Celebrating Father’s Day

In honor of Father’s Day, I am sharing two poems my dad, Rich Latta, wrote. One is about life and the other is about me. What AMAZES me about these poems which were written many years ago is that each of their messages is as true today as the day Dad wrote them. May these poems inspire you to cultivate your creativity, something that my dad was always pursuing.

One holds
Life dear as
Everything we
Without it we
Possess nothing.

From small steps
you grew to bold strides
then to running
and then to soaring
with the wings of knowledge
to carry you
you wish to go.

National Day of Prayer 2019

The theme for the 2019 National Day of Prayer on May 2, 2019 is Love One Another. The theme comes from the words of Jesus in John 13:34, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you.”

Let’s join together and pray. Here are a few ideas for prayer:
1. For children, that…
they will know Christ as Savior.
they will obey their parents.
2. For parents, that…
they will be imitators of God.
they will walk in wisdom.
3. For families, that…
they will be committed to loving the Lord and loving each other.
they will be protected physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
4. For schools, that…
students will grow academically and socially in safe learning environments.
students will learn Christian values and morals.
5. For churches, that…
pastors will clearly proclaim the Gospel.
all church activities will continue to glorify the Lord and draw people closer to Him.
6. For missionaries, that…
they will feel loved and encouraged.
they will be safe as they share the Gospel of Jesus with others.
7. For the government, that…
government leaders will seek the Lord as they lead others.
public officials will live lives of integrity.

Spring into Praise

For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. Isaiah 61:11

I love spring! Living near Chicago, I can fully experience all the seasons, but my favorite time of the year has always been spring. Signs of springtime are all around me as the birds are chirping, the trees are budding, the warm wind is blowing, and the tulip leaves are breaking through the cold, compact dirt. Everywhere the earth is shouting: a fresh start, a new life, a new beginning, and an optimistic view. Thankfully, my winter blues dissipate with each added minute of sunshine and upward degree. As winter bids farewell and spring says hello, my energy increases, and I feel lighter. My entire outlook changes. This change of season reminds me of how my view positively changes when I praise the Lord. Each time I am depressed, discouraged, or down in the dumps, I have a choice to worship God. When I select this route rather than the road of self-pity, my perspective improves. Faith increases as I begin to acknowledge that God is not surprised by my circumstances, and He is aware of what I am feeling and experiencing. As I trust in Him, I can move from a winter-like attitude to a spring-like attitude, full of hope and confidence in God. Over time, this is a trust that believes that flowers will bloom out of the overwhelming times and situations. The trials of our lives are the dirt and mud needed for the beautiful flowers to fully bloom.

Father God, thank you for spring and fresh beginnings. Amen.

Tena DeGraaf is an author and speaker with the mission of inspiring women to grow in faith, hope, and love.

The Song that Stopped a War

Joseph Mohr wrote the words to a Christmas poem in 1816 to encourage his parish members. Two years later he asked his close friend Franz Gruber to create a melody to his poem. The organ was unusable that Christmas Eve, so Franz created the melody on guitar within a few hours to share with the congregation. Two simple men with a love for their God and their people wrote words and notes that still echo today. Their song has been composed in every genre of music and Time Magazine has named it the most popular Christmas song of all time. On Christmas Eve 1914 WW I stopped in what was called the Christmas Truce. It was a beautiful moonlit night with white frost covering everything. There was commotion in the German trenches, and they began to sing “Silent Night” in German. The guns fell silent on both sides with an unofficial cease fire. This cease fire lasted up to New Year’s Day in some places. Cautiously, the men crept out of their trenches and exchanged greetings and gifts. London rifleman, Graham Williams said of this extraordinary event, “I shall never forget it. It was one of the highlights of my life.” It was not until 1995 when an original manuscript was found with Joseph Mohr’s signature, date, and verses that credit could be officially given to him for this song. For years people wondered who the author of these beautiful words was. One simple act of faith of loving their God and loving the people in their congregation has impacted people for generations. And yet, results were not immediate, but the words of Joseph Mohr have changed the world forever.

Choose Joy!

My spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Luke 1:47

It was the Christmas season, and I did not feel like celebrating. I was grieving the loss of my Dad who had passed away unexpectedly from coronary atherosclerosis on January 1st. Even though I was able to put up the tree, make cookies, and send out cards, I did so without emotion. The week before Christmas, my husband, Stephen had bronchitis and Daniel, our seven year old son, had a very high fever with aches and pains. After two days of caring for his needs and not seeing any improvement, I took Dan to the doctor. The diagnosis was pink eye and an ear infection. The doctor also checked my left eye which was badly swollen from a spider bite. Yes, we were falling apart! While waiting for the pharmacy to fill the prescriptions, I took Dan for a drive. As we headed back toward the pharmacy, my body and mind ached physically, spiritually, and mentally. Feeling depleted, I was adding up all the reasons that made this Christmas season extremely difficult. As I was feeling sorry for myself, I rode slowly past the life-sized nativity scene that the Plymouth Congregational Church of Plainfield, Illinois sets up each season. The manger scene shouted, “Tena, He is the reason we celebrate!” I told Dan to look out the window at the manger and promised him we would come back another day to take a longer look at the scene when we were all feeling better. As I drove away from the church, none of my current circumstances had changed, but my heart held hope as I pondered the joyous news of Christ’s birth. Encouraged by the bold display of the nativity scene, I headed out of town cheerfully singing the famous words of Isaac Watts, “Joy to the World, the Lord has come!”
Lord of all, thank you for reminding us that You and Your Holy birth are why we celebrate this joyous season.

The Best Gift

Forgive as the Lord forgave you. Colossians 3:13

When the Wise Men from the East came to worship Jesus, they gave Him gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold. Since that time, people in many different countries have continued the tradition of giving presents to loved ones and friends at Christmas time. In this gift-giving season, we demonstrate our love for others. While celebrating the Messiah’s birth, there are numerous gifts that I could give to family and friends to show how much I care. However, the best present I can offer throughout the year is the gift of forgiveness.
At times loved ones have said hurtful words and done thoughtless actions. When these situations have happened, I have experienced hurt and anger. Sometimes I feel bitter and harbor resentment. I have been trapped and stuck in the muck and mire of my self-pity. Then, I begin to fervently pray for a Godly attitude. With a heavy heart, I seek the Lord and honestly acknowledge my frustration with the flaws of family members and friends. After spending time with my faithful Father, I am reminded of His gift of grace to me. At that pivotal moment, I remember Calvary. God gave His one and only Son to die in my place on the cross. He paid the price for me. Jesus forgave me. Awed by the marvelous grace of God, I exchange resentment for reconciliation. I substitute my fault-finding attitude with heartfelt forgiveness.
When I truly forgive those who have hurt my feelings, I am demonstrating a Christ-like characteristic. Only with the power of God, am I able to pardon and point others to Christ. As family and friends experience my loving kindness, they are curious to know the source of it. My gift of grace encourages them to seek the greatest forgiver of all: Jesus Christ. In Him, they will find His willingness and ability to pardon them of all their sins just as He has graciously forgiven me of all of mine. What a wonderful and eternal gift! It is the best gift!
Father God, help us forgive. Amen.

Sledding into Hope

Encourage one another daily. Hebrews 3:13
Newly fallen snow beckoned our family to come outside. My husband, Steve, and I answered the call and decided to take our boys, Daniel and Mitchell, out to sled at his parents’ cottage on Lake Petenwell in Wisconsin. Steve, who stated he would be out in a minute, was still visiting with his mom and dad as I headed out with the boys. The cottage has a walkout basement with sliding glass doors that lead to the lake. On each side of the back of the house, there are two small hills that slope down to the grass that touches the back patio. Daniel, age four, began to take his sled to the top of the one hill and slide down gleefully. I was so proud of him! He had never been sledding, and I was impressed with his ability. Mitch, on the other hand, at age three looked like the abdominal snowman! He could not move in his snowsuit. He stood still with his arms and legs straddled. I plopped him down on his sled, and I remember very distinctly thinking, “What a wonderful family day; I am going to push Mitch as hard as I can!”
As soon as I let go of Mitch’s sled, I knew exactly what I had done wrong. I am left-handed, and I had pushed much harder with my left hand than my right hand. Instead of remaining parallel with the lake and the cottage as his brother had so expertly demonstrated, Mitch veered for the lake gaining momentum with each inch. Now, what I did not mention earlier about the landscape is the fact that the back yard declines to an edge. Between the grass and the lake is an eight foot drop with a border of huge rocks and boulders that the lake water laps up against when it melts.
Immediately, I began to race as best as I could which was not very fast because I had on my snowmobile suit and boots. My boys are only 14 ½ months apart, and when Mitch was a baby, Daniel could not say Mitch but could call him, “Meme.” To this day our family members still call him, “Meme.” As I ran to try to catch Mitch, I yelled, “Hang on, Meme! Hang on!” His father, who had witnessed this event from the basement, began sprinting and shouting at me to get Mitch which was physically impossible. Together we watched our baby (three year olds are babies when they are in trouble) fly thirty feet in the air and land on the ice with the sled firmly attached to his bottom.
We rushed to grab a hold of him and examined him for any cuts, bruises, and broken bones. Miraculously, he was fine. Years later at no particular time, I exclaimed to Steve, “It was the padding of the snowsuit that probably protected Mitchie!” He had already realized that the padding had help soften the fall. Regardless of how God protected him, I was so thankful. After checking Mitch over thoroughly, Steve took him inside the cottage. I grabbed the sled. I felt like the worst mom in the world. What I had intended to be a fun family day had ended abruptly because I had made a terrible mistake that could have truly wounded my son. I have had many years to replay this event in my mind, and each time I think about it, one feeling overwhelms me. It is the word, “crummy.” I felt as though I was the crummiest mom in the world, but as I climbed the rocks with the sled on my back and tears streaming down my face, two thoughts gave me a glimmer of hope. The first thought was the fact that God had spared Mitch’s life and had kept him from any harm. The other thought was what Daniel had yelled to Mitch. My husband and I offered no sound advice. His mother, I, had yelled, “Hang on, Meme! Hang on!” That was the worst recommendation! Moms, if you are ever in a situation where your child is sledding down a hill heading for disaster, DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT yell, “HANG ON!” Had I been thinking more clearly, I should have yelled, “Roll off, Meme! Roll off!” Bless his three year old heart; he obeyed his mother and hung on for dear life! His father was too busy trying to tell me to grab him which was unattainable at that point. However, his brother at four years old knew the encouragement Mitch needed to hear. Amidst the shouting of his parents, Dan stood at the top of the hill and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Don’t worry, Meme! Jesus is with you!”
I consider that a paraphrase of Matthew 28:20, “And, surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” Somehow between his home life, Sunday school, and MOPS, Dan had hidden this message of hope in heart, and he was able to exclaim it to his little brother at the exact moment of need. Those words not only gave Mitchie the encouragement he needed, but Dan’s words gave me hope that even though I make mistakes as a mom, God is still working in the lives of my children. My prayer for Dan and Mitch is that they will always put their hope in God and share that hope with others.

