“The Shack” Answers Why Bad Things Happen

Even people, who don’t believe in God, often blame Him when they experience tragedy and loss. Many beg God for answers during extremely difficult circumstances, like heartbreak and catastrophes. During these times both believers and non-believers question, if God is real, why does He cause bad things to happen to good people? If God is so powerful, why doesn’t He stop it from happening? If God loves me, he wouldn’t have taken my child away.

This is the situation in which we find Mack Phillips, husband and father of three, in the recent movie, The Shack. He’s begging God for answers to life circumstances he can’t comprehend nor believe.

The Camping Trip. During a camping trip with his three children, Kate, Josh and Missy, Mack experiences a crisis with one child that leads to a tragedy with another child while his wife, Nan, remains at home.

The Crisis. Mack and his three kids arrive at a beautiful lake and set up camp. Kate and Josh canoe on the lake while Missy colors at a campsite table. When Mack hears a scream and sees the canoe capsized, he runs to rescue his son from underneath the canoe. Mack is beyond relieved when he resuscitates his son. It seems that everyone camping nearby is watching the incident. A predator uses this opportunity to kidnap Missy.

Where’s Missy? When Mack, Kate and Josh return from this near tragedy, they can’t find Missy. After learning she’s not with friends, forest rangers and police start searching for her. Not long into the movie, we discover other girls just like Missy have been murdered. Upon finding Missy’s bloody clothes in the shack, it is assumed Missy has been tragically killed.

The Invitation Arrives. This event triggers Mack’s decline into depression. By winter time Mack is suicidal and challenging his faith in God. Why God? Why did my Missy have to die? He asks questions that seemingly won’t be answered. That’s when Mack receives an unmarked letter in his mailbox from “Papa” to join Him at the shack. Papa is Nan’s name for God.

At the shack, Mack meets the triune God: Papa who is God, Jesus, and Sarayu, the Holy Spirit. Many Christians get stuck at this point because God is portrayed as a black woman. Interestingly enough, many non-believers seem to hear the movie’s messages loud and clear.

God’s Character. God cares deeply for each person. He often says, “I’m especially fond of you.” God’s love is never ending and unconditional. He knows the future. He longs to reconcile with every person. He offers forgiveness and shows us how to forgive others. We can choose to forgive even those who’ve forced unthinkable pain upon us. He offers hope. And He answers Mack’s troubling questions, but not how he expects.

Why? Because of sin and mankind’s choices, evil in the world happens. God does not cause it, but God allows tragedy to happen. God explains that He is always with us and can bring “incredible good out of unspeakable tragedies.”

I highly recommend The Shack for anyone who’s ever experienced pain and suffering and asked difficult questions about life. This movie offers love, forgiveness and hope. And who can’t use these in the midst of life’s trials and tragedies?

P.S. The original 2007 book, The Shack, is even better than the movie and tells the entire story.

  • The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity by William Paul Young, Windblown Media, 2007.
  • The Shack Study Guide: Healing for Your Journey Through Loss, Trauma, and Pain by William Paul Young and Brad Robison, Windblown Media, 2016.

Image Source: The Shack [theshack.movie]

Fabulous New Restorative Practices Resource

Every few months I scour the internet for newly published restorative practices in schools books and resources. Don’t Suspend Me! An Alternative Discipline Toolkit is more of a resource than a book. You’ll want this resource for you school site.

Book Review. Here’s the review I submitted on Amazon Books. “I shared this book with a restorative practices staff team at a local high school [Davis High School Site Team] a few weeks ago. I have colored post it notes on countless pages. As the book was passed around the group of about 8, more and more positive comments were made. The lead added the book to her ‘purchase’ list.”

Features. “The Discipline Belief Self-Inventory and scoring guide in chapter 2 is excellent. The second part of the book features case studies. But it is part 3 that it truly magnificent. It includes alternative discipline for 13 behaviors. Each behavior incident includes suggestions for alternatives and identifies each one as restorative, instructional, or reflective. These ideas are well done and creative.”

Ready to Use. “But it is the full page strategies, assignments, questions, and charts that are so easy to use and ready to copy for those who purchase the book. When working with busy educators trying something new, this book is ideal and simple to use. Thanks for writing such a practical resource.”

Purchase this Resource. This is a “book” every restorative practices school site team should purchase. Authors Jessica Djabrayan Hannigan and John E. Hannigan. Corwin: A Sage Publication, 2017. Available at Amazon Books in paperback for $27.95 or Kindle Edition for $26.55. Since over half the book features pages to copy for book owners, I suggest the paperback.

