Sunday, October 28, 2012

Trick-or-Treating at a Sex Offender's House

On Halloween night last year, we made a horrifying discovery after we came home and put the boys to bed. We went trick-or-treating at a sex offender's house.

I know. I was horrified too.

While we were walking up and down the blocks near our house, I vaguely remembered that a few years prior I had been on the Megan's Law website and saw that a sex offender lived in our neighborhood (a block over), but could not remember where exactly.  I told my husband, "I'm sure his lights will be off. After all, it's illegal for them to hand out candy on Halloween."


After we put the boys to bed, I looked up the Megan's Law website.  I typed in the zip code and saw the red dot dangerously close to our house.  The photo came up of the man, and I called my husband in the room. We looked at each other with wide eyes - it was him.

There was a certain house we went to, and I walked our older son up to the door. The man seemed nice, but I had a creepy feeling. He looked at my son, smiled, and gave him some candy, and we left.  But it was him.

For awhile I really freaked out. I felt like a horrible parent.  I had trouble getting to sleep, knowing that I had just put my son in the worst situation possible - the presence of a registered sex offender; one who had committed "lewd and laviscious acts with a child under age 14."

I had to really pray that night for peace.

The next morning I called a friend and told her how I was feeling, and she reassured me.  "We are around people like that all the time and we don't even know it."  It's true.  We don't know the strangers who live in our neighborhoods, who we come into contact with on the streets, in grocery stores, at gas stations.  It's a scary world we live in.

I called the police and spoke to a detective in the sex crimes division. "Unless he is on probation or parole," she said, "there is nothing we can do. He is allowed to hand out candy." She looked him up for me.  "He is not on probation or parole, so he is really no different from any other neighbor out there.  Except that people who have committed crimes like this often do repeat them, so it is wise to be aware and check out the website regularly. Even your kid's friends houses - if they want to go play, look the address up.  You can also write your local congressman and ask for the laws to be changed.  I'm sorry there is nothing we can do."

I felt helpless. Seriously, nothing they can do?  We don't know how long ago his crime was. Statistics vary on how often sex offenders repeat - but most studies show it is a rate between 50-90%.

Does that mean that we should lock our doors and keep our kids inside at all times?  That's not our plan. We are very vigilant about watching our kids and being careful who they are around.  When they are outside playing, we keep a very close on on them at all times (thankfully they are not in view of this convicted sex offender and he does not know where we live).  Yet no matter how hard we try to protect our kids, there will always be bad people in the world.

What is the solution?  We do our best to protect our children, and we trust God with their lives. We educate ourselves, and we do our research.  It is just a shame that the law doesn't protect people more from people with this horrible behavior.

This time, we know better.

I would highly encourage you to check the Megan's Law website before you go out trick-or-treating.  Be aware of who your neighbors are, and learn from our mistake.  And always go trick-or-treating with your kids.

This is one mistake we hope to never make again!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween Decisions

There are a few houses on our block that are decorated for Halloween, and ours was not one of them - until last Saturday. While I was inside the house, the neighbor kids descended upon our front yard and decided that our house needed to be decorated too. Unbeknownst to me, 5 neighbor kids (as well as my own), started bringing their leftover decorations to my front yard and they went to town.  I heard laughter and fun, and just assumed that they were playing as usual. When I went to check on them, I found our entire front yard and porch thoroughly decorated for Halloween, with spider webs slung everywhere, fake spiders hanging, and even Halloween stickers all over our front bannister.  I did not have the heart to stop them.  Micah ran inside and pulled out ALL of our craft supplies, and every child sprawled out on our front sidewalk and started cutting and coloring pictures of bats, spider-webs, and even vampires. 

At that point, I saw three options in front of me:

Option 1 - I could sit them all down in a circle and start to explain the perils of Halloween, and tell them all why we don't celebrate that holiday (well, we don't "celebrate" it, but we do go trick-or-treating, which some would say is celebrating, but we don't say that). Yes, I could have taken that moment to evangelize these 5, 6, and 7 year olds and tell them why we are different.

Option 2 - I could continue to let the kids decorate our house, accepting the fact that memories were being made and the kids were having a blast, and then tear down the decorations later.

Option 3- the same as Option 2, but I could leave the decorations up.

I chose Option 3.  I know it is not the decision many of my friends would have made.  I know it is a bit confusing to some that the "pastor's house" is decorated for Halloween.  And I know that some would feel that I made the wrong decision.  But I feel that this decision not only created a fun day for all of these kids, but it is creating conversations as well.  I honestly feel like the kids would have been hurt and confused if I would have torn down the decorations that they had worked so hard on.  Right now I am more concerned with their hearts than their actions (actions that weren't bad anyway, but would be interpreted that way if I tore everything down).

So what's the big deal anyway?  Well, to some this isn't a big deal at all. But to others, this is a huge deal because we could be seen as supporting Halloween and celebrating it.  Only we're not doing that.  I admit, I too am confused by the houses that have gory decorations and then throw a big cross on their front yard at Christmas-time.  So, I never wanted to confuse anyone. We do not glorify evil, and we do not celebrate Halloween. But we do accept that day as a normal event in our culture that can be turned into something good.

When I was growing up and my dad was a pastor, I remember going to church and watching videos about the history of Halloween and the reason we should not partake in any of its festivities. But I also have memories of dressing up as Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pippy Longstocking, and more, and going to Harvest Parties and even trick-or-treating. Those are some of my very favorite memories growing up.  Do I feel like participating in that way somehow affected me spiritually and caused me to not be as close to God? No, not at all.  Actually, those were alternatives that allowed me to have fun, stay safe, and be with my friends.

