Category Archives: Encounters

the club.

I realized that I’ve never written here about my current job. And I figure, hey, 14 months in isn’t too late.

When I decided to move north two winters ago, I had no idea what I was going to be getting myself into.  I practiced talking myself up for interviews, bought a new cardigan (I seize any and all opportunities to do that…my last roommate and I once figured out that we had upwards of 25 between us…but I digress), and started looking for jobs that involved working with a lot of people.

After realizing that the “social service” field wasn’t as ripe with opportunities as I had once hoped, I broadened my scope and ended up as the coordinator of a Teen Center at a Boys & Girls Club. Essentially, I traded spending time with homeless women and children for hanging out with low-income at-risk teenagers (this is how they have been defined to me. I generally define them as “outrageous”, ambiguous as that may be).

I still have a hard time explaining what exactly it is that I do, and all that this position entails.  Sometimes it’s as crazy as simultaneously running two mentoring programs while teaching a class on financial literacy or planning a 12-hour overnight event.  Other times it’s teaching teens how to play board games so I can beat them…I mean…teach them good sportsmanship…

It’s interesting how my time at the Mission prepared me for my time at the Club.  I have attempted to cultivate just the right amount of genuine care and seemingly lackadaisical demeanor that inadvertently tricks people into trusting me.  The techniques I used with former addicts who preferred arguing to listening are the same ones I use for 14-year-old’s who would rather play Minecraft than learn about leadership and community service.

Though I would hope it goes without saying, Jesus is just as present here as he was there.  I can still tell when I am spending too much time relying on my own strength to get through each day, because programs tend to fall apart and I find myself becoming annoyed by the most ridiculous things.  It’s also those times that I tend to focus on the transitional nature of this job–I know that I’m not going to be there for very much longer, and it’s easy for me to get caught up in that, to think only of the future instead of being present in the here and now.

This all goes back to the idea of waiting that I’ve been mulling over–this truth that regardless of the season we are in, we are in some way being prepared for things to come.  And we have to hold onto that, lest we go crazy always wanting to be somewhere else.  For example, I know that this season has already taught me much about what Jesus is actually calling me into.  While I was sure for so long that it was specifically ministering to those who find themselves homeless, I am realizing more and more that what I get most excited about is the equipping and sending out of all people.  When I was at the Mission, I found the most joy in the situations that resulted in learning; whether the person in question all of a sudden realized a bit more about their true worth or they realized what  small steps they needed to start taking, it is those things that I still think about.

And even now, I get to be a part of equipping and sending out:  I have daily conversations with teens that result in the reshaping of their concepts of respect or tolerance or gratitude, and then I get to watch them go and live that out with each other and with their families.  Instead of working directly with every demographic of people that I want to, I am learning to center myself in one and then send them out to the rest.  Funny that it took me so long to figure this out, because it’s the model Jesus himself used, when he first spent time with his disciples and then sent them out to do the work that he couldn’t be directly present for (Matthew 28:16-20).  Please note that I am in no way trying to equate myself with Jesus; rather, I’m just reiterating the fact that this idea of Jesus-replicating discipleship is straight from the Bible.

Anyway, let’s set that aside for another time.  If you made it to the end of this somewhat rambly post, I applaud you.  And I leave you with these snippets of what my days at the Club are sometimes like:

The other day I was at a park that’s essentially in the backyard of the Club and a 6-year-old wandered away from her group because she wanted to be with the teens.  I asked her to please go back with the other kids, and she let me know, very matter-of-factly, that she was going to bite herself to death if I made her go back.

There’s another kid who, upon learning that we had temporarily banned glitter from the Club, brought her own from home and proceeded to “share the love” by spreading it across every single surface she could before someone finally stopped her.

And then there are my teens.  At least once every other week, they tell the story of how, on one of our drives from their school back to the Club, I ran over a curb with the van.  In their retelling, they maintain that I nearly killed all of them, neglecting to mention the fact that I was actually avoiding being hit by a car.  They also remind me often of my singleness and that they’re sure I’m going to live alone with multiple cats if ever I reach adulthood (their words, not mine).

At least they’re keeping me grounded.

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you are safe here.

One of the things that is becoming more and more evident to me all the time is that the Lord works in mysterious ways to teach people important lessons.

Most recently I realized this through a crazy ball of energy disguised as a 4-year-old boy.  This kid wants to know about everyone and everything, and it is very apparent that he’s been raised in an environment that has attempted to suppress his curiosity.  After witnessing one of our interactions, his mom told me she could tell I didn’t have kids because I was so patient with her son.

One night at dinner, he and I were talking about something when he stopped mid-sentence, stood up on his chair, and asked me point-blank, “Do you love your job?”

I was taken aback, but I said yes, to which he responded with a nod and a sort of self-satisfied smirk as if he had already known how I was going to respond.

