Forgiveness in My Life

pointdexterm0914There has been one area in my life that I have struggled to figure out, though with a lot of help of mentors, close friends, the love of my life, and God, I am beginning to understand it better.

Here is my story. It starts in March of 1995 when I was born into a broken family. My dad, a new undocumented immigrant to the U.S, decided that he wasn’t ready for a kid, so he got scared and ran. My mom quickly became a single mother on government assistance and working many jobs. When I was two, we finally settled in Northern Michigan with my grandmother, after having lived in several different places.

I started school just like a normal kid, and then the bullying began. First it was centered around my weight; then it moved to my physical disability, and finally it landed on the one thing that had defined me up until this point: I am fatherless. Kids were cruel and didn’t hold anything back. I was told to jump back over the wall, to clean my skin, and that I was nothing but a piece of trash my dad had thrown out. As a young child, I took these to be true. Seeing myself as worthless and abandoned stayed with me throughout my middle school and high school years. I began to seek attention from boys who would only use me for sexual pleasures and then toss me aside. Of course, this only served to validate my negative view of myself.  I went down a deep spiral of depression and engaged in risky behaviors. At one point, I had to be closely monitored because I experienced suicidal thoughts and ideations.

I reached a point in my life when I realized I had to discover my true identity, and I chose to start this journey by working on forgiving those who had hurt me.

At the beginning of this journey, I would defend those who had hurt me because I felt I wasn’t worth anything more than that. But, I wouldn’t forgive them. And I especially wouldn’t forgive my dad. Real forgiveness requires that you name the offending action and feel the hurt. I know, personally, I am not good at this, especially if it has to do with someone who matters to me.

My dad isn’t the most important man in my life, for sure, but he has had a drastic impact on my life. He gave me brown eyes, tan skin, my love for tacos and musicals, and my Mexican culture. All throughout my life I had been defending his actions and acting like they were normal or that I deserved them. This made me out to be a victim of his psychological brokenness, instead of seeing him as what he is, a capable human who made the choice of leaving his daughter and never looking back.

So, I began going to therapy and my therapist told me to start journaling. I wrote pages upon pages and drew pictures and wrote poems that all described the hurt I had felt since that time at the age of 3 when I realized that my dad wasn’t coming back. I wrote about the wounds of having been raped, bullied, teased – and I hurt myself further in the process. You see, if you haven’t really forgiven, all your old wounds will resurface when you think about your past. I didn’t what to do at this point. Now I had all these feelings written down and bubbling up inside of me.

Society tells us to “forgive and forget” or “forgive and move on,” but this makes it seem  like it is all about me. When you examine the actual word “forgiveness,” you will see that the root word of forgiveness is GIVE, which implies a recipient outside of oneself.

Miroslav Volf puts it this way: when you give someone a gift, it is a gift for them. You didn’t just decide one morning that you are in a giving mood and want to give a gift to some stranger on the street. No, you pick a gift specifically for someone and until she opens it, it hasn’t fully been given. It is out of love that you give that gift to that person.

Love is the prerequisite for forgiveness. I don’t just forgive so that I will feel less bitter and less weighed down – even though that often happens. I forgive to take the burden and guilt away from the one I am forgiving. But where do you find the strength and grace to forgive and even love the person who hurt you?

God was where I found that strength and grace. Through the process of trying to find myself, I found God. I realized one day as I was listening to the Christian radio in my mom’s car that I was not just some worthless human being. For one, I was loved by God, two, because of this I had meaning and worth, and three, I had been forgiven. Wow, that really blew my mind. In one song, I heard the voice of truth telling me that through forgiveness I was whole again. I had been forgiven for so many things in my life and in that moment, I realized that I needed that forgiveness. So, when I started to work through forgiving my dad, I realized that I had done a lot of things towards him for which I needed forgiveness for as well.

Forgiveness, as the Bible puts it, is not just a one-time action, but a continual mindset or a space in which we can live. In this space, there’s no bitterness or anger. Instead, in its place there is joy and truth. God’s grace and presence, I have found, enables the forgiveness that guides me forward. Now this is not to say that staying in this space is easy. I am still in the process of figuring out how to live my life in this space, offering love and forgiveness to those who have caused deep scars in my life.

