(My longest post. I know that we don’t often make time for long readings, but my heart is in here. I would be honored if you took the time.)
If you have ever played the game of FreeCell, you know how satisfying this image can be. You make move after move until everything falls into place and then you watch as the cards cascade down to tell you that you’ve won. If you are like me, you would sometimes wait on moves that could be made just so you could watch it all come together. Ahhhhhh!
That is how I feel about today. But it’s not me. Today it feels like moves that God has been making for years are all coming together in a way that I can finally see. It was never that God was not at work, but it was a matter of waiting until just the right time. If you have not already read my last piece, start with that first. That will provide some information to amplify what I am about to say. It’s lengthy, but it may be exactly what you need to read today. http://rootedandreaching.com/2015/08/13/when-the-lost-are-found/
Here is the next part of the story. People have generously responded in a way beyond what I could ask and have given enough money so that I can reclaim my lost-but-found dogs. Praise the Lord! Lord willing, I will bring them home tomorrow. It’s a bit beyond this post to explain all of the threads that I see in the people who gave. But here are some of the pieces: a beloved friend, a prayer warrior, another friend, and another friend, and even someone who gave to me anonymously as “Just someone who cares” have met the need that I asked for in humility. One part of that was an envelope of money someone received, she felt, unnecesarily, and was “sitting in a drawer waiting for a cause.” You don’t always have to know why you’re doing something: in the hands of God, it will all come together.
I have had a little bit of rest, but I was still exhausted. I decided to take a risk. I called my brand-new boss and told him I would not be coming in for my fifth day of training tonight. Having already given them 44 hours in 4 days and another 12 looming, I knew it could wreck me. I did not ask him. I told him. Those of you who know me at all know how out of character that is for me. I’ve been chastised for my failure to say “No” since I was 20 years old. I had a supervisor tell me that the way I operate would eventually leave me prone to a stroke. If I could, I would. Tonight I said, “I shouldn’t and I won’t.” Some people do that well. This is new to me. I was risking being told that my first full-time job in nine months would be removed from me, leaving me with no income stream. God is good. I was heard. My boss agreed. More importantly, we established that I could and would be a four-day, full-time employee going forward. I can provide for my family and yet be available to my family.
But wait, there’s more.
The female dog who ran from home was never supposed to be ours. We inherited Tink, if you will. This part is important. She first belonged to RJ. RJ bought Tink as her Christmas present to herself in 2013. When RJ went to work, we watched Tink. That collar in the picture is still hers today. When RJ decided to make the difficult decision to move away and take steps for college, she asked if we would keep Tink. And obviously we did.
RJ still calls often. She is, in many ways and especially in my heart, my daughter. Today she called and asked some relationship advice. She started asking about when a man dates someone and also has a close female friend, even one that he calls a “sister.” (We are getting close to that magical FreeCell moment, so watch closely.) Before we could finish talking, my boss called. I told him “I shouldn’t and I won’t.” As soon as that conversation finished, there was a knock on the door with an envelope of grace and a bag full of need. That led to a long conversation about “being the church.” I am experiencing today what it means for people to “be the church.” On my porch I found myself saying, “Don’t let the church be the building, but you can be a church with a building.”
After that, I took a breath. I felt some weight lifting. Then I received a call from a number I didn’t have saved. Given my day, I answered it. It was Sam, a former coworker, and a remarkable “momma bear” for kids. If she could, she would. And she does. I learned a lot from her. But Sam also knows to say “No.” Her niece had shared my post, Sam recognized it, and called me. Sam was working with some kids around the corner yesterday, had seen the dogs (not knowing they were mine), and held them for 30 minutes before she had to let them go. Animal control had not responded to her and there was no identifying information on the collar. Sam loves animals, and it broke her heart to let them go. But what else could she do? And now all she wanted to know was, “Did they find their way home?”
I was blown away that someone I knew had been a person put in position to come across and protect my lost dogs. Wow. I started to think about how long it has been since I’ve seen or talked to Sam. “About two years,” I thought.
Wait a minute. What’s the date today?
August 13, 2015.
On August 13, 2013, I walked away from the place where I worked with Sam. I had affirmed to my supervisor that I was allowing RJ to live with me in a spare room that I had available. RJ had run away from a supervised living location and was still technically a ward of the state. Both of her parents had their rights terminated. Within the child and welfare system, she was abused, abandoned, and mistreated. The courts had legally revoked the parental rights of her adoptive parents, but left RJ’s twin sisters in the care of the adoptive parents. What did this mean? It meant that RJ had no more legal rights to contact her younger twin sisters. That was the first conversation I ever had to have with RJ. Essentially, your sisters are dead to you.
I don’t speak of this often and not everyone knows. Why? Because everyone makes the same face. I am a divorced, single father who allowed a runaway teenage girl to stay at my house. What do we think of those people? What do you think of me now? I was a chaplain at the time that RJ stayed with me. I had previously informed my supervisor that I was doing so. She said only this and I will always remember it: “I believe God will honor your trust in Him.”
Hang with me.
On August 7, 2013, late at night, another young girl had called me after I had gone to bed. She was in an abusive domestic situation 45 minutes away and all of the local shelters were full. Could I come pick her up? I could, so I did. Around midnight I found her on the sidewalk with a garabage bag full of clothes and pregnant. Before she stepped into the car, she turned and shouted to her baby’s father and his mother who were on the porch. She broke the midnight silence with, “And don’t worry, I’m not &*-@ing Doug! He was my staff!!!”