Protecting the Body of Christ from the Sociopath Part 1

Identifying those with Antisocial Personality Disorders in the Church
By Tena DeGraaf

I write as the voice of experience. In my life, I have crossed paths with a couple of sociopaths, and I felt the call to inform and warn my brothers and sisters in Christ. My prayer is that you take these articles to heart and remember that while God is sovereign, He calls us to grow in wisdom.

What is an antisocial personality disorder? What are the characteristics of this disorder? It should be noted that the terms sociopath and psychopath are also interchangeable with antisocial personality disorder. We tend to assume that these are the people who commit the heinous crimes we hear about on the television, but those with antisocial personality disorders can hurt others in many ways that do not make it to the ten o’clock news. Dr. Robert D. Hare, in his book Without Conscience, defines psychopaths as “social predators who charm, manipulate, and ruthlessly plow their way through life, leaving a broad trail of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and empty wallets” (Bentley x). It is a person, who without a guilty conscience or remorse, suits his/her needs or wants at the expense (financial, emotional, relational, or physical) of others.
“According to the current bible of psychiatric labels, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV of the American Psychiatric Association, the clinical diagnosis of ‘antisocial personality disorder’ should be considered when an individual possesses at least three of the following seven characteristics: (1) failure to conform to social norms; (2) deceitfulness, manipulativeness; (3) impulsivity, failure to plan ahead; (4) irritability, aggressiveness; (5) reckless disregard for the safety of self or others; (6) consistent irresponsibility; (7) lack of remorse after having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another person. The presence in an individual of any three of these ‘symptoms’ taken together, is enough to make many psychiatrists suspect the disorder” (Stout 6).

With these criteria, Martha Stout, the author of The Sociopath Next Door states that sociopaths make up about 4% of the population. This means in a church of 100 people, at least FOUR of them could be people with an antisocial personality disorder. It is up to the leadership of each church to protect the remaining 96 people from the path of destruction that sociopaths leave when they encounter members. Should church leaders really be concerned about this type of person preying on their flock? Absolutely!! “Affinity groups-religious, political, or social groups in which all members share common values or beliefs-are particularly attractive to psychopaths because of the collective trust that members of these groups have in one another,” write Paul Babiak Ph.D., and Robert D. Hare, Ph.D. in their book, Snakes in Suits When Psychopaths Go to Work (90). Sociopaths prey on the trust abundantly given in church settings and Christian organizations. “They can talk a good line, and they can appear to be deeply caring. But in truth, sociopaths have no conscience and no real capacity for empathy or love. And because they’re wolves in sheep’s clothing, they can be very dangerous,” according to Eve A. Wood, M.D. in her book, The Gift of Betrayal How to Heal Your Life When Your World Explodes (30).

Although most of us do not have the training to diagnose anyone as a sociopath, there are some red flags to be aware of. If you know someone who has SEVERAL of the following destructive habits, proceed in the relationship with caution.