Later, he continued his interrogation with such questions as,  What color is your hair?, Am I eating a sucker?, What’s your name again?, and so on.

Before I could get overwhelmed, his mom looked up from her phone and said, “Don’t worry about responding to all of those.  He only asks questions that he already knows the answers to.”

Interesting.

Yesterday I was headed into my apartment when I learned that a woman had left a note on my desk.  This woman is one that I’ve mentioned before, the one with the sometimes-crazy hair and the questions about tax fraud (I still don’t know the answers).

The note, in part, said this:  “Now that Jessica has this note in her possession Please ask that they Please forward my reduced fare i.d. to the proper authorities due to the inability to have my own living environment stepped on by those that deem themselves qualified to yell and scream to people…Don’t go to the back!  Fair warning–Fare is fare.”

I’ve now read that note at least half a dozen times, and I still don’t understand what she’s asking me to do, but I recognize that she trusted me with something that she sees as valuable .

During this season of Lent, I have been spending time each day (or, more accurately, attempting to spend time each day) reading and meditating on the Psalms.  One thing that stood out to me immediately was the fact that the word “refuge” is used over and over.  It’s mentioned 19  times just in the first forty Psalms.  The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, no one who takes refuge in Him will be condemned, blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him, and so on.

It feels as though I am constantly praying that Jesus would make my heart more like his, though the specifics of that are changing regularly based on circumstances.  These past few weeks, this has meant that I’ve been more specifically praying that, through my actions, people would see that the Lord is a refuge–a safe place, that people can trust Him and trust His followers.

It is not always easy for me to give off good first impressions (those of you who know me are probably not shocked by that admission), and so I have just been praying and asking God to change that, to change a fundamental part of me, knowing that it won’t be easy but that the end results will benefit every person who I encounter.

And honestly, I’ve been discouraged.  But this week, the Lord used a 4-year-old and a woman with schizophrenia to show me that He is, in fact, slowly (and oftentimes painfully) changing me,  and that He is refining me into someone transparent and trustworthy.

I am telling you this, in part, because I think sometimes it is easy to become frustrated when our prayers aren’t answered right away, or when we try so hard to change but it doesn’t seem as though anything is happening.  In those times, know that God is working, just not always in the ways you most expect or hope for.


just listen.

Some of you may remember from an earlier post that a woman once threatened to call the President and tell him about me.  I have yet to hear from him, but she has been back here several times since then, including this morning.

At around 10, my office phone rang.  I answered with my best professional voice, and the guy on the other end said, “Jessica?  I need to see you for a minute over in the Hub.”

This was concerning for several reasons.  One, I rarely get called to the Hub (Basically the main entryway.  Everyone has to pass through there to get to anything else) on Sundays.  Two, he didn’t tell me why I was needed, which usually means it’s kind of an emergency.

For some reason, it is generally the case that the amount of information I’m given is inversely proportional (I’m using that term for the sole purpose of making my father, a math teacher, proud) to the seriousness of any given situation.  I get all the details when someone just needs a bathroom unlocked, but if there was a person waving a machete around, I’d probably just get a “hey, come here” call.

Hence, my alarm.

I hesitantly made my way over, having no idea what I was about to walk into.  I was directed to the front entryway, where a woman (The woman previously mentioned.) had seized control of an entire picnic table and was yelling and swearing at anyone who went near her.  At this point in time, I felt as though every single person in the area stopped what they were doing to turn and look at me.  Like they wanted to know what I was going to do about the unfolding drama.

What I wanted to do was turn around and go back to my office.  That didn’t seem like the best idea, however, so I decided to take a more direct approach.  I have found that, when about to enter into a confrontation, it is best to appear as though I’ve stumbled upon it by accident.  So I walked past her.

After a couple steps, I turned around as though I had finally realized who I had just walked by, and feigned surprise that she was there.  “Oh, hey!  Haven’t seen you in awhile, how are you doing?”

She bought it.  She was so taken aback, in fact, that she stopped ranting momentarily.  Just long enough for us to lose our audience (praise the Lord).  Now I was stuck, and I had no idea how to even begin to respond to her now rapidly cycling moods.  One minute she was weeping, mourning the loss of a child and her “only love”, and the next she was laughing to herself and twisting her mouth into a kind of smile.  It was obvious that she was on drugs, and she just seemed so so broken.

I knew I couldn’t just leave, but I had no idea what to say.  So I didn’t say anything.

Mother Teresa once said, “Before you speak, it is necessary for you to listen, for God speaks in the silence of the heart.”

And that’s what I did.  I stood there and listened to her.  I listened to her tell me that she didn’t want me to kick her off the property, that she knew she had messed up, that she had nothing left, that all she had wanted was to be loved.  She talked herself into a frenzy, and then just as quickly talked herself out of it;  the whole time I just stood there, silently praying for her, asking Jesus to speak clarity to this girl who had been forced to grow up way too quickly.

