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Raw and Real with Maridel: In the Garden

July 15, 2020 in Learn, Raw and Real with Maridel
Raw and Real with Maridel

By Maridel Sandberg, TFG President/Executive Director

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The tears came easily as I looked at the weeds and the flowers in my garden.

It was a mess. I had waited too long to pull out the weeds, and now they were bigger than the flowers.

This is the perfect picture of the mess we all are in…we have waited too long. We’ve allowed the weeds of injustice, bitterness and strife to grow among the beautiful flowers of unity, community and friendship.

As a result, pain has been increasing in our world. There is so much pain right now. It’s not the time to fight. It’s time to take ownership of these weeds. Together we can pull these weeds. For such a time as this, we need to do this together.


I’ve been parenting children for 39 years. And I’ve spent 29 of those years parenting black children. Four courageous black women chose life and an adoption plan for their child. This choice has marked my life and theirs.

Being entrusted with someone else’s child is a title I do not take lightly. They call me Mom. What an honor.

My husband and I fiercely love our children.

Transracial adoption has defined us. God has done some amazing work in uniting our hearts to our children and theirs to ours. Our love is true. Our love is real.

I’ve spent years fighting for racial justice in our church and community. I’ve talked to school principals, school boards, Sunday School teachers. I’m “that white woman” fighting for her black babies. I have been misunderstood and judged countless times.

As white parents of black children, we are close witnesses to their suffering. Our black kids rarely received the benefit of the doubt. Our white kids did.

While the struggles have been real, the beauty is remarkable. Each of my children has grown through the struggle. I am so proud of who they are becoming.

Each has a unique voice. One bound by both cultures, black and white, blended into one family. I’m praying they will step courageously and confidently into their God-given place – for such a time as this.

As tensions continue to rise across our country, I watch and I pray as most parents do. My children are all mostly adults now. But still I worry, with extra caution and extra prayers.

Could we have done more to prepare them? Should we have fought harder? Are they really prepared to face this very difficult place in history?

In John 10:10, Jesus warns us about the evil that is in this world. He says that satan prowls around like a thief on-mission to steal, kill and destroy. This is the devil’s age-old scheme. It’s nothing new. And we are seeing this in our world today.

Yet in that very same verse, Jesus says He came so we “may have life and have it abundantly.” This is Jesus’ promise to us, regardless of our circumstances.

As I sit here in my garden, just days after murders and riots have taken over my city of Minneapolis, the weeds have grown so high they are on the verge of taking over. These weeds are causing us to miss the beauty of the flowers right in front of us.

Today, take an intentional look at what is around you. Ask the Lord for discernment.

Which is a flower and which is a weed? Can you tell at first glance? Or perhaps you need to study it before coming to a conclusion. Please be careful who you listen to. Please be careful what you read.

The best way to get to know the real flower is not to study all the other leaves but rather to study the flower – the truth – the real thing. Dig your foundation deep into the Word of God and spend time with Him.

As we spend time with Him, He rains down His healing presence. His wisdom. His peace. His counsel. To soften the soil of our hearts…to plant seeds of truth…to bring clarity, peace and the promise of abundant life fulfilled in His presence.

Would you join me in prayer? That the Holy Spirit of God will rain down on us and soften our hearts and minds? That we would recognize and pull up the deadly weeds of bitterness and unforgiveness rooted within ourselves? Until we can all behold the beauty of our Father God’s creative reflection of Himself – in us.

Together we will come out of this stronger and more unified than before. But it starts right now, right here in the gardens of our own hearts. If we will do the work, I’m confident the flowers will grow until there is no more room for weeds.

In the Garden

 

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Continuum of Care

July 9, 2020 in Learn

Written by Katie Brown, TFG Advocate


Together for Good exists to help mobilize the church to walk alongside families in crisis. Simply put, our goal is to provide support for families through building relationships.

On one hand, it’s extremely simple. And on the other hand, it’s a concept that many people don’t quite understand.

We’ve devoted entire staff meetings to trying to figure out the most concise way to explain what we do. And yet, no matter how we explain it, we still get the same question.

“So…you’re kind of like foster care?”

First, don’t fret if you’ve said that to us! We understand. We are trying to pave a new path, and foster care is a framework people know. 

But no, we aren’t foster care. We really want to keep kids out of foster care. And the moms we serve want to keep their kids out of foster care, too. 

However, if the only thing we say is, “We want to keep kids out of foster care,” it wrongly sounds like we only serve families who are on their way to foster care. 

While we do serve some families in that situation, most of the families we come alongside aren’t even close to entering the child welfare system. Most of the families we serve just need a little extra support.