My first step in forgiving my dad was to name his offense specifically so that I would know exactly how much it had hurt me. This was not easy to do. So, what did I do? I looked up, raised my hands high, and said “Jesus, I need help.” You know what? The help came. God helped me to be vulnerable in the process of forgiving someone whom I don’t even really know yet – someone who has hurt me to the core and has had a big influence on my life.

I ask for help daily and sometimes hourly from God. This is not easy because it puts me in a vulnerable spot. I must constantly revisit this idea of forgiveness when it comes to my dad. The one thing that is great about living this way is that I have developed such a strong relationship with my God and His truth. I have daily conversations with Him and His call for my life is so much clearer. Living my life in the circle of forgiveness allows me to hear the truth about my identity as a daughter, friend, girlfriend, student, social worker, and as a Christian. It lets me know I am loved, I am forgiven, and I am not alone.

Would you please pray with me?

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray that You would open our eyes so we may know and personally receive Your unconditional love and acceptance. We renounce the lies of Satan that question our worth and value. We choose to believe that we are accepted in Christ and that we are never alone. We ask that you help us forgive those who have hurt us and those that we love. May you grant us the strength to give grace and love to those who are hard to forgive. God, show us the path to our true identities, that we may find them and accept them to be true here on earth. Amen

Maddie Poindexter is a senior at Calvin College in Grand Rapids MI. She will be starting a MSW program this upcoming year. Maddie currently serves as a student representative on the Board of Directors of NACSW

Turn It Off and Step Away

Nick C.How long can you go without checking your cell phone? Do you feel your leg vibrate and reach for your phone – only to find that your phone is actually across the room? Could you go 24 hours without using your mobile device or some other similar form of technology? If you see a beautiful sunset but don’t Instagram it, does it really exist?

Are these challenging questions for you or do they make you shake your head and feel sorry for today’s society? Either way, it is important as both practitioners of social work and followers of Jesus that we are aware of both ends of the technology spectrum. What are the implications of technology on practice, and more importantly, on our own self-care? There are many, both good and bad.

In a blog post I wrote a while back,  I shared how mobile apps can impact practice. You are likely reading this blog post digitally and have recently used the Internet to research a social work/practice related topic. Hopefully, you’ve listened to NACSW’s podcasts, read other posts on Shared Grace, participated in a webinar, or taken one of NACSW’s online CEU classes. You might even follow NACSW on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. You get the idea: technology can be a useful tool in your professional life.

On the other end of the spectrum, for some, their technology use can be classified as an addiction – constantly (maybe even sub-consciously) checking their phones for the latest message, tweet, or posting. Many teenagers sleep (cuddle?) with their phone and respond to texts in the middle of the night. Texting while driving, biking, or even walking can be dangerous to everyone’s health. Checking Facebook or other personal media while working and posting inappropriate things about work or clients can be very hazardous to your professional life.

I haven’t even touched the problems that can occur in your personal life if you are checking your phone instead of talking to your children or spouse. If you were to look at my Instagram feed you would observe that I’m often guilty of taking pictures of everything instead of always enjoying the moments at hand. And there are the kids of all ages from infants to teenagers who are constantly glued to a phone or tablet device. I’ve seen kids at the grocery store and at restaurants who play with their iPads the entire time they are there, though I try not to judge.

As with much in our lives, there is a fine balance to be struck. Truly, it is a personal balance that each of us needs to work out with those around us. A group of Jewish Rabbi’s is trying to help regain some of that balance by declaring Digital Sabbaths and Days of Unplugging (March 7-8, 2014). More profit-minded individuals have created digital detox camps, where participants pay a lot of money, give up their technology for a week, and reconnect with themselves.

Mashable.com has this to say about the National Day of Unplugging: “With 66% of people claiming they are addicted to the Internet, the day was designed to get people back to re-connect with family, friends and oneself, away from technology.”

In the same article Mashable notes that, “Caribbean nation St. Vincent and the Grenadines is challenging travelers to leave smartphones, tablets and other gadgets behind as a part of their new digital-detox vacation package, complete with a guidebook explaining how to function on a trip without tech, and a life coach”  (http://mashable.com/2012/03/22/national-day-of-unplugging/).

