Substances made me feel invincible

I was stumbling down a path of bad influences

Before I arrived at Shelterwood, I did a lot of “soul-searching” and not in the right ways. I turned to drugs, alcohol, and bad influences to fill me up as a person. I thought that I was discovering myself and substances made me feel invincible, the person I thought I really wanted to be. I started to get into other things like sneaking out, ditching school, and not getting along with my parents. My parents started to catch on to my behavior.

The summer before I arrived at Shelterwood, I left my house because the tension between my parents and me was just too much for me to handle. I left my phone at home and packed my bags. I stayed with one of my friends for the entire summer and couch surfed with nothing on which to survive. My parents contacted me and we made a plan to meet up.

I thought I was going to be able to move back in for the school year but next thing I know, I am saying goodbye to my little sister and driving all the way out to Missouri. I thought my world was crashing down all in one day. I didn’t think my life would go this way and thinking about how out of control I was, it was really scaring me.

There are so many things that I could say impacted me at Shelterwood. The one I most value is learning how to relate to people and just getting to know them on a personal level before I make a judgment. I really benefited from just learning who I was as a person. I set goals for myself and I really figured out what I wanted to do with my future and how I was going to get there.

I left Shelterwood feeling the most confident, happy, and healthy person I really have ever been. My parents and I had some rough patches after I left Shelterwood. But we are starting to learn who we are as people, how we work, and to love beyond the things we can’t change about each other.

I am a strong person now, and I know what I want and how to achieve it. I am so thankful for everything they did for me at Shelterwood. It was a great time to get away and just spend some time to discover who I was. I am so grateful that I got this opportunity.

Chloe S.

Justice is Empathy

Change begins with Understanding

From the judges, lawyers, or lawmakers to the missionaries in the jungle, there are some serious heroes out there fighting for justice. The need for justice in our culture can look insurmountable. We are overwhelmed by reports of human trafficking, poverty and genocide. We question what our role is in the justice system. What can we do?

I heard a quote today that got me thinking: “Justice is empathy.”

Screen Shot 2015 05 22 at 1.08.45 PM 300x155 Justice is EmpathyIt really can be that simple, and it can start with you. It can start in your home- with your teen.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. When I empathize with the struggles of my teen, I am becoming a part of the process of bringing about justice in their world.

Richard Eyre, British Director, states, “Change begins with understanding and understanding begins by identifying oneself with another person: in a word, empathy.”

When my teen acts out, my natural reaction is not to empathize. I immediately divert to becoming angry, threatening, or lecturing. Rarely, do I stop to ask him to explain to me the emotions behind his behaviors. Rarely do I empathize with what he’s feeling.

Maya Angelou asserts, “I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” Empathizing with my teen can be difficult. Sometimes it’s just hard to see where he’s coming from. Sometimes I fear that if I empathize, I may condone his behavior.

Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author for the New York Times states, “a prerequisite to empathy is simply listening to a person in pain.” Taking the time to listen rather than react in anger or frustration or hurt, opens up my heart to empathize and to see where my teen is coming from. It reminds me that I am for my son, not against him.

I can respond in ways such as, “That must be difficult” or, “That sounds like it’s been a struggle.” In Screen Shot 2015 05 22 at 1.05.36 PM 300x223 Justice is Empathyusing empathizing one-liners, I am opening the conversation to continue. I want my son to be reminded that I am for him, not against him. While I cannot condone his behavior, I can seek to understand and care about what is behind such behavior.

Empathy brings about change by listening to others, identifying with others, and caring about others. Seek empathy in your interactions with your teens as you go through the struggles of adolescence with them. In doing so, you will watch justice in action.

A Changed Life

A mom’s story of her time at Shelterwood and how she came to see a changed life

IMG 4278 copy 300x225 A Changed Life First, let me say this talk was not pre-approved by Shelterwood. As I was sharing with my husband this morning what I wanted to share he kept saying: it’s too negative and I kept saying: wait until the end. So as I am talking if you think it is too negative: wait until the end!

I knew who I wanted to address tonight. I wanted to speak to the mama that is sitting here wondering how she ended up here. The mama that doesn’t want to be here or want her son to be here either because that is exactly how I felt sitting here last spring family weekend. I want to speak to the mom who remembers holding that baby boy close to her chest, the one who shared with everyone who would listen all the cute things her preschooler said and did and then the mom who after her son went through puberty wanted to take the same hands that held her baby close and strangle her teenager because of all the horrible decisions he was making. The mom , dad, or grandparent who no matter what they tried they couldn’t stop their son from going down a path that led to destruction. That is exactly where our family was a year ago. Thank God for Shelterwood.

