Colorado Christmas Adventure Story

Colorado Christmas Adventure Story

COLORADO CHRISTMAS ADVENTURE

The Colorado Christmas Adventure unfolds around our little band of cottage mates. A family bound together by circumstance, these six kids have been removed from unsafe homes. Candy canes, Christmas lights, gingerbread houses and nativity scenes surround along with smiles, giggles and joyfulness from the kids. They are a family; we are all family here.

Bringing two of my worlds together, my church home and my work at the Tennyson Center for Children, makes my heart full. Mission Hills is not small. I remember walking into the 116,000 square ft. mega-church seven years ago. At the time, Kelly and I were seeking. After ten years of adversity, war, death, separation and loss, our family was cracking at the seams and we needed something. We didn’t know that we needed someone, but we found Him.

I was shocked when I was warmly welcomed at this church, a place that (as a Jew) I had felt I was not welcomed. But I was. There waiting for us was a warm embrace. Loving people, a caring environment and Jesus, waiting right there for us to stop running from. Giving our lives to Christ changed everything. I would shortly thereafter leave my corporate job, take a 60% pay cut and begin the journey of serving where I felt the Lord called me, caring for veterans, service members, military families and abused children.

Every one of those populations, I count myself a member of.

Today at Mission Hills, the environment is overwhelming, but it is warm and welcoming as usual. The sanctuary my family calls home.

I can see the wide eyes of our Tennyson children. They devour plates full of food truck chicken and waffles, weave through glowing gingerbread houses and warm themselves at the fire pit that hundreds of children (including my own) find respite from the cold at every week at Youth. They are kids, after all, just like any other.

We are deliberate to hold the space for our kiddos. I walk slowly through the crowds, speak softly and keep a flat affect. Our clinicians and care team at Tennyson have ingrained this in our organizational culture. Two of our Youth Treatment Counselors coolly handle little outbursts, correct behaviours and ensure that the kids are safe.

The lights sparkle in “Who Ville” as we arrive in line for face painting. Overlooking the sprawl of south metro Denver, a moment unfolds.

And I lean in.

Emma points and is explaining to the others. “Over there, see the Taco Bell?” I strain to identify the store, but cannot locate it. “Look, next to the bank. See the bell?” With perfect vision, there is no way such a restaurant is identifiable from this distance and through the clutter of buildings. Her statement is rooted in knowing. Experience. She has been here before.

“Are you from here?” I manage.

“My dad used to lock me out of the house and tell me to go get food there,” she casually states. “I used to go to school up the street.

Her affect begins to change. Her discomfort is perceptible. She stares at a girl further up in line and holds on to her cottage mate; her community for support.

“I recognize her from school,” she manages, “I hate girls.”

“Are you feeling ok, Emma?” I ask calmly.

“I get anxiety…I just hate girls.”

She holds her place. Her community anchoring her to the ground while emotions undoubtedly swirl within her. “We are all so glad you’re here with us, Emma,” I smile.

Inside my heart shatters. She was right here the whole time. Suffering in our own community and nobody saw her. Not until it was too late and her family was torn apart. Like 4,500 children in Colorado, Emma is now living in an out of home placement. She lives at Tennyson and is learning how to heal and set her sights on a new life, a new future. Emma is courageous at thirteen.

It took her being exported to Denver from an unsafe home in Douglas County to be seen and then welcomed back to her own community in Highlands Ranch.

We stand with her.

She is invited to face painting by one of my fellow Mission Hills congregants. The volunteer listens warmly as Emma hopes to have matching Christmas monkeys painted with her cottage mate. A monkey is not one of the four options that hundreds of kids are able to choose from. Nevertheless, I am proud as one of my church family members leans in to show care for the girl.

What if we all leaned in like this? No questions asked.

What if we saw moms and dads struggling to overcome their own generational trauma and supported them as they learned to heal themselves? Learned to stabilize their homes and learned to reintegrate fully? What if we never let them fall from the beginning and held them up with the support and treatment they needed?

“What if” is happening today. Right in front of me. And in churches all over our community.

We are proud to lead an effort that reaches into the margins of every one of our communities, one child and family at a time. This is the very heart of our new partnership with Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services (DHS). The very heart of partnerships with churches like Mission Hills and the Disciples of Christ congregations that have stood with us for over a century. With Boys and Girls Clubs, The Boy Scouts, Foster Power Youth and others that anchor supports and welcome kids into community.

