Little Guy

Yesterday E. and I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood with Baby E and get some ice cream.  While sitting outside at one of the patio tables a little guy darted past us, kind of acknowledged E, and went into the store.  E called after him to come back and say hi “for real.” “In a minuuuute” was the response.  “Who is that?” I asked. “That is a kid that comes by the church a lot, he’s in second grade and causes all sorts of problems,” E responded.

Soon, Little Guy came out, leaned against the stroller and started to talk away.  In the middle of his thoughts he told us he was hungry because he hadn’t gotten lunch that day.  When we asked where his family was he said they had gone to do some things and had left him.  We asked him where the friends he normally hangs out with were and he said, a bit dejectedly, “they’re all with their moms.”

As I sat there listening to Little Guy I thought about how he had been left to handle himself, to walk around the neighborhood on his own, and how he was hungry.  He even knew something wasn’t quite right by the way he told us that all of his friends were “with their moms” and his mom had gone to do something without him.  For being the tough, trouble making kid headed for the street there was still such a small little boy in him wanting to be taken care of.

“Let’s go get you lunch,” E said.  On the way to a nearby restaurant Little Guy chatted and asked questions – who could run fast, how tall we thought he would grow, and what was faster – a turtle or a snail.  While E bought Little Guy lunch I stayed outside with Baby E so we didn’t have to navigate the small restaurant with a stroller, Little Guy sat in the booth at the window while E ordered.  As I rocked the stroller back and forth, I looked up to the window.  Little Guy was sitting on a stool, his chin propped on his hand just staring at me.  When we made eye contact he gave me a big grin.  Soon after E came out and we were on our way, leaving Little Guy to enjoy his lunch with instructions to head home after.  As we left, Little Guy gave a big wave to both of us.

Often it is easy to see the guys on the corners in our neighborhood, or the images of them in the news and picture just the tough gang banger.  What struck me yesterday was Little Guy’s initial description from E – tough, causing lots of issues, headed for the streets. Then, while talking with him we saw the little boy in him just wanting to be listened to and taken care of.  It got me thinking what the older guys in the neighborhood were like when they were younger, when they were second graders.

city neighborhood

 

This morning E received a text from a probation officer asking if he knew that one of the youth committed murder.  The text was short, blunt, and to the point.  At first E wasn’t sure who the text was referring to or even the case, who was murdered?  When was this person, mentioned in the text, picked up on the murder charges?  As the conversation unfolded, E looked up the story.  He and I quickly lost our previously cheerful mood.  We looked through the pictures and stories of the youth who was killed aching for him as well as for the one being held for murder that both of their lives were cut short over essentially nothing more than a quest for respect and territory.

 

I wondered where both of their moms were, if they were also grieving the loss of their boys.  The truth is, it’s hard to be on either side of the story, hard to lose anyone to gang violence, especially so when they are young and have so much ahead of them.  Hard also to know the one who killed, to hear the title “murderer” placed on him, and see his name in the news.  It is hard to reconcile that identity with the glimmers of another one that would sometimes shine through past the tough gangbanger shell.

 

Looking through and processing all of this is enough to make anyone ready to stop – to stop living in this neighborhood, to stop mentoring, to stop having hope for the youth that we interact with.

 

I left for work after that, my heart heavy for the situation and for E knowing that starting the day with news like that sets you at the bottom of a very steep hill.  As I shut the back door, two verses came to mind, two verses from very different books in the Bible, different contexts, and given to different people.  For the moment though, I felt God whisper it was okay to let the two combine and to hear the truth spoken through them.  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be frightened or discouraged.  For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go…The Lord your God is with you.  He is mighty to save.”  Joshua 1:9 and Zephaniah 3:17.  My God is with me and E., He is with the families in this neighborhood, with the young men on the street corners, the young girls running around without much of a home to go to.  This God is the One who will bring light and reconciliation to situations otherwise dark and hopeless.  This God is the root of E.’s and my strength and courage, to keep walking forward and sharing the truth that He is mighty to save.

 

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A list for you with some favorites around the web I’ve come across:

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a quick thanksgiving list.

