Today my Mama Bear claws are out.
My sweet daughter has been the recipient of some bullying. Fortunately she is doing okay, albeit a little weepy and clearly uncomfortable. She seems to understand that what happened (I’m not going to get into detail) is actually not really about her. I’m proud of her for that.
I’m not quite as proud of what is going on in me. I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m all churned up and rather out of sorts. I really want to march up to the person inflicting the pain and MAKE. HER. STOP.
If only it were that easy. I’m keenly aware there are helpful ways to respond to this and that bullying someone back is not the answer. I want to first focus on Cate. I need to remind her over and over again that she is loved and valued; that home is a safe place to come to; that using her words to talk to her teacher was the right thing to do. Maybe the most challenging truth I want to share with her is that we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven. That doesn’t mean she needs to live in fear and should just take the abuse. It does mean that she can choose to walk into school tomorrow and not strike back. I’m quite certain the thought hasn’t even crossed Cate’s mind, I on the other hand…
I also need to consider what is going on in the life of this other young person. Of one thing I am sure: this behaviour, which is ongoing and not just impacting Cate, is springing out of something not healthy or good. I need to pour into her something that is full of light, devoid of the dark stuff that so marks the bullying: foul language, mean-spirited pride, resentment and much anger. Finding her in the schoolyard and giving her an actual kick in the derrière is not really going to have any lasting effect.
We are not the sum of what any human being thinks of us. This world does not define us. This has taken me a lot of years to believe.
I have a sense that Cate already does.
There has been a serious amount of activity around PNC this past month. The drop-in continues to grow- I keep wondering if that’s possible, but it’s true. Both myself and Joanna (my lovely part-time co-worker and teammate) are having ample opportunity to journey alongside people. I feel so fortunate to be invited into people’s lives; their pain and struggle; their hopes and dreams.
Recently Joanna and I accompanied a person, I’ll call her Anna, to court. It was not Anna’s first trip through the system, though I learned it WAS her first time going “straight” (not under the influence of any substance) and with people she trusted. I picked Anna up, planning to meet Joanna at Old City Hall. On the drive over, Anna was full of anxious energy. She talked about not having slept the night before, making the decision to not “take a toke or a drink” and how her incessant praying had become exhausting, though she consistently uttered “sweet Jesus” under her breath. I offered to pray on her behalf.
I also learned more of Anna’s life: the brother she lost to a bullet, the family caught up in gang life and drugs, the years spent working the streets, the bridge she lived under. We parked underground. I couldn’t figure out which way was out, but Anna knew: she had slept in the stairwells. Each step brought up old memories. I wanted to cry and hug her and listen to more all at once.
We met Joanna, went through security, and waited. We entered the courtroom, listened to a clerk, and received some important information about Anna’s case. We read through it the best we could and waited some more. For obvious reasons, I won’t go into all the details. Really, the most important details in all of this are that Anna left the courthouse having done what she needed to do and with friends willing to support her the rest of the way.
Anna has felt alone the majority of her life. I’m certain there will be many days when that feeling rears its ugly head. My hope though is that Anna will learn to remember how she is loved and forgiven, and that knowing this will influence her choices. Already, so much has changed, not least of which is living in a place of her own. No more stairwells.
Join me in cheering Anna on.
Thank you all for supporting me from a far yesterday. Strength is found in sharing weakness. It sounds so paradoxical and yet it proves to be true again and again.
I wasn’t feeling all that brave yesterday. That is, not until I felt the wash of prayer and good thoughts from so many.
The meeting was productive. We both listened. I described who I am. I explained the work of PNC. I heard a litany of concerns (that actually were not as specific to PNC as originally stated). By the end we shook hands and agreed to think about how to do even more community events, for all, in the park. Neither of us feel as alone. And there were no tears, no shouting.
Can I hear an “Amen”?
I don’t often use this space to make a plea for help, but here I am, about to do just that. Over the holidays I received a letter from a person living in Parkdale, someone I don’t know. I’m not going to say a whole lot, except that this person is feeling very angry: angry about a park in the neighbourhood not feeling safe because of people choosing to drink and smoke-up and pass out in it. Let’s just say that the anger got directed at me and PNC.
And so I did what felt natural to me. I called this person. Oh my.
Today we are meeting face-to-face. I need all the prayer I can get. I’ve been doing a lot better with the anxiety that can reside in my stomach, though last night and today it has done a mighty fine job of weaseling its way back in.
Pray that I might listen well…
be full of grace…
vulnerable and honest and loving…
and fair, to the neighbourhood and to PNC.
Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes- Isaiah 58:12
The day after Boxing Day I got sick. It kind of crept up and then hit me like a ton of bricks. I became lethargic and congested, with a nasty cough to boot. Good times.
In truth though, it was actually kind of good. I was forced to do very little. I napped. I drank a lot of tea. I discovered that hot toddies might be my favourite medication. I worked on a puzzle, strummed on a ukelele and ate leftovers. Not that I would ever wish my child to be sick, but she got it too which meant she was content to be cozy.
Then all of a sudden it was January and time to get back to work. I’m usually ready to return to routine, this time not so much. I found myself getting anxious about everything I have to do and wishing that I could just stay curled up under a blanket. I felt unnerved.
So today as I made my way to the drop-in I kept thinking, how am I going to do this? How am I going to keep up with the pace? When are people going to realize I have no idea what I’m doing? Ouch.
When I arrived I was greeted by two friends from the street who helped me unload the car. I was handed a belated Christmas gift from a woman struggling with much: she crafted me a bird out of clay. So beautiful. Person after person talked about how much they missed PNC when we closed for the holidays. A new person to the community helped with dishes (that got done in record time) and then poured out his heart to me. As I looked at this big guy drying his tear-filled eyes, listening to how he wants to “get his life sorted out. There’s no such thing as a completely fresh start, but I want something like it”, I thought: I’m glad I didn’t stay under the blanket.
I needed to be reminded of the gift my work is to me. In the process I was told I mattered to it. It is a safe place to come no matter how I’m feeling.
I am so thankful and also kind of beat. Hot toddies here I come.