Yard Duty and Campus Supervisors Serve on Campus’ Front Lines

The men and women whose job title is, “Yard Duty” or “Campus Supervisor,” don’t get near the recognition they deserve. Yard duty are on the “front lines” of our elementary schools while campus supervisors are on the “front lines” of junior and senior high schools.

If you want to know what’s happening at your local school site, they know. They know because they spend time with students while they’re not in classes. This includes time before school, passing periods, recesses, lunches, and after school. They are amongst different groups of students most of the day.

Changes. During the summer 2015, Modesto City Schools changed work hours and the number of yard duty at many sites. I have the privilege of working with many of the employees in these roles at 16 school sites. Yard duty and campus supervisors have a huge sphere of influence. It’s the reason so many restorative practices training hours are invested in them.

Why do they do this kind of work? A large number of them wanted to work, but also wanted to be around their own children. At last week’s training, one site had four of six yard duty who began working when their children started elementary school. Their children are now attending junior and senior high schools, but they’re still there. Why? They enjoy working with students and making a difference in their lives.

At Work. I wish you could see yard duty and campus supervisors interact with our young people. Last December, my husband had that opportunity. Our granddaughter, Khloe, was having tubes in her ears so our grandson, Parker, stayed with us. Papa took him to school in the morning. He asks, “Parker, where do I drop you off?”

“Just drive by the front and I get out,” he explains. Papa drives his car through the parking lot. A yard duty approaches the car and opens Parker’s door.

“Hi Parker. How are you? Where’s Khloe today?” she asks.

Nurturing School Climate. My husband was so impressed that she knew each of our grandchildren and called them by name. I was too. But I shouldn’t have been. Greeting each student by name is recommended as part of a positive and nurturing school climate – helping each student feel welcome and cared for at school.

Next time you see a yard duty or campus supervisor, I’m sure they’d appreciate a few kind words. After all, they have a significant impact on our students every day.


Image source: TK3401_and_TK3501D [commons.wikimedia.org]

Slackers or Doing Our Best?

I set my alarm Saturday night for church tomorrow. My husband, Rick, has a Youth for Christ event, so he won’t be around to give me prompts to keep me on task while getting ready.

The alarm goes off and I’m up. I turn the shower on. But I don’t get in it . . . yet. The longer I’m awake, the more off task I get. In the midst of “getting ready,” I put laundry in the dryer and start another load. I hang dry a number of items. I take photos of Mindy, our geriatric cat lying outside looking cute. I walk to the kitchen to put the receipts in the monthly 2017 envelope. You get the idea.

Periodically I ask myself, what am I supposed to be doing? Sometimes I remember – get ready. I often chastise myself for not doing what I need to do. But another question follows, “Are you doing the best you can?”

Am I a Slacker? No matter how many times I ask myself this question, my answer is never, “You’re such a slacker.” It is always the same answer, “Yes, I’m doing the best I can.” With that clarified, I try to carry on.

Lies. But today I recognize this voice. It is Satan and his lies. I think, Yes, I will be late. Being late is better than not going at all. I continue to get ready amidst other random tasks.

Ninety-five minutes after the alarm goes off, I’m finally ready to leave for church. I just have to find my keys . . . get my Bible . . . and choose a coat. I’ll arrive even later. As an adult, I can be hard on myself, are you?

College Acceptance. Are you as hard on your children as you are on yourself? What are your academic expectations for your children? Do you expect straight A’s? Are you pushing your children or teens towards university acceptance at Harvard, Stanford and USC?

“I’m good at _____.” Until about second grade, children typically believe they can do anything and everything. Around second grade children begin to notice that other children may be better at something, like reading, spelling, or soccer. On the other hand, they also begin to identify what they’re good in. For example, my second grade grandson says, “I’m really good in math.” And he’s right. He is. What are your children’s strengths?

Challenges. What do your children struggle with? What is difficult for them and discouraging? Growing up, I always struggled with math. I was told that if I didn’t learn my times tables by the time sixth grade started, I’d stay in 5th grade. My mother made me flashcards (no, we didn’t have the dollar store then to buy flashcards) and I practiced every day. I moved on to sixth grade. However, I had to take basic math my freshman year because I was still so far behind. I went in every morning before school to get help.

Guidance. So how can you encourage your children in areas of struggle? When I earned a C in math, it represented the “best” I could do. My dad dropped me off early at my high school for tutoring. My mom monitored my homework, met with teachers, and made flash cards. They focused more on what I did well, like English, Social Studies, and Home Economics courses. What will work for your children?