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving! E and I hosted about 10 of our mentees & their friends at our house yesterday.  The day was full of E and me making many of the day’s dishes, a full house in the evening, rounds of Taboo, and lots of laughter.  Truly things to be thankful for.  To close this holiday week I wanted to leave you with a list of a few things I’ve been especially thankful:

  • The little one that is growing inside of me and the excitement that comes with his/her arrival.
  • Celebrating 1 year of marriage with E last month – I am so thankful for this man, this past year with him has been so much fun as we’ve started building a life together.
  • Getting to see friends and family in far away places this past year – a new niece was the occasion to travel to PA, a friend getting married meant going back to NE for a weekend, and other smallish road trips made for an exciting year of travel.
  • Our home and the many people who have filled it this last year.
  • Close friends to laugh, cry, share life with…and play scrabble with.
  • The girls I have been able to mentor and watch grow over the past four years, and the new girls I have met this year and have gotten to hang out with and mentor.  Such a privilege it is to be allowed into their lives.
  • My family and the people who are in it.  Those who’ve known me my entire life and those I’ve known their entire life.  The strength in some of these people have taught and inspired me.
  • Our neighborhood and all the people in it.
  • My piano & its current home…and those that house it. :)
  • Friends at work, the potlucks we’ve had together, and other treats shared.
  • A job – one that helps pay the bills and provides health insurance for E, myself, and the little bambino
  • A working oven/stove – cooking is my therapy and the way I put my science degree to use.  Any recipe is conquerable after doing organic chem lab!
  • All of you who read this blog.  I started this as a way to document the stories I learn from those around me and have been delighted to see so many of you read and take an interest in what’s going on.
  • Hope for all that lies ahead.
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cookiesTo celebrate the month of November and giving thanks I am hoping to do a series of posts on what I’m thankful for.  To start this, I wanted to share a story with you all:

Wednesday, I came home to our apartment full of young men baking cookies, ten of them to be exact.  E and a couple of other mentors from the program decided to have group at our place that afternoon and teach the guys how to make chocolate chip cookies.

Having our house full of youth from the neighborhood is one of E’s and my favorite things. Since we married  and started our home, one thing we both wanted to happen was have our place be a comfortable, welcoming space for the youth we interacted with.

With this vision in mind, it was great to be able to come home and find guys filling our apartment.  Some were in the kitchen mixing cookie dough or scooping the leftover dough into Ziploc bags to take home and bake themselves.  Other guys were sprawled out in our living room, playing PlayStation and listening to music.

Hanging out in the kitchen with everyone was hilarious.  When one too many eggs was dropped into the bowl, flour was tossed are the guilty.  Soon after, the conversation turned to tattoos that hadn’t quite worked out and we were all laughing.

Baking is almost like magic, you put a lot of things into a bowl, mix it up, and scoop the sticky, small cookie dough balls onto a sheet, and put it in the oven.  A little while later, out comes a much bigger, flatter item that is a cookie.  I loved watching the guys’ reactions as sheets of cookies were pulled out of the oven and exclamation made over how different they looked.

It is this baking magic that especially captivated one young man. One of the mentors pulled E and myself aside to tell us when the first group was baking their cookies, this guy was so amazed at the dough changing he sat down on the floor in the front of the oven and didn’t move.  He kept staring at them, even as the rest of the guys moved out onto the back porch or to the living room to play video games.  At one point in the process, he turned and looked at this mentor and said, “They’re transforming right before my eyes! They’re turning into cookies!!”

I am thankful for cookies, and I am especially thankful for transformations particularly the unexpected ones.  I am thankful for laughter, a full apartment, and the privilege it is to be able to host such wonderful guests in our home.

photo credit.

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Thank you all for your kind words in response to my last post. The last two weeks have been hard, full of sorrow, anger, of questions, and wondering how deep this hole in my stomach goes.

The day after K’s funeral, a storm came up from what seemed like nowhere swallowing the city in black clouds, strong winds, and sheets of rain. The afternoon, which previously had been sunny and clear, turned dark and tumultuous. E and I watched lightning flash across the sky and felt the thunder shake our insides. Just as quickly as it started the storm stopped, leaving eerie clouds and lightning flickering periodically, but no more rain or wind and only soft rumbles of thunder left. Mostly there was silence. Stillness after the storm.

The storm – its suddenness, intensity and darkness reminded me of all that ensued in the days following news of K’s death. And as E and I sat there, rawness and pain still sitting with us, the quiet following the storm reminded me of that which is ahead.

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memories.

I heard about K for a few months before I met him.  E kept talking about him, a new mentee of his that had a good attitude at their Saturday court mandated events (a rare quality for those having to spend their Saturday mornings doing community service), one that was always ready with a smile, and thoughtful of those around him.  When I finally met K, he was all that E had described, a seventeen-year-old boy with a big heart, open mind, and a ready smile.