At its core, these partnerships will enable us to see what is right amidst all of our communities: hurting kids and crumbling families that need us all to lean in, care and through treatment allow the hurt to give way for the healing.
Back at the face painting station, a monkey image is found online and before we know it, Emma has a Christmas chimp holding a candy cane on her face. Another is drawn on her friend. Emma smiles. She floats out of the church with a gift bag in one hand, her cottage sister in the other.

Taco Bell fades away as this child remembers what it’s like to be a kid again. Ahead of her lies a healing journey that will last lifetime, but she will never walk alone again. Together, with the Tennyson Center for Children, Mission Hills Church, Douglas DHS and a community of supporters, we are committed to seeing her change the world with all the bravery and heart that she walks with.

Brandon Young is the Chief Advancement Officer at the Tennyson Center for Children

Fall Giving

Fall Giving

Fall Giving

Thanksgiving is a time when we are reminded of all the ways we’ve been blessed. Sometimes we go back and look at the blessings we’ve taken for granted for a long time and realize the weight of them — the ability to read, a device to read this post on, internet so this post can exist. When we start to look at the world through the lens of “what have I taken for granted?” we can see things in our lives that we wouldn’t notice before.

Likely, you’re reading this in a comfortable room, wearing clothes you picked out at a store, maybe enjoying a snack or a warm drink.

How often do we take those things for granted? How often do we forget to thank God for the ways he’s blessed us in our day to day life?

Let’s change that and take a moment to acknowledge the ways we’ve been blessed and think of a few ways we can bless others because of it.

Here are some places to start:
  • Do I have clothes in my closet? Do I have extra clothes I don’t ever wear? Where can I donate those clothes to bless others this year?
  • Do I have plans to gather family together for Thanksgiving dinner? Do I know anyone who doesn’t have plans or family in the area? Can I invite them to join my family this year?
  • Are there cans of food I have in my cupboard that I’m never going to eat? Do I have extra food? Can I find a place to donate to a food bank this year?

You can bring your whole family into this mentality.

Ask your kids:
  • Are there any toys you don’t play with anymore? Would you like to bless someone else with a toy this year? Which toy, and who can we give it to?

You may find that your kids have a ton of extra clothes they don’t wear all the time or don’t like. Let them help you bring their extra clothes to donate.

We often think of getting rid of what we don’t need any more in the spring for spring cleaning, but what if we added in a second time, when people are more in need than the rest of the year as winter draws near, and created a “Fall Giving?”

Start by looking for the things you take for granted, thank God for them, and then look into options to share how you’ve been blessed or help others, who don’t have what you take for granted, get access to or have the things you depend on.

We wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving! If you’d like to learn more about how you can help out directly in the Littleton community on a regular basis, you’re welcome to volunteer at the Life Center and help others get what you take for granted.

Want even more ways to get involved? Check out what we’re doing for our Food Drive and Christmas Toy Drive. We look forward to serving with you!

2 Steps For Starting a Gratitude List

2 Steps For Starting a Gratitude List

2 Steps For Starting a Gratitude List

It’s November, the month best known as “Time to do the Christmas shopping” and “Oh wait, I need to remember how to cook a turkey.”

By the time Thanksgiving rolls around and you’re asking your family what they’re grateful for, it can be difficult to think of anything. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Especially if you start early on in the month, you have a chance to start shifting your mindset so when it comes time to say something you’re thankful for, you’ll be able to pick one of many rather than scrambling for one.

What’s a simple way to do this?

1 | Pick a friend (or a journal).

2 | Tell your friend (or write in your journal) three things you’re grateful for every day.

This will be difficult at first, since we often live in a mindset that focuses on how things went wrong, rather than how things went right. But by practicing with our friends or our journal, we can easily turn this into a prayer of thanksgiving every day.

When you start looking for things to be thankful for rather than things to be angry about, you’ll start to see them in your day to day life. You can be grateful for all sorts of things — coffee, health, a car, and a job come to mind right now, and that’s off the top of my head.

You can do it, too. And of the above options, I suggest a friend over a journal, or maybe do both. The reason it can be helpful to tell a friend is that you’ll have someone asking you what you’re grateful for today. A journal can’t talk to you, but a person can. A person can remind you of your goals and why you started doing this in the first place. Even more than that, though, a person can celebrate with you and be thankful with you. That community is priceless.