Sometimes we do need to turn off the technology and step away. Yes, I do it occasionally – not always voluntarily. Minnesota is noted for having 10,000 lakes and most of them are amazing. Many of them are also remote enough that they don’t have cell phone reception and make for having a great opportunity to go tech free for a weekend or longer! I personally hope that our state parks will also stop making wifi available for public use in the parks. Not all of us are able to do this – your work might require that you are accessible at specific times, so turn off your devices a different day or even for a few hours. .

Where is the balancing point? How can you find your balance? This is something only you can know and work out with your friends, family, and co-workers. However, I’ll leave you with 5 steps to help you work towards your personal point of balance:

1) Reflect – How much tech do you use? Ask your friends and family if you use it too much. Are there things you could cut out? Times you could get away?

2) Create a plan – creating a plan saves a lot of time. Check your social media accounts at specific times each day. Most days I spend some time in the morning and evening checking blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc and try to avoid doing it in between.

3) Work your plan – plans are useless unless we use them.

4) Evaluate your plan – do you feel better about the time you spend using technology? Is it easy to follow? Most importantly, are you succeeding? What can you change to make it successful?

5) Sabbath – Actually take some time to step away from your device. Do it every week, once a month, you choose, but give it a try. What is appropriate for you? We often see this done around Lent, which can be a good time to start. Do what is most meaningful for you and find a way to use the “free” time.

Bonus: Weed out your lists – you can save a lot of time and mental energy by getting rid of that person you met 3 years ago and with whom you have had only 1 real conversation since. Reducing the number of Twitter followers or Facebook friends will reduce the “noise” in your life and could cut down on the amount of time spent on various sites.

This post was edited from a published article by Nick Cross in NACSW’s October, 2013 issue of Catalyst. Nick Cross, LGSW, is a School Social Worker in Minneapolis and Social Media Consultant. He has been a member of NACSW since 2003 and can be found on Twitter at @mps_crossSSW.

Welcoming Refugees…

pattersonroee-ceu-1016I have been blessed with a sabbatical from teaching at Malone University this semester to work in refugee resettlement with World Relief in Akron, Ohio. I have always had a heart for international people and have worked abroad as an international social worker, but my passion for working with those who come to our country as refugees here in the U.S. increased when I heard people express concern and fear towards welcoming refugees into our country. I believe it is important to acknowledge people’s genuine fear, but at the same time, it is vital to fulfill our calling as Christians to love our foreign neighbor and share the truth about how refugees are actually benefiting our communities, rather than hurting them.

As social workers and Christians, we have an ethical responsibility to serve and empower the most vulnerable in our community and world. Scripture also points us to the importance of serving the foreigner amongst us. Leviticus 19:33 says to love the foreigner who resides among you as yourself. Malachi 3:5 warns us to not deprive the oppressed – including foreigners – of justice. The passage on the sheep and the goats in Mathew 25:25-36 reminds us that that when we are inviting the stranger in, we are serving Christ. It also contains a stern warning that if we do not show love to the foreigner, the poor, and the prisoner, then we are not invited into God’s kingdom. As a Christian, I believe that the numerous scriptural commands about loving foreigners should be enough to compel us to love and welcome refugees. However,  due to the fears that exist for some about refugees at the current time, it is also important to know some facts about refugee resettlement.

People who have refugee status typically would prefer not to leave their country of origin, but have been forced to flee their country due to persecution, war, and/or violence. The U.S. has an extremely rigorous vetting process that refugees are required to undergo before they enter the country – a two year process for most refugees [1] [2].  Refugees are eligible for 8 months of government refugee assistance, which is $420/month for a family of two in Ohio. They must pay rent with this money, along with other everyday expenses [3]. People who immigrate as refugees also have to begin paying back the cost for their plane tickets six months after their arrival in the US [4]. Refugee resettlement agencies help working age refugees find employment, typically within the first 30 – 60 days. Economic impact studies have shown that refugees contribute much more to the US economy than they are given. People who came to the U.S. as refugees contribute to our economy through paying taxes, social security, purchasing homes, etc. They are more likely to start businesses than native born Americans, and in such cases, often create new jobs for others.

