Tag Archives: Learning to listen

finish well.

Yesterday I had a heart-to-heart with one of my favorite 3rd graders who had just thrown a backpack at a woman holding a baby carrier.  In her defense, she just has really poor aim, but I felt it was something I should probably address anyway.  I walked away from the conversation feeling like she had a pretty good grasp of the situation, and that I had made it clear that throwing things isn’t the best idea.

I’m not sure when I’ll start consciously remembering how wrong I often am about these things.

This afternoon, I turned around to see the same kid throwing a cup full of something (cereal? peanut butter? It remains unclear.) at the wall of the snack area, allegedly trying to hit the garbage can but instead coming within centimeters of hitting another child.

When confronted, she looked at me with this stare that clearly conveyed that she was sure I was the crazy one, that throwing the cup was actually completely normal behavior.  We then had the exact same conversation we’d had the day before, with the exception of a more immediate consequence–she was treated to a lesson in sweeping and taking care of the Club (which, come to think of it, she really should have paid me for…it was a great lesson.).

Yet, instead of doing the easy thing by spending five minutes sweeping up the mess that she herself had made, she decided instead to tell me how unfair the situation was and how she, in fact, wasn’t going to help at all because it wasn’t her responsibility, someone else is paid to clean up those kinds of messes.

And I thought, oh good. I’m being taught a lesson right now.  I need to pay attention.

Because as much as I hate to admit it, I totally understood where she was coming from.  I would MUCH rather let someone else clean up the messes that I’ve left behind.  In the moment, it is significantly easier to begin something and walk away, to leave it for someone else to fix and deal with.  The important part of that statement is, of course, in the moment.  I don’t think I’ve ever looked back at a scenario that I left intentionally terrible and thought, “wow, I’m so proud of how I didn’t finish that, of how I had the worst attitude ever while walking away.”

Finishing well is important.

Whether that means revisiting a situation or conversation that there’s still hope for or following through wholeheartedly with a project that we aren’t super excited about anymore, seeing things through to the end is an important skill to have.

Think about it:  If we only tried to perform to the best of our abilities in things that we absolutely one hundred percent were excited about, a lot of things would get left undone.  And who would do all of the other things that we deemed unimportant or unnecessary?

At some point in time, we need to start living life with the realization that we have a responsibility to uphold–those messes that we’re leaving for other people?  They’re ours, and we need to either not make the mess in the first place (a largely unrealistic expectation) or be willing to pick up a broom and get work done.

 

 


faithfulness.

The admission I’m about to make is not for the purpose of trying to gain either your affirmation or your sympathy (really).  It is just something that needs to be written because I think I can often come across as overly confident when I’m talking/writing about what I do at the Mission.

And so, I think it needs to be noted that there are times when I don’t think I’m very good at my job.  For those of you reading for the first time, I should probably explain that I work at a homeless shelter.  Because I work long hours, and because I have the unique privilege of living on-site, I spend a lot of time here.  And because not all of the women who come in have people in their lives to give them solid Godly advice, they often use me as a sounding board for their problems and ideas.

The thing is, though, that a lot of the things that they face on a day-to-day basis are things I have yet to encounter.

For example, I’ve never been married.  I’ve never had a boyfriend who cheats on me or spends all of my money on his drug habit.  I get along–for the most part–with my parents, and I know that I’d always have a place to go back to if things didn’t work out the way I thought they would.

I haven’t ever known what it is like to be hungry because there is just no food to be had and I have nearly always had a bed to sleep in (the exception is on mission trips, where sleeping on cement floors is an adventure).

Because of that, I have to try harder to understand how people at the Mission think.  It’s not easy for me to always recognize the instinct that most of them have in them that causes them to be a little unsure, a little brusque, not always willing to automatically let me into what they’re thinking because they’re afraid of being looked over or looked past again.

I have this sometimes overwhelming desire to try to fix everyone and everything, even though I know there’s no way I can.  I’ve mentioned that before, but I think it’s worth writing again because, despite the fact that I know better, it is still easy for me to get swept up in the unrealistic notion of measuring success in terms of results.

When I can’t immediately find the right words to say to someone, or when I get so tired of having the same conversations with the same people over and over, frustration takes over.  The results aren’t what I want, and so I feel like I’m failing.  Hence my earlier admission of often feeling like I’m not very good at my job.

And so, I’ve had to remind myself that I need to shift my thinking.  I want to share this with you because I think it’s a reminder that we all need:  If we are following the Lord and desiring to do things His way, then success cannot be measured by standards that we make up ourselves.  Neither can it be measured by standards set before us by other people.

For at least two straight years, one of my favorite people in the world beat it into my head that true success has to be measured by faithfulness.  She’s a wise woman, that one.

Success measured by faithfulness is such a freeing concept, when you think about it.  To be faithful means to press ahead in what God has called you to, even when you want to give up day after day after day.  It means sitting and listening even when you know you aren’t going to have a solution to whatever problem is being presented, and trusting that the Holy Spirit will let you know what, if anything, needs to be said.  It means that, if you’re earnestly desiring to serve Christ and to show his love and grace to the people around you, the concept of “being good” at something takes on an entirely new and different meaning.

Is being faithful easy?  No.  Definitely not.  But it is absolutely worth it.


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.


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!