As my husband and I realized things were deteriorating with Connor we began a daily practice of listening prayer. I first encountered Listening Prayer in a book by a nun to India, Mary Geegh. The very first time we prayed this way together we each heard individually in our hearts Connor can’t stay in Dothan. One theme in Mary Geegh’s book is “where God guides, God provides” and that is what we experienced. God led us on a clear path to send Connor to Shelterwood. This is not what I would have chosen. To date bringing Connor here against his will is the hardest thing I have ever done. Yes, it is a Christian boarding school. Yes, each person employed here loves and cares about each one of our sons, but that didn’t alleviate my pain.

IMG 4356 copy 300x225 A Changed LifeIn fact, the pain would get worse before it got better. When we began our calls with Connor after a few weeks it was excruciatingly painful. He would tell us in great detail how horrible Shelterwood was. He didn’t deserve to be here. Everyone laughed at him when he told them why he was here. They had all done MUCH worse. Bless our counselor Leanne’s heart during that time for all the babysitting and comforting she did for me. And I’ll be honest with you when we came for parent’s weekend after Connor had been here a couple of months it didn’t help much. I wanted to grab Connor and run back home. One thing I remember from last year’s parent’s weekend was Rujon saying just think if you couldn’t handle one teenager in your home can you imagine how hard it is for our staff. And she was right! Things were not going well when Connor was home. At least here he was safe. Safe from himself and safe from the influence of his peers. Here he had young men called by God to speak truth into his life. A staff that cared about him. I was also thankful during that time that we had had clear direction from God about sending Connor here because as the doubts surfaced I held on to that. As circumstances around me still looked bad and not better I held on to what God had spoken to us. At parents weekend I heard so many times “trust the process” I wanted to throw up. In my head I was shouting, “What process!!!! You people are so stinkin slow!!! Hurry this up!”

Months into “the process” a wonderful thing began to happen. Connor was working hard & liking the person he was becoming. We saw progress. We saw change. But I didn’t completely trust the process because after 6 months we allowed Connor to come home before graduating the program. He convinced us that he did not want to go back to his old ways. Leanne warned us against it. She said he had made great progress but wasn’t ready. Connor told us graduating the program was no big deal. EVERYONE that did went back to their old ways. Staying a couple of more months wouldn’t make a difference. Which makes me think of something I left out about last year’s parent’s weekend. A young man who had recently graduated the program spoke. He did an excellent job and began to alleviate my fears. I remember thinking maybe Shelterwood can help Connor. Afterwards, Connor told us oh he’s so fake. I heard he still smokes pot. Manipulation, manipulation.

When Connor arrived home to begin his senior year, it didn’t take long for things to deteriorate IMG 4401 copy 300x225 A Changed Lifeagain. During this time I felt like we had made the wrong decision sending him to Shelterwood. He was angry with us and resentful. I felt like we were worse off than better. I heard God speaking to my spirit: there is nothing you can say or do to change Connor King only the Holy Spirit can change him. I held on to this promise for several LONG months. Again things got a lot worse before they got better. Have you ever prayed and prayed for something and didn’t realize it was being answered because it wasn’t happening the way you envisioned? Well, that’s what happened next. Connor has already told you about going on the life changing mission trip to Haiti. When he came home and asked to go back to Shelterwood. The school he was begging to come home from a few short months before. I couldn’t even process it all. He had convinced me last summer Shelterwood was not helping him & was making him worse. So I questioned and questioned Connor, what about this, what about when you said this about the school? His response to all of my questions was: believe me mom I’ve thought about ALL that. I knew the Holy Spirit had moved in Connor’s life when he told us he couldn’t be who he wanted to be and live in Dothan, AL. He needed to, actually wanted to go back to Shelterwood to graduate the program. Connor spoke out loud the words that Leslie and I had heard in our hearts the first time we prayed about what we could do to help Connor.

My part of the story should end there shouldn’t it? Connor speaking the words we had heard God speak into our hearts. But to be honest, I hesitated. In my wildest dreams I never expected Connor to ASK to come back. I had it all planned out. How it would work out with him staying in Dothan. I haven’t mentioned yet how thankful I am for the few close friends I had praying for us during this time. My sweet friends have been faithful to encourage and pray with me. If you don’t have someone like that please come see me during the weekend. I’d be honor to pray for your family during this difficult time. Or should I say during this process.

As I was questioning and doubting God’s answer I had one of those wise friends speak truth into my life. She looked at me and ask, “Lea, what have you been praying for?” I slowly began to realize God had answered my prayer for Connor in a way I never imagined. God had done immeasurably more than I could ask or imagine. We are calling it a miracle in our family.