After a little bit, she was quiet.  She just looked at me like, why are you still here listening to me?  And in that one look, I realized that she had somehow been convinced that she was not worth someone else’s time.  She had bought into the lie that nobody loved her, that nobody cared enough about her to listen or even just look her in the eye.

I learned something invaluable today:  I can’t fix everyone.  There are no magic words that I can say to keep people from hurting.  Sometimes the most essential thing is just to show people that they are worthy of being listened to, that what they have to say is important.


hmm.

I don’t think I will ever get tired of hanging out with the people at the Mission.  I’m putting that in writing so that one day, when I’ve grown out of my everything-is-great phase, I can look back and remember what it was like to be young and naïve.

Seriously though, they are just so funny.  I am continually caught off guard by the refreshing honesty that they bring to my life, calling me out when I’m clearly not paying attention or challenging me to think harder about things.  They are definitely not all honest all the time, but that just brings a sense of excitement (again with the whole naïve thing, I know) and puts my gift of discernment to the test (who knew spiritual gifts are actually useful for day-to-day life?  I’m kidding, I totally knew that…).

I have also become somewhat of a “person to vent to”, a role that, oddly enough, I find myself playing most places I end up.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a good listener or because I have the ability to give quick and concise feedback, but whatever the case…it appears to be a task that I’m stuck with.  I say “stuck with”, but I actually really enjoy listening to the things other people think about.  And they think about a lot.  Which seems like a redundant statement, but I always feel the need to explain that the people that I work with and for and among are just as “normal” as you or I.

Though it’s possible that the next few paragraphs will now seemingly discredit the statement I’ve just made…

We have a routine here that includes a nightly breathalyzer for everyone staying here.  I like to think of it as a complimentary breath check. Like, “Based on our findings, we’re going to recommend that you try this peppermint mouthwash before ever going out in public.” I recognize that I’m probably alone in my thinking.

Anyway, during this special time, I often have to walk through a room full of men to get to my destination.  These men are not afraid to tell me what they are thinking. Sometimes it is hilarious, as in the case of the gentleman who wanted to sing Purple Rain (yeah Prince!) to me.  Sometimes it is bizarre, like the man who started singing She’s a Lady (complete with the “whoa whoa whoa” part) as I was walking by him.

Side note: I’m realizing as I type this how often people sing to me.  The two instances I’ve just mentioned are in no way isolated events.

And, sometimes my encounters are awkward, such as the man who calls me by name (or, more often, a shortened version of my name with a tone of voice that tells me he thinks he made up the nickname) and asks me how I’ve been spending my time because he hasn’t seen me in awhile.  As though it is my fault that my current job description doesn’t include trying to be wherever he is.  To be clear, I’d be creeped out if that was, in fact, in my job description.

Please don’t fear for my life. I almost always feel safe. And when I don’t, I just remember that God’s in control and He, at times, clearly has a different sense of humor than I do.


pure joy.

The other night in 125, kids started coming in about 10 minutes early…not uncommon.  Upon entering, the first girl started yelling, “I love chapel! Chapel is my favorite thing here! It’s the only thing I love!”  This was followed by a long pause, and then, quieter: “Oh, I also love my mom.”

Good thing she has her priorities straight…

We gave the kids goldfish (the crackers. we’re crazy, but not that crazy) and they proceeded to put them in little piles on their carpet squares. Probably not the most sanitary place to put them, but who am I to judge, right…?  We currently have a 2-year-old staying with us, and he was not a fan of his own goldfish.  He looked disdainfully at his pile, and then walked around to everyone else and took a fish from all of them.  When any of them tried to stop him, he gave them this sideways glance, like “who are you to tell me that I can’t have this?”  That shut them down pretty quick.

These kids are hilarious. Some days I just want to write down everything that they do so that I can look back at it later when I’m feeling frustrated by their parents.

We teach mostly out of the Jesus Storybook Bible, because it is, in a word, fantastic. I really can’t say enough good things about it.  If you have kids, go buy it and read it to them.  If you don’t have kids, go buy it and read it to yourself.  Or someone else.

The reason that I chose this particular page for you to look at is, admittedly, because it was one that I could find online.  But it also encompasses a lot of what I want my kids (I’ve come to refer to every child who comes through the doors of 125 as mine) to know. I want them to know that they are lovely because God loves them, that they are God’s children, and that they are invited into a relationship with Him that is way better than anything they could ever have here on earth.