Jesus’ Coolest Miracles

Jesus’ Coolest Miracles

Jesus' Coolest Miracles

We live in a world where some of the most popular stories are those of superheroes and people with crazy powers. As humans, we love to be amazed and intrigued. That’s why we watch movies such as Superman or Avengers. It’s why magic shows have been around as long as they have, showcasing illusionists and why, when it’s all said and done, you don’t really want to know how the magician pulled a rabbit out of his hat.

Jesus’ ministry was full of really cool things like those. Some of the stories of what he did are things we’d expect to see from superheroes in fiction, designed to amaze and entertain.

But not only were Jesus’ miracles actual miracles – as in, he actually healed the blind and sick (John 9), actually drove out demons (Matthew 8), and actually turned plain well water into really impressive wine (John 2) – these stories aren’t fiction.

Jesus’ miracles aren’t illusions or magic tricks, and they really happened.

For shortened versions of the stories where we learn of his miracles, we can look at the Gospel of Mark.

That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. | Mark 1:32-34

In three short verses Mark describes how Jesus healed “many who had various diseases” after “the whole town gathered at the door.” Now, we don’t know how big the town was, but to have an entire town gather at one door means there was a large crowd, and they all wanted to know if what Jesus had done for one woman, healing, could be done for all of them.

Spoiler alert: it could be done for them, and it was.

Another time when Jesus did the seemingly impossible is when he calmed the storm.

A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him,

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” | Mark 4:37-41

It’s interesting that after Jesus does what the disciples asked him to, he asks them, “Why are you so afraid?” And even after he’s asked this, they feel inclined to ask each other, “Who is this?” because they were terrified. God’s power can be scary at times, because we often don’t know how to comprehend it. We know it would be nice if the scary thing, the wind and waves, could just up and disappear, but we haven’t thought about what would happen if that did actually happen. Not only can it actually happen, but the display of power on God’s part often leads us, in our mortality, to be scared, or more aptly, terrified. But Jesus’s next question is possibly more important: “Do you still have no faith?”

At this point, he has essentially revealed who he was. He has given them ample reason, ample proof, for them to have faith in him. Yet they still don’t see it.

Let’s not be like them, at least not in this instance.

One of the most important miracles Jesus did, however, even more important than healing the sick and calming the waves, was his resurrection after the cross. Mark doesn’t continue the story as long as Matthew, Luke, and John, but he does include the vital verses that describe the empty tomb and the message from the angels.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” | Mark 16:5-7

This miracle is the most important miracle, because Jesus’ death and resurrection secured our salvation from the death we chose in the Garden of Eden. (Don’t know what I’m talking about? Read about it in Genesis Chapters 1-3.)

John summed up the main point nicely in John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It’s easy to want Jesus’ miracles to have happened. It’s also easy to write those miracles off as illusions or tricks. But writing them off says we don’t believe Jesus either A. tells the truth or B. is actually capable of doing what we read he did.

What we believe about his miracles directly ties into what we believe about the resurrection, and our belief about that is of eternal importance.

If you have questions about what you’ve just read, I suggest going back to the source. Take a moment to read through the Gospel of Mark, and then reach out to us. We’d love to connect with you and help you wrestle through whatever questions you may have. Send us an email so we can help you get connected to people who can help you dig deeper into the Gospel.

God Remembers Us

God Remembers Us

God Remembers Us

The story of Joseph is fairly well known. It’s often told as a great success story, of patience and faith and reward. And who could forget the musical version of it, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, or the Veggie Tales retelling, The Ballad of Little Joe?

Joseph’s story is one of incredible success + faith in God

As well as success, however, Joseph went through incredible pain. He grew up weathering the jealousy of eleven older brothers, not because of anything Joseph did, but because his mother was his father’s favorite. That jealousy led his brothers to throw him in a cistern, fake his death, and sell him as a slave.

Ouch.

How would you deal with having your family want you gone so badly that they’ll sell you just to get rid of you? I think it’s safe to say Joseph thought he was at rock bottom. He held on to the only thing he had left, the one thing his brothers and his owners couldn’t take away from him: his faith in God.

God was gracious and rose Joseph into leadership in Potiphar’s house, but with new power comes new struggles. He did will in everything and Potiphar trusted him, as he was right to do. As the story goes, Potiphar’s wife wanted the one thing Joseph had been restricted from, and after he turned her down many times she lied to get rid of him. Potiphar’s trust was broken, and he threw Joseph in prison. At this point, Joseph was probably nearer to rock bottom.