Ahh, Tiff. She had come so far from when she used to call me the “white devil” six years before that night. The next two days I helped Tiff find a local program that could house her and help her. But that meant I missed a large, two-day training for work. My supervisor had to explain my absence to her supervisor. Red flags and caution everywhere. Now my supervisor was in jeopardy because of my actions.
On August 13, 2013, I returned to work and acknowledged my actions. I offered my resignation and went home. I received a phone call from an administrator asking me to return and turn myself in. Essentially, they attempted to have me arrested.
They investigated. They called the local police. The case worker inappropriately requested a show cause hearing to demand my arrest. My friend and attorney spent all day with me as we went to a court room three hours away. After multiple hearings, there was only mine. All involved retreated to the judge’s chambers. All except for me. I sat in my seat, silent.
I walked out free.
I have never defended my actions to any of the organizations involved. Not a word. And none of their charges against me ever stuck. They had nothing. Why? God was honoring my trust in Him by defending me.
In fact, the organization decided to fire me and then refused and challenged to provide unemployment. I did not receive a penny. At some point I requested an appeal. I did not receive notice, but there was a hearing on December 15, 2014. It states that my phone number, the same number I have had for years, was disconnected. Again, not a word from me. The end result of the hearing? I had “violated a prohibition that is universally observed,” BUT, the agency failed to file their appeal in a timely manner and had no good cause for that.
According to the law, I was absolutely wrong. Yet somehow I was free and given a victory.
According to the law, the agency was absolutely right. Yet they lost.
God is holy AND just. And loving. But we sin. We’re wrong. And the law says we should die.
Yet, somehow, we can be free and given a victory.
Yesterday, my friend Sam saw a helpless situation, it broke her heart, and she intervened. She gave shelter and protection and love as long as she could. Then she released them and allowed God to work. Sam had held RJ’s dog one block away from home, but had no idea how Tink might get home.
And who is RJ? RJ had come to me with a helpless situation, it broke my heart, and I intervened. I believed that her staying with me, even briefly, would be safer for her than the alternative. I gave shelter, protection, and love as long as I could. Then I released her and allowed God to work. I had no idea how RJ might have a home again. God knew.
Almost there. Look at the way I started a text to a dear friend of mine.
She’s not my sister. We worked together helping kids like Tiff and RJ. Most of the kids thought that we were brother and sister. I call her “Sis” and she calls me “Bro.”
On August 13, 2013, before I met with my supervisor, Sis told me that I could get into serious trouble for what I had done. I told her, “I know. But I’ll be okay.” We were both right. I haven’t seen Sis since that day.
Remember what RJ asked me today? (More on that in a second.)
As I sat down to write this, I was given an alert.
I don’t know what it means to “write professionally.” I’ve never thought about asking for money to support my writing. But if today has shown me anything, I should ask and receive. I will continue writing. And if you would like to support me as I do that, I will offer you the information so that you can do so. If you use PayPal, I can receive your gifts via the email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are still reading this, I should probably pay you. But if you feel it upon your heart, you may give. And I will not refuse.
I almost did. In the midst of this piece, I received a message that someone had read my post and wanted to cover the entire cost for my dogs. That’s a problem. The cost is already covered. What should I do? My first answer was to refuse. The response was then to simply give an amount that I needed now. I stopped. I changed course. I said that I would receive the gift. Here’s why.
The cross on my wall? The words of “Thank you” below it? Jolene DeHeer speaks all over and always used to turn down words of “Thank you.” She didn’t need that. Then it was pointed out to her how rude it was of her to refuse the gift of kind words. She should receive them as if they were flowers. Say, “Thank you very much” and receive them. But then, at the end of the day, all praise and honor belongs to God. So she figuratively places her flower “Thank you”s at the foot of the cross. I took that example to heart, and that is why I have the cross on my wall.
Too often I refuse God’s grace. I say “No” at all the wrong times. And God’s response may very well be to ask, “Oh, so why don’t YOU tell ME what you think you need then.”
Please don’t refuse God’s love and grace. Let it cascade all over you when it all comes together.
One more thing.
I used to think it was okay to have a “brother / sister” relationship. That I could protect myself as needed. That thought was like the fence for my dogs. It had a gap that left my heart open to potential dangers. I have had this conversation with my friend, and I think my fence needs reinforcements. I do, however, agree with Shane Claiborne that no one is truly “fatherless.” We do, however, come across many brothers and sisters who need us to come alongside and help them know their Father. You know, like a church with a building. Help restore those relationships.
Speaking of that, I am now three days from an unfortunate anniversary. I will be divorced for nine years. I don’t want to be divorced anymore. I want to speak with God’s authority that He can powerfully speak through a restored marriage.
After my last sermon as a chaplain, my supervisor told me that my voice had changed. I was speaking truth in love with authority. In everything that happened, I lost my voice. The overwhelming response to my plea for help today as I shared the truth is a humbling comfort to me.
God, please cascade over me with your love and your grace.
Last week I wrote a letter and started it with “A letter to my wife.” I want her back. I want to have a lifetime of placing “Thank you”s at the foot of the cross for what God has done, is doing, and will do. I believe that God will honor my trust in Him. He always does.
After I shared the link to my first piece with my Sis, she promised to read it after she rested. She said, “I’m sure it’s just what I need.”
Let’s learn to approach every day and end every day with those words to our God: “I’m sure it’s just what I need.”
God’s will be done.