So today, in keeping with our theme for the year – “Learn to do good” – let’s learn a term that some professionals who work with vulnerable children use: “continuum of care.”

Our friends at Faith To Action Initiative have put together this image to explain the concept.

Continuum of Care description

A very general understanding of the “continuum of care” will help you to understand Together for Good’s mission, as it’s one of the best frameworks we can use to describe what exactly we do. Although we aren’t foster care, we know many of you are familiar with that system, so let’s start by using foster care to very simply explain the continuum of care. 

First, imagine a road. It’s called “Continuum of Care Road.”
(It might look something like this…winding…confusing…with multiple switchbacks…it’s not an easy route.)

A child has been harmed and is now entering the foster care system – they’re now on a stretch of the Continuum of Care Road. 

Decisions made along the way are intersections that could mean a different turn along that road. 

The county where the family lives will first look to see if it is an option for the child to remain with the parents with some type of support. But they may determine that it is no longer safe for the child to be at home at all, so the county will then have to make plans for the interim, which would bring the child to the next intersection. 

Is there is extended family or kinship care available for the child? If so, the child can stay there. If not, the child goes to another intersection, where the county looks for foster families that would be a good fit to care for the child temporarily. 

There are court dates along the way, and at each one of these is another intersection where the situation is revisited. 

If reunification is not a possibility, the county then makes a permanency plan. However, professionals know the continuum of care starts much earlier than the day the child enters foster care. 

The continuum of care doesn’t start when a child is harmed. The road is much, much longer. This is where Together for Good comes in. 

Together for Good sits on the Continuum of Care Road, but we are sitting at intersections way before the foster care stretch. 

For most of the families we serve, we are many intersections back. For some of the families we serve, we are just a few intersections away. 

Our goal is to get a family onto a new path before they get to that intersection where a child is harmed. We want that child safe and to keep the family together. We are one of the first stops along the way, working on what experts call “family preservation.” 

Our mission to preserve the family doesn’t negate the need for the other stops on the road, but we do have a significant role to play.

We believe we can keep families from needing to go further down the road toward foster care!

If this is the first time you have heard or thought about this, you’re not alone. However, we believe God is teaching all of us something new. He’s teaching us that preserving the family, helping others, loving our neighbors is the answer to bringing healing to the hurting and broken in our communities. 

Organizations all over the world are beginning to work on family preservation strategies. 

Ministries that have been operating orphanages or group homes for years are now completely restructuring their ministries to focus on doing what they can to keep families together and serve families in need more holistically. 

It is often much less complex to step in to help stabilize a family early on than it is to wait until a mom is unable to provide for her child and keep them safe. 

Family preservation saves a family major long-lasting trauma. 

So what would it look like for people in the church to be ready to step in at the beginning of the Continuum of Care road? 

When an already vulnerable mom arrives at an intersection where she loses her job, she can have the option to make a positive choice to help keep her family stable. 

If a medical or mental health crisis pops up, her kids can stay with the friends she’s made through Together for Good instead of leaving them with strangers. Or if she’s struggling with addiction, she can now choose treatment with confidence and peace, knowing her kiddos will be well cared for. 

Being many stops back means a mom is empowered and supported.

It means children aren’t harmed.

It means the church is being refined and helping to alleviate her social isolation by doing the relational work they do best.

And with TFG, professional staff members will be there to help coach everyone through the crisis. 

Above all, it means a family is preserved by taking a gentle turn along the road toward true healing, stability and hope. 

This is the entire reason why Together for Good exists. 

 

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Unless otherwise indicated, all photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Resolve

January 6, 2020 in Other

When I was in my twenties, I loved setting New Year’s resolutions. The day after Christmas, I would walk through my house and decidedly throw away all the remains of peppermint candies, buy myself a bright outfit for a new kickboxing class that I would never actually attend, spend hours selecting a fresh planner, and dream about all of the ways that I was going to change myself. “Fresh new start and fresh chore chart” was my yearly January motto. 

I was just wasting my time. 

I am really, really good at the first part, the resolution-making. And I am equally good at resolution breaking. I am the queen of “I’ll start on Monday.” And then Monday comes, and the slightest thing can push me off course: waking up late, a sick kid, my grandma’s cousin’s anniversary, a rainy day, a beautiful day. And before I know it, 52 Mondays pass with only a few pages filled in on my planner, and the guilt of a year of wasted opportunities sets in. 