K quickly became more like a little brother to the two of us than just E’s mentee, he often was at our house hanging out in the kitchen while I cooked telling me about his day, asking advice on girls, or just munching on whatever I was making.  K would sit in our living room playing video games and absent-mindedly petting our two cats as they would stroll by him.  K was polite, opening doors for the girls, aware of how and when to pitch in to help and a good friend to some of the younger kids that were around.

K had some rough spots in his past and in his present, but he was searching, questioning things, looking to grow and change, and open to talking about them.  E and K would often end up on one of those topics, the points of difficult in K’s life, and K would be open to listening and even ask for E’s thoughts.

One of my fondest memories of K is a thirteen hour day we spent with him.  The day was full of general Saturday activities – running errands, cleaning the house, cooking, but the monotony that most of these tasks can take on became more fun with K along.  We ended the day drinking Vanilla Frappucinos and playing Bananagrams with K and his girlfriend, laughing so hard our bellies ached.

K was killed Thursday night, shot twice in the stomach and once in his head, left alone in an intersection.   E and I got the news early Friday morning.  We sat for hours caught in the strange atmosphere that is shock and grief combined.

Looking into funeral locations was not something I had anticipated doing for K.  Colleges?  Yes.  Job opportunities?  Yes.  But not where to bury him.

E and I went over the funeral home paperwork and the autopsy report with K’s mom last night.

My heart is heavy, my brain fuzzy.  I’m not sure really how to even end this post.  I did want to share with all of you how special K was as a person in general and specifically to us.  Please keep K’s family and in your thoughts and prayers.

Story From the Train

Last night I stepped onto the train, it was standing room only so I took my place near the door and proceeded to pull out my phone to check the news.  A few stops later a man stepped on to the crowded car, waited until the train started and then began speaking.  “Hello everyone.  Sorry to interrupt.  Sorry to bother you on this day.  My name is John.  I was incarcerated for ten years; I have recently been released but have a felony.  I can’t get a job.  The clothes I’m wearing are the only ones I own.  My last meal was a brownie yesterday from a kind stranger like yourself.  I’m here to ask you for help.  If anyone has knowledge of a job opportunity, has work for me, I would much appreciate it.”

As the man talked for the next five minutes or so I continued to look through my phone, trying to not listen.  I wondered how much of what he was saying was true.  I’ve heard this speech at least a dozen times from other men like him, stepping on to train cars.  There was something else roaming my mind as well.  Something that kept asking me why I’d write him off so quickly; dirty, a bit smelly, and desperate enough for something to put his business out for everyone.  Who was this man?

I put myself in his shoes and realized not much separated him from me.  Inside pounded, “Talk to him.”  I wrestled with that for a bit, wondering what good it would do and what exactly I would say, and even what other people would think of me for talking to him – think I’m a gullible girl who doesn’t realize this is a common occurrence on the trains, that he’s “lying just to get enough money for another fix of whatever his addiction is” as I have heard from others before.  And then I wondered what he would think of me talking to him.  I wondered if he would think, “Who does she think she is telling me these things.”  Just as quickly I thought, “Who do I think I am to not say something?”

I reached out and touched the man’s elbow to get his attention and said, “Excuse me sir.”  He turned and looked at me, his eyes were open wide in amazement – that someone would speak directly to him, that someone would tap his elbow; this was not the response he was accustomed to. We talked for a bit, I told him about a home he could stay at that I knew of, a place that would help him get a job, help him get on his feet.  Mostly I just tried listen and affirm that I saw him, a person of value and worth.

As this man and I spoke, people started coming up to him handing him things, first came a doughnut, warm and steaming.  Next came an entire sandwich, then came a bag of groceries, a bus card, then came cash, and sprinkled in with these were a lot of pats on the back and people saying “God bless you sir.” “There’s hope, you can do this.”  His eyes kept getting bigger and bigger and he kept looking at me.

Then came my stop.  I shook the man’s hand, “You have a unique story sir.  I hope to run into you again one day and hear the next chapter.”

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Delivery is a one way gesture, one party passes something along to another.  In the six years I have been in this community (which really, isn’t a long time at all) I have seen many people step in and deliver something to those in the community.  Sometimes these people move into the community, and sometimes they stop in temporarily for their delivery.