He’d had dreams as a young man that his family would bow down to him, that he would rule over them. His expectation was that he’d be put in power. Prison and ruling are two very different things, and as Joseph grappled with his present reality, he was stuck in the same place he’d been when his brothers sold him: holding onto God as the only thing that couldn’t be taken away from him.

Then there comes a glimmer of hope:

Two of the Pharaoh’s main servants are thrown in prison with Joseph, and he gets to interpret their dreams through God’s power. He interprets them correctly and asks the cupbearer to remember him and tell Pharaoh about him. The cupbearer forgets him for two years.

The Bible doesn’t tell us how long Joseph had been in prison, for something he hadn’t done, when the cupbearer and baker were put under his care. It only says, “Sometime later” (Genesis 40:1).

I don’t know about you, but I get really excited at the prospect of things. Whether that’s buying something on Amazon that I know will be at my door in two days, or the anticipation that comes with planning a vacation, the idea that I may get to do something different or that my life may change, if only for a little bit, can bring hope into whatever situation I’m in.

But over time, that excitement dwindles. There are only so many days you can wake up and say, “Maybe today will be the day when X happens.”

I don’t know, because the Bible doesn’t say, but I’m willing to guess that Joseph was optimistic for the first few weeks, and as his circumstances continued to stay as they were, by the time the cupbearer was reminded that Joseph had interpreted his dream accurately, Joseph had lost hope that he’d remember at all. This moment was likely rock bottom, the moment when Joseph realized help wasn’t coming, that justice wasn’t going to happen the way he’d hoped it would.

But even though the cupbearer had forgotten Joseph, God hadn’t. As the story goes, Pharaoh had two dreams that puzzled him and his associates. No one could interpret those dreams. At that moment the cupbearer remembered and mentioned Joseph to Pharaoh, and Joseph went on to save Egypt and the surrounding countries during the famine, seven years in the future. Through the famine, he’s restored to his family, and his story has a happy ending.

God remembered Joseph, and Joseph remembered God throughout his life. Joseph’s faith seems to be unshakeable, even when his physical situation was falling apart. In the same way, God remembers us. He doesn’t forget about our circumstances, and he is working “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” Depression: What Helps and What Doesn’t

Depression: What Helps and What Doesn’t

Depression: What Helps and What Doesn't

Depression, whether long term or a short episode, affects a lot of people. It can be triggered by circumstances present or past, or come out of nowhere and hit its victim like a brick thrown out a window.

If you have a friend suffering from depression, they need you now more than ever. But there are also a few things it could be helpful for you to understand about what they’re going through.

1 | Depression is a very real condition, caused by changes in brain chemistry.

What your friend is going through is a physical ailment to the way their brain functions. It isn’t something they can “think themselves out of” or “get over.” Depression is treatable, and your friend should go to a doctor about it.

2 | They will likely say no when you invite them to things. Don’t stop inviting them.

One of the best ways to show them you care for them is to continue inviting them to participate in life, despite the many times they’ll turn your offer down. When they say no, they aren’t saying no to you. They aren’t rejecting you. They’re speaking a truth they feel about their inability to join you in that event. Continue inviting them and engaging with them, and do your best not to take their rejection personally.

3 | They will feel intense, negative emotions.

As your friend deals with depression, they will need a support system. Check in on them. Spend time with them one on one. Let them talk to you. Show your love for them. By being a consistent, caring presence in their life without pressuring them to get better while encouraging them to move toward healing, you can shine a light into the darkness they feel.

So what can you do? What helps? What should you avoid?

Things to avoid:
  • Getting frustrated or lashing out at them. Their brains are blaming them for a lot of things that aren’t their fault already.
  • Telling them it’s all in their head and they just need to be more positive.
  • Ignoring their depression.
  • Focusing too much on their depression.
  • Giving up on them.
Things that can help:
  • Remind them of their value.
  • Invite them to the things you’re going to.
  • Open the door for them to talk about what they’re going through.
  • Offer encouragement, especially through tactile things they can hold on to, such as notes or a small gift that says they’re on your mind.
  • Help them know that they don’t have to hide their emotions.
  • Remind them that they don’t have to fight this battle alone.
  • Pray with them.
  • Follow them on their ups and downs. Every day will be different. Some days they’ll be better than others. Take your cues from them.

If you have other questions about how you can help someone through depression, please reach out to a doctor or a counselor. You can talk to one of the counselors at Mission Hills by sending us an email or calling 303.794.3564.