We are looking forward to Connor graduating the program. Connor is looking forward to graduating the program. Turns out it is a BIG deal when your heart changes. Connor has even asked my parents if they would make the long journey for it. Now, I trust the process. As we are discussing with Connor options for the summer, Leanne’s opinion matters a lot to me. She understands the process.

Connor, words cannot express how proud your dad and I are of you. We are so proud of the hard decisions, the hard choices you have made as the world has been trying to pull you in the opposite direction. It’s hard to give up friends who are bringing you down at any age, but especially when you are young. It’s hard to leave the comforts of home to do what is best for yourself. I am reminded of the Bible verse God gave me concerning you when you were in preschool and I see it being played out now. Ephesians 2:10 “For you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works which God planned in advance for you to do.”

I have one more thing to say. As I look around the room and see the Shelterwood staff, I wish I could look into each of your eyes and thank you for all the time, energy, and effort you have put into Connor’s life & every student’s life. I may not have mentioned you by name in our story, but I know you contributed to our story. Whether you have had direct or indirect contact with Connor what you do matters. It matters for the kingdom of God. If we receive crowns in heaven, I know there is a jewel on each of yours with the initials CWK for Connor Winn King and this mama’s heart is eternally grateful to each of you!

Lea shared this talk with fellow parents at our most recent Family Weekend

Is my teen ever going to change?

Screen Shot 2015 02 26 at 4.31.29 PM 247x300 Is my teen ever going to change?

A Difficult Winter – Is my teen ever going to change?

For the majority of the country, this has been a particularly difficult winter. Temperatures are plummeting and snow is accumulating at record rates. While our patience may be wearing thin, there are still some cool things we can learn from winter.

We may not see it on the surface, but winter offers a lot of growth. Above the ground the leaves have all fallen off the trees long ago, but below the ground, growth has only intensified.

So often we want growth to look exactly like we planned it. When we can’t see obvious progress, it’s easy to get frustrated. But, let’s look at what growth means to a tree. When the leaves die in autumn, the tree is able to devote its energy to the roots. When the frost comes, the roots must become resilient to the cold and push deeper into the earth.

It can be really difficult to wait for growth when it’s below the surface. It’s easy to become results-driven or to want proof that growth is happening. But, remember that growth often does not look the way we expect or want it to look. I can get so frustrated when I hear about my own son continuing in his anger. My immediate reaction is to jump in and fix things. I want him to grow and to show that he’s learning. It’s in these moments that I must remind myself that growth is continuing in his life as he processes through his difficult circumstances. Even when this growth is not easy for me to see and is happening below the surface, I remind myself that the deeper and stronger the roots, the more resilient and strong my son will become.Screen Shot 2015 02 26 at 4.27.29 PM Is my teen ever going to change?

Waiting for the spring takes patience, trust and hope that growth is happening below the surface. But, in these times, take heart. It is in the most difficult of situations that our roots are strengthened. Growth is still taking place, just below the surface.

Why is it so hard to let go of our kids?

Letting go of fear and responsibility for your teen will be part of the therapeutic process that you will go through while in Shelterwood.  Take a moment to read through some of the common internal dialogues that we often go through as parents when we have a fear of change.

1. Fear of the unknown

Parent:  If I can’t change my child’s behavior, how can someone else?  Will Shelterwood staff be manipulated?  What if he gets sick or she is mistreated?  Who else is going to be in the program?

Teen:  Can I contact my friends?  Do my parents care about me?  Whom can I trust?  Only losers are sent to residential group homes.

We are most at ease when we are completely familiar with our surroundings and sure of what the future holds for us.

2. Fear of failure

Parent: What if I spend all of this money and they don’t change?

Teen:  What if I can’t change?  Is this who I really am?

People expect to get everything right the first time instead of taking time to work things out and getting them right at some time.

3. Fear of commitment

Parent:  What if we give everything to this process and our child remains angry and distant?

Teen:  I don’t feel confident that I can achieve what I really want in life.  If I focus on what I want and then fail where does that leave me?  I think I might be better off not trying.  I don’t want to feel trapped by high expectations and responsibility.

People should be honest with themselves and commit to a few simple goals.

4. Fear of disapproval

Parent:  What if my teen never forgives me for this decision?  What will my parents, friends, siblings think of my parenting if I need to place my teen in a program?

Teen: What if I commit myself to my goals and my parents still disapprove? If I change, are my friends going to dislike me?

You will learn very quickly who your false friends are and who is truly on the side of your self-esteem.