Beware of someone who:
• moves quickly into power and avoids normal procedures such as interviews
• uses flattery often
• pits people against each other as a “get ahead” strategy
• creates a toxic environment behind the scenes
• speaks the spiritual jargon but shows no other spiritual fruit
• can’t truly apologize for his/her mistakes
• shifts blame on the victim so that the victim walks away feeling he/she is at fault
• is incapable of displaying true, deep emotions such as feelings of empathy or sympathy
• mimics others’ emotions and emulates the learned behavior of the Christian leaders
• plants seeds of doubt about people in power
• embellishes his/her past accomplishments that sometimes can’t be traced
• has gaps in the resume that are not fully or clearly explained
• acquires power through the manipulation of those who are weaker than he/she is
• has the insatiable need to dominate others
• appears to always be busy but does not do any significant amount of work
• delegates the work to someone else and then takes the credit for it

Again, most of us do not have the psychological training to diagnose someone as a sociopath or having an antisocial personality disorder. However, that doesn’t mean that we should just stick our heads in the sand and pretend these types of people do not exist. They do exist, and they prey on the innocent and uninformed to create dissention and chaos. We have a responsibility to become informed and then use that information wisely to protect the body of Christ.

If you have come across someone you believe fits this profile, you should:
• inform the deacons, elders, leaders, or board of directors of this type of behavior
• encourage them to DOCUMENT ALL concerns and complaints
This way the leadership is tracking and connecting the dots and devastation of the sociopath or person with an antisocial personality disorder. Many sociopaths use the principle of Matthew 18 to their advantage, meaning they tells their victims that it would be gossip for the victims to discuss their issues regarding the sociopaths with others.

Jesus warns us of the persecution we will face in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” ESV. As adults, parents, leaders, teachers, and members of His Kingdom, it is imperative that we do our best to protect the sheep.

If you are looking for more information on this topic, here is a list of recommended informative books:
A Dance with the Devil by Barbara Bentley
Snakes in Suits When Psychopaths Go to Work by Paul Babiak Ph.D. and Robert D. Hare, Ph.D.
The Gift of Betrayal How to Heal Your Life When Your World Explodes by Eve A. Wood, M.D.
The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout
Without Conscience by Dr. Robert D. Hare

Protecting the Body of Christ from the Sociopath Part 2

Pressing on After an Encounter with a Sociopath
By Tena DeGraaf

If you have been aggrieved by someone who possesses some of these sociopathic characteristics mentioned in part one, here are some helpful suggestions to move on:
• acknowledge that anyone except God can be deceived (Genesis 27:35)
• be wise as serpents and read credible books on the subject

Fervently Pray for:
• wisdom and guidance for each step (Proverbs 3:21-23; Proverbs 3:6)
• protection for your family and church from any harm or evil (Psalm 64:2-3)
• clarity of thought (Isaiah 5:20)
• strength during and after the persecution (1 Peter 4:12-13; 1 Peter 1:6-7)
• endurance/hope (Romans 5:1-5)
• justice (Psalm 146:7, 9)
• your enemy (Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:28)
• discernment for your Christian organization’s leaders (1 Timothy 2:2)
• other victims (Colossians 1:11-14)

Other words of wisdom are:
• Be aware your views will not be understood by many or most people.
• Understand that this disconnect can lead to feelings of isolation.
• Ask God for guidance on whom to trust as you may need to unload on someone.
• Pray for a prayer partner or support group to help you move on.
• Immerse yourself in Scripture during and after an encounter to remind you of His omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence (Romans 8:31, Isaiah 42:13, Hebrews 13:5, John 16:33).
• Listen to praise music and hymns to remind you God is bigger that your persecutor.
• Give yourself time to heal. The deeper the wounds; the longer the healing process takes.
• Forgive your enemy so you don’t allow the sociopath to have control over your thought life (Ephesians 4:32; Mark 11:25; 1 John 2:10-11).
• Realize forgiveness is an ongoing process in which you may have to continue to forgive as different hurts, reminders, or thoughts wound you again and again.
• Take time to reprogram your thinking so as not to be gullible when the sociopath tries to convince you that his/her tall tale, exaggeration, embellishment, or lie is true.
• Remind yourself that many sociopaths are fluent liars.
• Realize God may have you offer hope, encouragement, and clarity for another victim (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
• Press on with the full life God has intended for you (Psalm 18:17, Psalm 118:24, Philippians 3:12, Proverbs 10:25).

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
Psalm 27:1

Truths About Us Part Two

Every wonder what the Bible says about us?
Here are ten more truths to ponder:
I am loved by God. John 3:16
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit. John 15:16
I am a personal witness of Christ. Acts 1:8
I know that all things work together for good. Romans 8:28
I am God’s temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16
I am united with the Lord, and I am one with him in spirit. 1 Corinthians 6:17
I have been bought with a price, and I belong to God. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7
I can find grace and mercy in times of need. Hebrews 4:16
I am born of God, and the evil one can’t harm me. 1 John 5:18