Show your heart, crows feet, age spots and scars
Yesterday was the Monday we all love. The day off that falls after the Christmas and New Year’s days off. It always feels to me like a gift, as if the timing of the date knows we all got spoiled rotten in the holidays, school out, time at home, cold outside, just lounging days after Christmas.
A day off from work in January is a sweet grace period before we really step up our game for the new and resolute year!
Of course, yesterday, an observance of a powerful leader who spoke of peace and rest, not strife and unrest made it even more appropriate that we “pause” in January on a day off from work.
However, at 8:30 ish, I get a text saying ” I need you.”
The nonprofit agency I oversee operates a homeless shelter for single mothers and their children. We embrace our families and facilitate lasting change for them.
Our mission. Pretty effective words, right?
Outcomes based and inputs focused…all the language of grantors, corporate or otherwise. I have a reputation of doing my absolute best to do what I say. Employees know this foundational truth about me.
And I do try.
Our approach is to help women acknowledge their role in homelessness along with the bad hand life may have dealt them. Staff ( I am blessed) who have just the right combination of empathy and structure spend at a minimum of an hour a week, just talking about challenges, setting attainable goals.
Still, just as we all come with our scars, many of the women have deep, deep scars resulting in a closed off and protective approach.
Scars, no matter how scabbed over can be ugly.
Trauma has a way of hardening, hiding and disguising hearts. That way, they can’t be broken again.
Yesterday, I sat with a mama who had decided she was not going to talk to us anymore. She was going to bide her time and avoid a certain key staff member. Something had been said and even though the staff member apologized profusely, she was not going to budge.
Unfortunately, because Nurture Home requires meetings with staff, this refusal, going on a couple of weeks now, would not be tolerated.
I would need to tell her she and her children were being discharged.
Arriving at the shelter, tension filled and unpleasant, I first talked with the children and mama’s. All were situated in the den, braiding daughter’s hair, little girls braiding their baby dolls hair. One mama working on a job application while her son played a game. I simply said in front of the children, “I know there has been some yelling and some people have been angry…that is not good.”
I spoke, to the boys and girls, homeless and afraid, and told them that I knew they needed a calm house to live in, so I’m going to do my best for our house to stay that way.
Children who experience trauma, unrest, instability are keenly aware of the dynamics, the mood, the possible violence in their home. They are skilled at trying to determine what’s next, how to stay safe.
I know. I was one of those children.
So, I promised them that we want them to be happy and not worry while they are living in our shelter.
The 7 yr. Old raised her hand and said, “I have something to say, I’m happy, because I have a home. Nurture Home is my home.”
And then, she asked if I could braid her doll’s hair.
Still, the angry mama was not budging. Her heels were dug in and she refused to talk with staff. She and three children, one who sat next to me, head resting against my chest, would be leaving.
So, we gathered for our “one on one”. We talked about what the staff member had done that she would not forgive. The decision had been made, she and her children will leave at the end of week.
I told her that I didn’t want her to leave without talking things through with the staff member before leaving.
Because, I said, I know what you are doing. If you are angry and if you stay angry and leave, you don’t have to trust again.
You don’t have to take the chance of being disappointed by another person you thought cared.
And then, I did the thing that’s taboo in my work.
Self-disclosure…”don’t let your clients see your insecurities…they’ll use it against you, you’ll lose your power.”
I disagree. If my struggle is not used for good…it’s stays just that, my struggle, my pain, my scar.
I asked her to look at me and I said. “If you leave Nurture Home because you are afraid to trust, we have failed you. I see what you’re doing. We all have ways of protecting our hearts. My childhood taught me to stay in the background, not cause problems, never challenge anyone who mistreated me. I stayed safe that way along time”, I told her.
“That’s not safe. That’s trapped. The victory is in being vulnerable and courageous at the same time, not tolerating bad, but being open to good”.
She cried. I held her. She cried again. I told her, ” I don’t want to discharge you.” “I don’t want to leave.” She said through tears.
Where is it safe to share your heart?