Either way, these deliverers stay closest with those more like them in culture, in race, in upbringing; acknowledge the “others” around them but at the same time communicating (intentionally or not) that they are simply there to provide.  These deliverers often come from “better” backgrounds, have lived with different resources, and believe in their “higher thinking systems” or solutions to fix their recipient’s community or personal problem. So they step in and decide what it is the community needs, they announce what’s wrong, and prescribe what should be done for or to the neighbor while at the same time maintaining a distance, not stepping in close to truly see the person, the background of the issue, the larger context in which the dilemma lies.

Delivery turns people into projects.  A project to fix and when it is deemed better, improved, or unfixable the person moves along to the next exciting project.  It is easy to do this without realizing what’s being communicated especially when the delivery is done across cultural lines.  It is not so easy to come close.  Go near.  Identify with.  Take down the barriers.  Be with others as neighbors, as friends that also have something to offer to the relationship, as equal human beings.

I have been on both ends of the spectrum; I have been the project and sadly, have made others into projects.  In the past six years however, I have observed how much this delivery system hurts others.  I’ve also learned how much one misses when one simply solving others’ problems instead of seeing them as a person – as an individual with gifts, skills, strengths, as a person who is equal in value and importance.

When people are different from us, we can get by easily without actually coming close to them or identifying with their lives.  We need to come close though.

By stepping in close the pat answers and delivered solutions don’t work anymore.  By coming close we are given the privilege to walk with another individual.  Because that is what it is, a privilege, it is an honor to get to peer into another’s life, to not only encourage and trouble shoot when the situation calls for it but to have the other do the same for you!

I love living in this community.  I am thankful to the many neighbors who have opened their homes and allowed me to take part of a meal, to share in a holiday, or to simply sit around in the living room and chat.  It is a privilege to live here.

Links {photo source, inspiration of this post & a few thoughts are from this wonderful article}

drowning.

clear, pure and transparent water in a swimming poolI was reading this blog post reminding all of us to be present, specifically during the summer months with little ones and water. The author’s son almost drowned last summer when she was right next to the pool. What got my attention the most however, was this article, Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning. Mario Vittone, a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, writes about when someone is actually drowning it doesn’t look like most people expect. There isn’t a lot of splashing, no waving, and no yelling for help. Physiologically the body can’t do all of those things once in Instinctive Drowning Response. The body is in survival mode and is conserving the little energy and air it has for trying to stay afloat.

Reading the article was eye-opening, especially sitting here at the beginning of the summer when I know I’ll be going to the lake with little ones and others who can’t swim well. What kept the article rolling around my mind though was that so much of the truth in the article relates to people who are “drowning” in life. I’ve often heard depression described as drowning, gasping for air when you can see everyone around you breathing. As one who has struggled with depression and mentored a lot of young women who also deal with this I kept thinking how much of this article’s main points should be taken and applied in day-to-day life as well.

When a person is struggling, with depression or with other life circumstances, sometimes they will speak up, shout, wave for help, and share what’s going on. “This doesn’t mean that a person that is yelling for help and thrashing isn’t in real trouble…but unlike true drowning, these victims can still assist in their own rescue. They can grab lifelines, throw rings, etc.”

When a person is truly drowning they go quiet, at this point they don’t have much time left before they slip below the surface. “Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don’t look like they’re drowning. They may just look like they are treading water and looking up at the deck.” Often, it is when those close to us go quiet, they are in distress. The silence makes it easy to momentarily forget about them, to assume they’re okay, perhaps just busy, or have moved on to other friendships. The truth is you can’t assume, “when they get quiet, you get to them and find out why…ask them, ‘are you alright?’”

Life circumstances and struggles are trickier to navigate than water drowning. There is a lot more mixed in – relationships, how comfortable a person feels in sharing, etc. It’s hard to ask for help, and when depression is involved it’s sometimes hard to even realize you need help. We can’t always be the one to pull a person out or help with the rescue either, this is important to remember as well.

Reading this article reminded me of the many times my friends, those I mentor, and coworkers have gone strangely quiet. In the moment I often assume it’s me, and sometimes it is –sometimes a person just needs space or has shifted friendships and that’s fine, relationships change. In my experience however, the silence is often because she is in survival mode, she is gasping for air and trying to stay afloat. I’ve learned to always ask, to always check in and see if things are okay.

Practice being present, tuning in those around you.  Remember, silence is not always indicative that a person is fine.  Remember to ask.  Best case scenario the person is fine, or asking might lead to reconciling a relationship.  Asking also might just save a life.

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