Results. I focus the best I can on getting ready for church. I’m pretty late, but no one announces my late arrival from the pulpit or says anything at all. I just join in and praise God that I’d made it there. Your children can make it too with your guidance and encouragement.


Image Sources:

  • alarm [www.goodfreephotos.com]
  • late! [commons.wikimedia.org]
  • Operations [en.wikipedia.org]
  • I believe in you [www.speedofcreativity.org]

Shoving Stops Using Restorative Practices Questions

A certificated staff from El Vista shared her story using RP questions. “One boy shoved another into a girl, knocking her over. So I met with both boys. I asked Student A what happened. He told what he did. Student B agreed with his recounting of the event.

I asked Student A what he was thinking when he shoved Students B. He said, ‘I was just fooling around.’

Student B said what he needed to be made whole. He said, ‘An apology would be nice and a promise not to do it again.’

Student A apologized and agreed he wouldn’t push the other again.”

It may not always work out this simple, but often it does.

I’m wondering what happened to the girl who was knocked over. In this situation, the teacher could include all three children in the RP questions.

Have you used Restorative Practices Questions this week?


Story from Year 1 Training, Day 3, October 21, 2016.

Restorative Practices Questions cards can be ordered http://store.iirp.edu/restorative-questions-cards-pack-of-100/ 100 cards for $10.00. RP Questions poster is $8.00. Accessed 1/19/2017.

God’s Unexpected Open Door

One day in August 2013, my husband, Rick, came home from work and said, “A Modesto City School’s (MCS) director called today. They want Youth for Christ Central Valley to train their staff on the school-to-prison pipeline and restorative justice (RJ). You and Marty are perfect. Can you meet with them?”

VORP. My colleague, Marty Villa, is a veteran staff counselor with over 40 years with Youth for Christ. One of his roles is work with the Victim Offender Reconciliation Program (VORP). Upon discussion, he has no idea what MCS wants us to train on for schools. RJ is usually associated with the courts.

Dissertation. I’m just as clueless. My background in Restorative Justice stems from my dissertation on trying juveniles as adults. I learned that the best way to keep juveniles from being tried as adults is if they never go to court in the first place.

When a first time juvenile offender commits a non-violent crime, instead of sending the offender to juvenile hall, a court officer works with both the offender and the victim. The juvenile is held accountable to restore or make right the harm done to the victim(s).

Meeting with Administrators. Marty and I meet with two District Office administrators to find out more. One administrator explains, “We’ve implemented the Federal zero tolerance policies. But what schools districts all over the U.S. are finding is the unintentional results of these policies.”

He continues, “When we suspend students, they spend time at home, often unsupervised. They often get into more trouble with other unsupervised students. When the students return to school the negative behaviors continue because most punishment doesn’t change behavior. Before long, the students’ behavior escalates which results in further suspensions.”

School-to-Prison Pipeline. The other administrator adds, “This repetitive cycle results in what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline. The more school students miss, the further behind they get, often resulting in dropping out of school, getting into trouble with the law, resulting in incarceration. What kind of training can you provide to fix this?”

“Let me summarize,” I say. “You want us to fix the escalating number of suspensions and keep kids in school so they can graduate?” No small order, I think to myself.

Students of Color. “That’s about it. We forgot to mention racial disproportionality. That basically means that the District suspends more students of color at a higher rate than white students. We need to address that too.”

The District will assign us five schools with the highest suspension rates. They want us to offer trainings over time so staff can assimilate new knowledge and apply what they’re learning with students. They also request training that is highly practical and interactive.

Creating Curriculum. Lucky for the District, Youth for Christ, and me, creating curriculum is my favorite part of teaching. Having developed over 25 high school and college courses, this is the perfect assignment for me. I can work from home at my own pace. I’ll research the topic, and then create a training program using multi-modalities that meets their needs.

But it isn’t luck. It’s God’s unexpected open door. This is my third year on disability and I’m thankful and blessed with the opportunity to use some of my favorite skills. Marty and I leave the meeting with lots of ideas and countless possibilities.

Hope Appears. But something else happens as I leave the meeting. I’m filled with new found hope. It appears that God is going to use my talents and time for something I never even knew existed: Restorative Practices in Schools.

Graphic source: academicsurplus.com

Colorado RJ Coordinator Hosts California RP Trainer

I was thrilled when I found out I was going to spend a week in Denver with my husband in late January. He’d be involved with the Youth for Christ National Office. I knew immediately I could visit some schools and districts that are further along in implementing restorative practices (RP) than we are in Central California. I’d heard about two schools I wanted to visit. One school was able to accommodate my request.