So, this year you will find us out trick-or-treating with our kids, and you will find us with our light on, passing out candy. Not because of what the holiday meant in the past, but because of what it means for us as a family today.  We can still be a light in the darkness, and we want our home to be a welcoming place to everyone, at anytime, especially if they're walking up to our door!  What a great opportunity to meet our neighbors and have fun. 

That is why we do participate in Halloween. However, I realize that many of my friends may make an entirely different choice, and I understand why and respect that. But please don't demonize (no pun intended) those of us who do choose to turn our light on and open our doors to trick-or-treaters, or even go out and mingle with them.  Even if there is no motive to evangelize, but just simply to have fun, I think that is okay too- but that is just my personal opinion. What I do not feel good about is other believers who make us feel badly for our choice, because of a personal choice they have made.  It reminds me of the whole public school debate (those who say we should not put our children in public school because we are indoctrinating them with worldly beliefs and exposing them to certain things).  I don't subscribe to that logic either.

God has called us to be the light of the world, not hide the light inside of houses, or turn the light off when things get uncomfortable (and pretend we're not home).  Just my two cents. 

So, if you're out trick-or-treating this year, we'll leave the light on for you.  We're the house with all the spider webs, pictures in the window, and stickers on the bannister.  And we might even have a pumpkin carved with a big cross in it :)

Friday, October 19, 2012

Loneliness in Motherhood (MomTalk)

I am so excited about this new video-blog series that is starting.  I decided to call it "Mom Talk" (original, huh?) ;)  and deal with some of the questions and comments that I hear often after speaking to mothers.

In this short clip, I respond to the question "What was the hardest thing for you to deal with when you became a stay at home mom?"  One of the top answers I receive to this question is "Loneliness."

Take a look at this video and let me know what you think. I would love to hear your recommendations for the issue of loneliness in motherhood as well.  Also, if you have a question you would like answered in this series, please leave a comment.

Thanks for "tuning in"!!! :)

Loneliness in Motherhood from Jaimie Bowman on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Everyone Has a Story

One of the speakers we heard from at the Re:Write Conference was a man named Peter Strople ("the most connected man in America").  I will be honest, before the conference I did not know who this man was. When he walked up to the registration table where I was working, I was immediately struck by his gentle tone and eyes.  He has a way making people feel like a friend right away.

During his seminar, he spoke about how each person we meet has a story.  He turned towards the cameraman and asked him to come on stage.  Now, I had seen the cameraman working behind the scenes and noticed his "rocker" type look (he really did look famous, but I thought he was just a "cool dude" cameraman with his black hair and black clothes).  The cameraman joined Peter onstage and he was introduced as Marc.  It turned out that Marc was a guitarist for the group Slash and has played before millions of people.  Marc is also a committed follower of Jesus Christ, and soft-spokenly told us of his love for his family and how he has loved getting to share Jesus with people he meets after his shows.

Peter's interview with Marc was powerful, because it reminded each of us that everyone around us is important. No, everyone may not be a famous guitar player, but they have amazing stories nonetheless. Peter taught me to stop, listen, and learn from the people around me.  He also taught humility and genuineness from example; it poured out from who he was.  When you meet Peter, he looks you in the eye, calls you by name, and remembers you. Who does that?!  :)

That seminar really impacted me, because I was reminded to notice the people I pass by on a regular basis.  I am now remembering that they have a story, and that I should stop and listen to them. 

-Like the mom at my son's school who I passed by every day. She was friendly, and we would say hi, but that was about it. Then I found out that she was going to have brain surgery because she had a tumor the size of a softball growing inside of her brain. If they couldn't get it out right, they might have to saw her jaw in half to get access to it through the front.  Suddenly she wasn't just "that kid's mom" - she was someone I cared about. I couldn't stop thinking about her, and so I started to pray for her.  (Her surgery went well and she is recovering). She had a story.

-I thought about the woman I met in my son's preschool class.  I sat next to her during the Mother's Day tea.  We made eye contact and said hello, but that was it.  It turned out that she was an author and speaker who was making an amazing impact all over the world. We went out to coffee, and she encouraged me to step out in new ways that I was afraid of.  If it wasn't for her, I would have never gone to the Re:Write Conference.  She had a story. 

-I thought about a woman in my church who I sat by every week, who would kindly ask how I was.  We chit-chatted, but it was nothing big.  Then one day she told me her story. We became friends.  And then I held her hand as she passed away from cancer earlier this year.  She had a story.

Peter reminded me to stop and notice those around me, because just listening to their story can make a huge impact in their lives. It can make a huge impact on OUR lives.  So, who is around you? Who are you just passing by on a daily basis?  Whose story do you need to hear?  Stop and listen. Everyone has a story.

(Want to hear more? Read Julianna's incredible story here).

Apple Picking

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to go camping with our church family.  About 40 of us went and pitched our tents in a gorgeous campground-park only about 10 minutes from Oak Glen. If you have never been to Oak Glen, it is an apple farm community with cute stores, apple picking, an1800's schoolhouse, parks, and a colonial village with re-enactments.  SO much fun! 

We only got to stay 1 night since Martin had to be back for church on Sunday, but we packed a lot in.  It is always nice to camp with other families since the kids have friends to play with, and I think we had a total of about 10 kids that played from sun-up to sun-down.

Here is the gorgeous view from our tent:

On the second day, a few families (including us), drove to Oak Glen and went apple picking and raspberry picking together.  I got a few shots before my camera broke, and I was only able to retrieve these photos due to a file recovery program :(

We are so thankful to be a part of such a great church family, who not only prays together but plays together! :)  The kids from church also go to my kids' school, so we see them all week long. This was a huge answer to prayer for me, as we went for a few years with our kids being the only ones their age in Sunday School. AND they all live close by too!  God has blessed us and we are so thankful.