Wednesday, December 1, 2010

response to a thank you letter

You know, I wasn't that good at my job... you know, that one where I worked with those boys in that foster home. Things were not always done on time, not always done right, not always done as efficiently and effectively as possible. I did not always speak when I should have, and sometimes I spoke when I oughtn't. I didn't know everything about everything. Sometimes I was impatient. Sometimes I slipped, and sometimes I feel flat on my face. I was not infallible. I did, however, win trust. It was trust that I had to go to war and fight for, but it was, more often than not, won. It means something to be the first person to hear about something that would normally not be spoken aloud.

The thing that I did well was to create a safe space. I prayed, and then I listened really hard. I spoke truth when I felt it moving in my soul, sometimes straight into angry, pained faces... sometimes into tears... sometimes into masks fooling all the world but me. I laid a hand on a shoulder, and when that shoulder startled, I laid another hand. I expected honesty. I gave opportunities to be honest. My purse was left in plain sight, unlocked and ready to be picked up at any moment. I walked unafraid into spaces where fists were flying and tempers were hot. I was not afraid. I celebrated successes and spoke openly about failures. I demanded to see all of the cards. I looked into faces with love and never with fear.

I really feel that we are programming our youth, especially our young men, to destroy themselves and others. When we treat them with suspicion, expecting for them to be suspicious or to harm us in some way, more often than not we find our expectations met. I watched the stares of others who couldn't see past their big clothes, hard faces, and tryna-be-a-big-man struts. I watched people fumble and bumble what could have been productive encounters in which those kids could have learned more self-respect by feeling respect coming from others. I watched teachers assume that they couldn't read, couldn't pay attention, couldn't learn. I have seen reaction after reaction where the situation called for response. I have seen deep, seething hurt mistaken for anger and met with anger. If you expect them to steal, they will likely take your stuff.

If you expect greatness, it shows up more often than not. It can take a long time, and there are inevitable disappointments, but I have seen success that still takes my breath away. I have seen young men learn to speak truth in situations in which it was extra topping on the cake. I have seen God touch people in ways I didn't even know were possible.

People who have been mistreated and disregarded have not yet learned how to not make others feel that way. it is important to remember that fear looks a lot like aggression. Sometimes you just have to take one for the team, and sometimes you have to let the storm die down before you address the need for growth, but people are not born knowing how to feel safe and let down the guard. It is a skill we are taught when our mothers and fathers hold us close, smell the tops of our heads, and kiss our fingers. When not everyone gets enough of that, not everyone knows in their bones what it is to be human... to share air and space... to feel trust and give that trust in return... to feel safe and make others feel that way... to befriend and not compete... to build up and not tear down. These are skills. It is my belief that they can be taught through loud, strong, tough, persistent love. They can be taught by saying,"Yeah, you screwed that one up. I'm still here though. I can see your insides, and they are good. I expect greatness from you. I'm not kidding, I'm not scared, and I'm not stupid. Greatness."

Honestly, it isn't the active stuff we do that makes people feel supported. It's the passive stuff. It's listening while they speak. It's looking them in the eye. It's letting them simply sit in your presence without having to try so hard. You know how to non-verbally communicate welcome, ease, and approval. Why not try that next time one of them walks in? Don't react to their stares. Respond. They only look that way because they have had to defend themselves for as long as they could make sounds. Shake it up. Smile. Joke. Relax. You might be surprised, and you never know how deep that stuff goes or how long that impact lasts.

I had no idea what kind of love for God they would ignite in my heart. I had no idea what trusting them would teach me. I walked in the presence of some power. They just hadn't quite figured out their nature yet, but you could see it if you looked with His eyes...

So, kiddo, don't thank me. I don't want your praise. I want to dance at your wedding. I want to hold your children. I want to see you conquer yourself and fight for others. You are miraculous, I want the world to witness your greatness.

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