A few years ago, I started the same year-end routine. With a freshly sharpened pencil and a cup of hot tea, I sat down to think about the next year’s resolutions. But that year was different. I had nothing to write down. Ten minutes became two hours and I was coming up blank. Not because I had finally run that 10K or because I actually did become my hygienist’s model patient by flossing my teeth every single day. I couldn’t think of anything because over the course of that year, those things that I elevated so highly, those goals that I believed would be the measure of my success, just felt sort of…small. 

You see, that particular year we were walking through a really hard season. God had asked us to enter into brokenness in the foster care system. It felt like we were sitting in the front row of an under-construction roller coaster with no harnesses. I was tired deep in my soul. Of course, I didn’t meet even one of the prior year’s resolutions, because something was unfolding in our lives that required so much more from me than going to the gym every day. 

“Resolution” is the noun form of the verb “resolve.” One definition of resolve is to make a firm determination to do something. I didn’t have the energy at that point in my life to make a firm determination to do much. So after a few hours of trying to set some personal goals, I leaned my exhausted heart towards Jesus and asked him what He might want for my year. I waited quietly and expectantly before Him, still hoping for something to write down, but after a while, I finally closed my blank planner. But I closed it with peace. I felt like Jesus had lifted the weight of resolutions from my shoulders. He had reminded me that I was learning a different kind of resolve. Jesus’ resolve. 

Therefore, my dear brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the Lord’s work, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Cor 15:58 

Jesus came to this earth resolved—firmly determined—to love. Firmly determined to bring people to his Father. His steadfast, immovable resolve is for reconciliation and restoration. He was (and still is) firmly determined to get messy and to do the very hardest things. 

This year, Together for Good will get phone calls from desperate mothers who need a friend. We will hear from moms who have been fired from a job due to having to call in because of a sick kid. We will hear from women who are experiencing homelessness in a cold Minnesota winter and who just need to find a safe place for their little ones to sleep. We will hear from caseworkers who long to help their clients with whom they have been walking closely. We will get calls from women who can’t go to treatment because they have no one to watch their child. The need for Jesus’s hands and feet to enter into these situations is never-ending and is relentlessly pressing. 

What if this year, you made a goal that looks a little bit different? 

Jesus often wants us to work on things within ourselves – physical, mental, & emotional health are extremely important. We can’t serve well if we are drained. But what if we also lifted our eyes away from our planners and fixed them on Jesus, actively watching for ways to follow Him in His resolve to reconcile? Could you come up with a goal that might transform not only someone else’s family from the inside out, but your family as well? You could commit to helping keep vulnerable kids out of foster care by making space in your life to come alongside a mom who needs a friend because she is socially isolated. You could make a goal to go to a training or read a book to learn more about poverty or trauma, and the way that these things can impact our children’s schools or our communities. Maybe just talking to your spouse about hosting children feels scary. Maybe saying yes to hosting a child even one weekend a month is a huge step of faith. In 2020, could you resolve to take just one step towards helping families in crisis, whatever that step is, and trust that the Lord will lead you forward? 

These kinds of goals can’t be measured in a way that pounds on a scale can be measured. They don’t look like a freshly organized closet, and they maybe won’t feel as satisfying as finally having every single piece of paperwork in the correct file folder. There is no box to check or item to cross off a list. In fact, the outcome of resolving to follow Jesus into the messy work of sacrificial love is completely immeasurable. And these immeasurable goals have the most significant impact of all.

 Katie Brown, TFG Advocate 

First Hosting

October 18, 2019 in Other

In the months leading up to our first Together for Good hosting, I prepared myself in every possible way for the worst. I imagined impossible-to-manage behaviors. I imagined chaos. I imagined interrupted routines and unpredictability for our own children. I imagined myself—at my sleep-deprived WORST—awake at 3 a.m. with someone else’s hysterical child. I was mentally prepared for anything and everything bad to happen. What I wasn’t prepared for was for NOTHING bad to happen. I wasn’t prepared for a sweet, well-adjusted baby boy to warm up to our whole family quickly. I wasn’t prepared for our own children to share their home, their toys, the attention of their parents, with such natural grace and love. I wasn’t prepared for him to eat well, sleep well and be so crazy easy-to-love.

The weekend wasn’t perfect. There were some hiccups (I mean, I DO have a two-year-old ). BUT…there was so much more good than bad. There was more easy than hard. There was more joy than pain. God is good and He is leading the mission of this amazing work. He will equip our family (and yours) for this work, and He will give us what we can handle each time we say “yes” to love a family who is stuck in a difficult place. As with everything in life, the trick will be to keep Him at the heart of it. To prayerfully consider each “opportunity for good”; to pray to be unselfish with our time, our resources, our homes, and our family. To be prepared for a little messiness but to also expect that, with it, HE can surprise us with so much good!

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