Isaiah 58: 10-12 promises that if we “do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if [we] spend [our]selves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,” not only we will be renewed, but our cities will be renewed as well. Research has shown that when we welcome refugees into communities that have been devastated by economic downturn, community renewal often comes to pass. One example is reported in an economic impact study of refugees in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2013, $4.8 million was invested in refugee resettlement, but refugees contributed $48 million back into the economy that same year [5] and continue to return back to into the economy more and more the longer they are here. These facts inform us that by welcoming  refugees, we are actually benefiting our communities as well.

As followers of Christ, we should serve refugees because it is part of our calling as Christians. As social workers, we have an opportunity to share the truth about the societal benefits refugees bring to our communities, and to use our gifts to empower them to be all that God intended them to be.

World Relief’s mission is “Empowering the local Church to serve the most vulnerable.” As part of my sabbatical working with World Relief Akron, I am doing research to help them develop an empowering anti-oppressive model of refugee resettlement.  Onepattersonroee-samuel-1016 way that World Relief Akron has  already been working toward this model was by hiring Samuel Sinchuri as a case specialist. Samuel is a Nepali Bhutanese pastor who came to the U.S. as a refugee himself. He believes that there is great opportunity for American churches and immigrant/refugee churches to work together to empower refugees. Samuel reminds us that:

“God has many American people traveling to other countries, but God has brought different countries here… God has brought people here, so if the American churches and refugee churches work together we can reach them spiritually and we can help them physically also, equipping them and encouraging them… that is one of my prayers.”

I also pray that we would love our refugee neighbors as ourselves. By doing this, we fulfill Christ’s calling to serve individuals, our community, and the world.

For more information on World Relief’s refugee work, visit http://www.worldrelief.org/us-offices.

Elizabeth Patterson Roe, PhD, LISW-S, is an associate professor of social work at Malone University. She also teaches within the Global and International Studies Program. Her areas of research and service are international social work, study abroad, and urban and international community development. Prior to teaching at Malone University, Elizabeth served in Romania as the coordinator of social services for Veritas Sighisoara. Elizabeth has been a member of NACSW since 2000.

Endnotes

[1] https://www.uscis.gov/refugeescreening

[2] https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states

[3] https://www.dshs.wa.gov/esa/community-services-offices/refugee-cash-assistance

[4] http://www.uscripayments.org/

[5] http://www.hias.org/sites/default/files/clevelandrefugeeeconomic-impact.pdf

Christ at the Intersection of Faith and Practice

HenleyMCEU0815As I was pondering what exactly to write for this blog, it occurred to me that the very name of our blog, “Shared Grace,” captures the essence of this entry.

Most of us who are members of NACSW or are considering membership realize that there is something different about this association in comparison to some of the others of which we are also members.  That something is our love of Christ and our ability to explore ways to ethically integrate faith and practice.

Social work as a profession closely aligns with Christian principles. We see evidence of this in our core professional values and in Scripture. There are countless examples in Scripture that address values such as service, dignity, the worth of the person, and the importance of human relationships. Take, for example, Acts 20:35 (AMP), which says, “ In everything I showed you [by example] that by working hard in this way you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed [and brings greater joy] to give than to receive.” In this Scripture we see that we are expected to serve and to treat those we serve with dignity. An example of the value of relationships is found in Ephesians 4:2 (NIV) which says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” The Bible is full of examples of how we should see the clients we serve and ultimately how we should show the love of Christ.

Each year, we as members of NACSW look forward to the annual convention for the opportunity to convene in a new city, see old friends, meet new ones and rejuvenate our social work battery pack.  We return to our corners of the social work world and reflect on all that we have learned, determined to implement new techniques and approaches. We look ahead in our calendar to ensure that we will be able to make it to the convention the following year.  But, did we take time to demonstrate our commitment to our values? Did we impact the city we convened in for three or four days? Can it be said that NACSW affected change in the lives of others while we learned innovative techniques for integrating faith and practice? This year we will be able to proudly say, “yes, we did!”