Meet RJ Coordinator. Anna Bicknase [see photo] was a classroom teacher for 13 years until she created the position of Restorative Justice (RJ) Coordinator. She spent almost four hours with me on Tuesday, January 31, 2017. She introduced me to many other staff that are committed to restorative justice. Even their two campus police officers deal with students in a restorative manner.

Hinkley H.S., Aurora, CO. But RJ didn’t happen overnight. In 2006, a small group of teachers at Hinkley H.S. [see photo] like Ms. Bicknase (a.k.a. the peace princess) sought a better system to discipline students. In the former punitive system, there was a lack of respect, no relationships, blame and shame.

Culture of Care. A number of employees became passionate about changing their school. The Denver Foundation provided initial training on the school-to-prison pipeline for staff, teachers, and students. Dr. Tom Cavanagh from Colorado State University has done extensive training on creating a culture of care, restorative justice, healing the harm, accountability, reintegration, and caring.

Food Bank & School Supplies. A community partnership developed with Food Bank of the Rockies. A storage room was cleared and is now filled with items their students and families may need. Although the food truck comes weekly, one wall is entirely filled with food. The opposite wall is filled with school supplies, like binder paper, folders, index cards, glue sticks, etc. that students may need. Added to that are clothes, prom dresses, and coats. Several students access these resources daily.

Fast Forward to 2017. This is Ms. Bicknase’s first year as the Restorative Justice Coordinator for Hinkley H.S. Much of what they’ve accomplished is because administration is 100% behind making Hinkley H.S. restorative as are about 75% of the teachers. Applying for grants over the years has helped them accomplish goals over time. I hope to see a similar RESTORATIVE word mural [see photo] in the hallways of schools I work alongside.

Concern Circle in Art Class. Shortly after my arrival, I observed a circle of concern that Ms. Bicknase led. When we arrived at the art class, thirty students were assembled on chairs and stools arranged in a circle ready to begin. The students in the class previously completed pop art depicting the norms (or expectations) for their class.

Circle Prompts. Typically the teacher leads the circle, but in this case, the teacher wanted to participate in the circle. Some students are not listening when she speaks and are disrespectful of classmates who want to learn.

On each round, students had prompts to answer honestly. The first prompt was, “What do you like about this class?” Each student answers, and then passes the talking piece to the next student. Another round provided the opportunity for students to state what needs to happen in their classroom to make the norms happen.

Circle Results. By the end of the forty-minute circle, each student stated a specific behavior he/she will change to make the learning environment more effective. Two senior girls shared about friends who are currently at risk for graduating because they’re missing units, even elective units. Their advice left classmates with comments to ponder about their own goals and graduation.

Student Involvement. Many of the school’s accomplishments include the students themselves. Hinkley High School’s mission statement was created by students.

“Students demonstrate positive character and will be academically and socially prepared to successfully participate in our community and the ever-changing world.”

ASB students and peer mediators are an integral part of restorative justice implementation. Students created the RJ poster that is located in every classroom [see photo].

I appreciate how much I learned that I can share with the 16 school sites I work with in Modesto City Schools. Thank you Anna and all those I met, for sharing your valuable journey and lessons learned. I hope someday one of our sites can host a guest wanting to learn more about RP.


Stanford Doctor Persists, “What do you want to do?”

The medical model that focuses on what I can’t do as far as symptoms, asks me to decide what I want to do. Three November blogs lay the foundation for this continued story. “Art Therapy Depicts Values Poster;” “Can Do Versus Can’t Do;” and “Medical Leave Ends in Permanent Disability.”

Over the next few weeks I compile some coherent thoughts.

The next time my Stanford doctor asks what I want to do, I have some answers. “I could do some research. Maybe I could teach a class somewhere. Or I could do some more speaking for MOPS. Or write some articles. I’d like to develop curriculum for a new child development college degree. Or . . .” And so my unrealistic list drones on.

But my doctor doesn’t like my list. Week after week, she persists, “But what do you want to do?”

I guess she wants me to be more specific. For example, I’d like to get a job as a ____ and ____. But I can’t.

  • First, I keep being reminded that I’m unable to return to work.
  • Second, I don’t have the cognitive skills to function very well even in daily living.
  • And finally, if I ever was well enough, there are many possibilities. I could be an author, speaker, educator, researcher, or advocate. Actually, any combination of these might work. Why limit my nonsensical dreams?

I continue my weekly jaunt to Stanford during my third year on disability and not working. I’m able to begin some new activities. I help weekly in Parker & Khloe’s preschool classes. I begin bike riding to improve my brain. I enroll in a quilt class & make Parker a quilt. I attend Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. And I join the Stanislaus Child Development Local Child Care Planning Council that meets monthly.

