithfully bring forth justice.
4 “He will not be disheartened or crushed
Until He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” -Isaiah 42

Do I think there is never an occasion to restrain or restrict those who pose a continuing threat to others? No. But those occasions should be focused on rehabilitation and restoring relationships rather than dehumanizing and enhancing rifts.

 I could tell so many stories... those I have both seen and heard. Perhaps another time. For now, I hope I provided you with a few resources and questions to pique your interest and get you thinking about a better way.. and about what the Lord requires of you...

Micah 6:6-8

6 With what shall I come to the LORD 
And bow myself before the God on high? 
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, 
With yearling calves? 
7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, 
In ten thousand rivers of oil? 
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, 
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 
8 He has told you, O man, what is good; 
And what does the LORD require of you 
But to do justice, to love kindness, 
And to walk humbly with your God?