Sometimes we get to hang out with these kids for weeks, and sometimes we have them for only a day or two, but in that time I want it drilled into their little heads that they are LOVED.  Sometimes that means covering a table with shaving cream and letting them smear it everywhere (and I do mean everywhere. this was another didn’t-really-think-it-through moment).  Other times, it’s consoling a sobbing 17-month-old with some serious separation anxiety while helping a 5-year-old out of her coat and telling two other kids how much I love the pictures they’re drawing.

It is usually at those moments that it hits me:  this is what Jesus does for us.  He delights in seeing us laugh and love and play and just enjoy life.  And he does a way better job of it than I ever could.  He doesn’t grow weary of cleaning up messes and telling us again (and again!) that the things we have created are beautiful.  He will gladly pick us up when we are just so tired and wanting to go home.  He genuinely enjoys our company all of the time, and he is never too busy to listen.  Oh, that I could be a little more like that.


cool, thanks.

When thinking about planning for 125 (see previous entries if you don’t know what that is), I try to combine creativity and interactiveness (I think I might have just made that word up) with Bible lessons that the kids will remember for at least a day after we teach them. So, awhile ago, when we talked about Joseph being in prison, we cut out/colored paper bars to put on the window. This was hilarious to me until the next day when a 6-year-old told her mom that it was because, “all we did was learn about what it’s like to be in jail.” Clearly that was not as good of an idea as I originally thought…

People are funny.

Whenever a new person/family checks in, I try to assess how their stay here is going to be.  After almost 6 months, I am still only occasionally really good at this.  One of those times was last week, when a woman and her enormous fur coat  showed up at midnight.  When the policeman dropping her off described her as being “preachy”, that didn’t register in my half-asleep brain.  But within seconds of meeting her, I knew I was in for a real treat.  She began telling me all about how she was pregnant with twins because she was “the chosen one” and how she wouldn’t be able to sleep in a room near other women because they would try to steal “him” away from her.

Based on other things she said, I’m pretty sure she was talking about Jesus, but I didn’t know how to reasonably explain to her that Jesus is shareable (again, a word I possibly just invented).  She tried to convince me to let her sleep in the office beneath the Christmas tree because “He would like that. He loves Christmas, and trees.  Everything I say can be backed up by Scripture.”  At this point, I figured I could either ask her to show me where in the Bible it says that, or just give her a blanket and explain that I’d be unable to accommodate her wishes.  I chose the latter, at which point she said, “You’re lucky I don’t have my flaming sword right now.”

I’m not sure it was luck I was feeling at that moment…but I do know that I was real careful not to have my back to her from that point on.

A few days later, a woman staying here told me repeatedly that I’m “the nicest skinny person” she’s ever met.  I am never quite sure how to respond to comments like that, so I usually just laugh nervously and thank them questioningly (thanks…?).

But I mean, between that and not being hacked into bits by fiery weapons, I’d say I had a pretty darn good week.


love it.

I love my job.

And while I do often have to say that out loud to remind myself (sometimes every 5 minutes…), it’s true.  It’s almost as though God knew what He was doing when He put me here…hmm.  I’ll have to keep thinking about that one.

Seriously, though, I get to build relationships with people all day, every day.  Yeah, some of those people are crazy, but that just serves to make my job even better at times.  And by better, I mean unpredictable.

There is a woman who comes to the Mission often.  Not to check in or anything, but just to hang out.  And by hang out, I mean yell.  More recently, she’s been unable to make the trek for whatever reason, so she has resorted to yelling at us over the phone.  The topics range from her apartment flooding every time it rains (I solved this by reading her the weather report.  We didn’t have rain in the forecast for weeks.) to people following her to whether or not drug tests are actually pregnancy tests (they’re not, in case you were wondering).  Sometimes she hangs up on us because she doesn’t like our answer, and then calls right back…maybe she thinks we’ll have changed our mind in that short time, I’m not sure.

We have found that we can predict her level of rationality by looking at her hair.  As strange as that sounds, it’s been found to be pretty darn accurate.  Her hair is neat and pulled back?  Good to go.  She’s wearing a hat that looks like she found it on the street right before she walked in?  Danger!  That means get ready to spend a good hour listening and nodding at what are hopefully appropriate times.  The conversation could go any which way, and chances are high that everyone involved will be incredibly confused at the end.

But here’s the thing.  As much as I joke about trying to get off the phone with her as fast as possible (My current record is under 4 minutes. She asked me about tax fraud, a subject which I legitimately know almost nothing about.), part of me understands what she’s about.  Because really, don’t we all just want to be listened to and validated?  The answer is yes, in case you’re unsure.  There is something in us that aches for the approval of other people, and this woman is just much more forthright about it than the average (and mentally stable) person.

Thus, I remind myself-again-that this is why I’m here.  I wanted to work with people who, among other things, just want to be listened to.  So whether it’s listening to an angry rant about corporate America or a rambling narrative about various bus stops, I’m ready.  And in the meantime, I’m getting the best hands-on lesson in patience ever!