At  NACSW’s Convention 2016 in Cincinnati  we are embarking together on a community service project. We are collaborating with Indiana Wesleyan University to donate care packages to the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky (ESNKY). NACSW members will be asked to bring with them any of the following items to donate for this project: personal sized shampoo, conditioner, soap/body wash, lotion, lip balm/chapstick, toilet paper, toothbrush and paste, deodorant, and/or snacks in a factory sealed container (such as chips, crackers or cookies).

I truly believe that Christ is the true example of the intersection of faith and practice. This is why membership in the NACSW is so valuable to me and why this new endeavor to engage in service as a body is so important. What a ministry and testimony this will be!

For more information on our service project at Convention 2016 in Cincinnati in November, please visit the NACSW website and be sure to sign up for the items that you wish to donate using this link.

As Christians, we often quote the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst,” but let us remember that Christ mandates us in that same chapter of the book of Matthew to be the “salt of the earth, the light of the world.” I am so excited about this endeavor to share our love for Christ with our brothers and sisters in Cincinnati, and look forward to letting our lights shine, for this is indeed, shared grace.

Melissa E. Henley, LGSW is an Assistant Professor and Director of Field Education at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, MD. She is actively involved in her church and other community service organizations. She has been a member of NACSW since 2014.

The Call to Reconciliation

ChristensenA0816CEUThe recent deaths of African-American persons during interactions with police officers has awakened the nation to the persistent racial imbalance in our country. The sheer disregard of life causes me deep anguish and, quite frankly, leaves me with mixed feelings about our country’s moral compass. Close to home, in Dallas, TX, retaliation and more violence was one man’s answer to his doubts. In the face of such horror and violence, to what are we called as Christian social workers and practitioners?

As an African-American woman and macro practitioner, I constantly wrestle with my response to these deadly encounters. Fear and anger rise up swiftly, leaving little room to process. I battle alongside community members to grasp what pervasive death to  brown bodies means for us as a community and as individuals. I have come to the painful, yet joyous, conclusion that as Christians in social work, we must pick up the heavy mantle that the Apostle Paul describes as becoming  ”Ministers of Reconciliation.”

In 2 Corinthians 5:14-20, Paul outlines the call to the Ministry of Reconciliation:

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.


 As Christians in social work, we are compelled to respond to injustice with the love of Christ. We can easily become calloused when we learn of new tragedies each day, but our hearts must remain soft. We can remain empathetic because we know that God weeps over the injustices in the world (e.g. Isaiah 61, Psalm 103:6).

Further, we no longer view people or events from a worldly perspective. Though the world tells us to point fingers and place blame, we now have the power to withhold judgement and trust God’s justice. Withholding judgment does not equate to silence, but it means allowing the Spirit of God to intervene on our behalf.

Finally, we are not alone in the work of reconciliation. God set the stage for reconciliation when he sent Christ to reconcile the world to the Divine. The blueprint is already drawn.

In this passage, we see both the pain and joy of reconciliation. We are now held to a higher standard of living. Reconciliation demands that we emulate Christ himself, even at the expense of our own feelings. This includes times when we aren’t personally affected by the situations we learn about. Reconciliation also demands that we remain committed to the message of grace and truth. The work of reconciliation is not a one-time, town-hall discussion; it is a slow, methodical process that calls us to commit to the on-going task of reconciliation and to each other.

Social work demands the same. The Code of Ethics requires that we respect the dignity and worth of all people, value the importance of human relationships, embody integrity, service, social justice, and competence — all of which are enhanced by the blood of Christ.

Racial justice will only happen when we believe that reconciliation is truly at the center of God’s heart. We must believe that learning to be a reconciler is a part of His divine plan for our redemption. With that in mind, we can step faithfully into the work of reconciliation with great hope for the future.

Alexis Christensen is a community organizer with Waco Community Development in Waco, TX. She received her Bachelor’s of Political Science and Masters of Social Work from Baylor University. She enjoys reading and traveling the world with her husband. Alexis has been a member of NACSW since 2012.

Sharing thoughts for Christians in Social Work