Sunday, September 2, 2012

To Love the Unloved

Someone asked me the other day "Oh what do you do for work?" and I told them I work at a halfway house. Most people nod their heads and with a confused tone-of-voice say "Oh social work...?" And I explain my 35 second elevator speech of what it is that I do and who the women are that I care for.

However, today I had a different thought. I had a thought to tell the next person who asks me what I do "I care for and love women who don't necessarily want my love. They don't necessarily want it, but they need it so desperately. More than that, they need to love of Christ that has redeemed me and has given me a second chance at life." That is what popped into my head.

Theater lovers, picture this:
     The scene? A house full of 10-14 women (the numbers and faces change all the time) of women from rough, rough backgrounds. From broken homes; from traumatic lives; from chaos.
     Their appearance? They are overweight. They are underweight. Some are so tough and rough that you think you might get a scratch from bumping into them while you walk. Some are so broken and emotional that you feel like their skin is one giant band-aid keeping all the pain in their heart on the inside.
     Their costumes? Most of them wear white tee-shirts with their last names written across the top of them when they first come to the house. Then, their wardrobe evolves to pajama pants and oversized tee-shirts that boast the local sports teams. After a little while, they rummage through out clothing closet (full of beautiful clothes donated by our volunteers) and find outfits about five times too small. Most people can pull off outfits about three sizes too small, but these women choose clothes that are obviously painful to wear. They like the flashy stuff; zebra stripes, and hot pink, and black with sequences. I swear, this past Friday night, all I could see was hot pink, sequences, and titties everywhere. You have to understand, these are clothes that others have given away; they have deemed them unworthy to be worn any more, they have been put off to the side. It is almost appropriate that the women wear clothes that are second hand, that have been cast off, yet have some good wear in them, and have some luster, once you wash them off a little. These women are just like the clothes they wear. They have been cast off. They have been straight-up, flat-out told that they are not good enough, they are not beautiful enough, they aren't wanted, and they need to go somewhere else to get their act together. Do you ever wonder where people go to get their acts together? I don't. Because they come here, to the halfway house. First they go to jail because they haven't been able to get their acts together, and then they bounce around from one rehab program to the next, hopefully land up at a halfway house, and occasionally get themselves thrown back in jail.

Even after I describe to inquiring people where it is I work, I rarely tell them what it is I do: I love the unloved. Many of these women are my same age, yet we are worlds different. One woman is 29 years old and she has a 3 month old grandson and five children. I can't even imagine. She actually is my favourite and she even has the same name as one of my sisters. This woman is so remarkable to me, and yet still such a mystery. She is half black and half white, and two of her children are half Mexican. She speaks fluent Spanish, can turn on the black girl sass like no other, and also speaks my same dialect. It's amazing. You see, this woman has learned how to adapt. In linguistics we call it "code-switching" which means being able to take on the characteristics and speech patterns of more than one linguistic community. With these linguistic communities there is culture, and that is what must be code-switched. In her world, she doesn't code-switch--she survives in whatever way she knows how. When she first came, she was so gruff, and rude, and had a stone for a heart. She was hurting and her life was a mess and she knew it. Pretty much on a daily basis, we would get into some type of verbal argument. The only thing worse than an argument? The cold shoulder. Wow. When you are in a residential setting and you see someone every time you round the corner and they are giving you the silent treatment, woo, things get tense really fast! I had talked with my boss and with the case manager and we didn't know what to do with her because punishments weren't working.
     I remember one other time in my life when a fellow teammate of mine just hated me! She gave me the silent treatment, she made my life miserable, she always stole the ball from me and made me look bad on the courts. I remember telling my mom "I just don't know what to do! I've asked her what's wrong, I've tried to be kind to her, I've tried to play tough with her, and she is just mean!" My mom said that I needed to pray for her. More specifically, every time she did something that made my blood boil, my mom said I should repeat in my head "I love you, ." I thought it was ridiculous and wasn't going to work, but it did. I prayed for all my teammates, but I prayed extra hard for her. I even prayed she would get asked out by the guy she liked at the time (...oh high school...ha! that meant I was praying really, really nice prayers for her ha!). After about a month of her giving me the silent treatment, and me praying for her and repeating "I love you, ", I started to hate her less and less. I'm not going to say that I ever loved her, but the stress and anger towards her was completely gone. That crazy experience stuck with me, and I remembered the peace I was given by the Lord for choosing to love this teammate. 
      While I was having a difficult time with LMNOP, at the halfway house, I remembered how well my prayers and love worked back in high school. From the second week this woman moved into the house, I began praying for her and repeating in my head "I love you, " whenever she cast a hateful glance, or teased or belittled me. In time, this woman has made an amazing transformation. I cannot even describe how hurt and tough this woman was when she first came. Now, she has changed her wardrobe, she has changed her life, and most of all, she has changed her heart. I give God all the credit for this one, because I would have never thought that I could even love this woman. But God saw beyond that. Now, we are pals. She gives me driving directions, we cook food for each other, she tells me what parts of town to avoid and how I should look after myself, and I tell her which stores have sales, and how to make her buck stretch the furthest. It's amazing, it truly is, to think that a jailbird is someone I respect. 
     Loving people who don't always want to be loved, but who need to be loved, is a tough job. There are days when I shed tears of frustration, and of sorrow for all these women go through. However, it is so rewarding when you get a turn-around from someone who used to make your work environment super stressful, and now brings laughter to the house. The thing is, you have to reach out and be intentional. Even if you feel like "Oh they don't want to talk to me so why waste my breath?" you even saying "I hope you had a good day at work today" when they walk in the door may make them feel cared for. I have learned that people who don't want to be loved don't want to answer questions, so I talk to them, I don't really ask them questions. I don't ask "Did you have a good day at work?" because all they will say is "Alright" and walk away. But if you say "I hope you had a good day at work", they look at you, and think for a second, and then walk away. They sometimes smile and nod too...but not most of the time.

This song is my prayer today:

No comments:

Post a Comment