One day Rick comes home from work and says, “A Modesto City School’s director called today. They want Youth for Christ to train their staff on the school-to-prison pipeline and restorative justice (RJ). You and Marty will be perfect. Can you meet with them?”

Marty Villa, the Director of Family Concern Counseling and I schedule a meeting with the District representative. After years of floundering, this unanticipated meeting launches a new focus and passion in me.

Graphic source: commons.wikimedia.org

Restorative Practices & Resolving Conflict: Affective Statements

It’s a new year. This is a perfect time to try a new restorative response. Here’s how a Modesto City School teacher at Shackelford used the simplest form of restorative practices.

“When two students had an ongoing issue at recess, we started to resolve the problem using I messages. Although the behavior did not change right away, the students began using I messages on their own. The conflict was not resolved right away, but it was a step in the right direction.”

— By Cohort 2 Site Team Member, Year 3, November 7, 2016

“I” messages provide the foundation of affective statements. This Tier 1 response is the most informal restorative response and can be used with all students. Affective statements are the easiest and most useful tool for building restorative classrooms and relationships.

Simply begin with an “I” statement and provide additional clarification with a feeling and a behavior. It is a personal statement made in response to someone else’s positive or negative behavior. It tells students how their behavior affects you or others.

Below are two examples of common situations and possible affective responses.

Situation #1: Students are rough housing in the hallway

Affective Response: “I want everyone to feel safe here and I can see that what you’re doing is making some of the other kids nervous.”

Situation #2: A student calls another student a name

Affective Response: “That hurt my feelings and it wasn’t even directed at me. I’m wondering how what you just said fits in with the school’s commitment to respect.”

How can you use an affective restorative response today?



  1. The Restorative Practices Handbook: for Teachers, Disciplinarians and Administrators, Bob Costello, John Wachtel, & Ted Wachtel, International Institute for Restorative Practices, 2009.
  2. Ed White Middle School Restorative Discipline Handbook. www.utexas.edu/research/cswr/rji/pdf/Handbook.docx. Accessed 9/11/2015.
  3. Graphic: Cartoon Speech Bubble Clip Art [ux.stockexchange.com]

Outdated Paper and Pencil Track Record Bike Mileage

At the end of my ride on the Dry Creek Bike Trail in Modesto, I have a friendly conversation with a dad and two boys getting ready to ride.

“Do you keep track of your miles?” the dad asks.

“Oh yeah.”

He inquires, “What do you use?”

“Paper and a pencil,” I respond.

He looks at me as if he’s never heard of these ancient items.

“What do you use?”


Yes, I know there are many other more technical methods, like Strava, Map My Ride, Garmin, and apps for iphones. Some riders calculate their annual mileage using the basics for free on the bikejournal.com.

Three years later, I still use the same method. Where else can I note, “Way to go girl!!!” “Finished 40 mile Blossom Trail Ride!! Woo hoo!” “Two minutes faster.” “Stopped at Cold Stone for chocolate lava meltdown.” “Fed ducks today.” “Took photos at pumpkin patch.” Yes, the paper and pencil method works fine for me.

Chocolate Lava Meltdown @ Cold Stone

Periodically I tear off pages from my 5” x 7” spiral bound notepad and enter the data into my Excel spread sheet titled Bike Ride Log. I’m actually not the only one to use this method. I discovered a number of riders on roadbikereview.com who also use Excel.

I enter the date, day of week, location or route, mileage, average MPH, maximum speed, ride time, and notes. The notes column helps me remember milestones and special times on my rides. Or not so special times, “April 5, 2016 Bike Accident. Truck backed up on me.”

With the New Year, I finish entering my data from October through December. Not a huge number of entries to make. For the first time, I add the total annual mileage I rode in 2016. I was so surprised that my total was 608 miles.

Curious, I did likewise for 2013, 2014, and 2015. With the increase in miles, I wondered how many times I rode my bike each year. So I added them as well. I made a table so I could see my progress.

Year 2013 2014 2015 2016
# of Rides 42 46 62 82
Annual Mileage 428 331 510 608

I’m pretty proud of my miles and that I’m riding my bike more often. I appreciate each of you who encourage me in my riding endeavors, ride with me on SCBC (Stanislaus County Bike Club) rides, and those I meet along the way.

Today’s paper and pencil entry: Jan. 14, 2017, Sat.; MJC bike routes; 11.5 mi; 9.6 ave.; 14.6 max. 41-43 degrees. Feet cold. Chocolate lava meltdown @ Cold Stone.