life stories

Sean just finished up his psychiatry rotation today and it’s been an interesting month.  In our house, I am usually the one with stories about previous mentally ill clients so it’s been fun that Sean got his turn.  He recently had a really funny story; now don’t take this the wrong way. There is nothing funny or lighthearted about mental illness.  But, when you’ve worked day in and day out with this population, joking about it is a way of coping and dealing with the stress of it all.

So I got to thinking about my clients at the psychiatric residential treatment center that I worked at for a bit back in 2005.  I worked mainly on the girls (12-18y.o.) floor; it was an… interesting time.  I learned a lot about mental illness, the injustices of our government systems, violence, and what it means to be human.  There were a few of the girls that really stuck out to me and I often find myself thinking about them and wondering if they are surviving the “outside” world.

From the beginning, I knew that it would be an interesting run with these girls.  That very first day, a code was called because one of the girls had attempted to hang herself in the bathroom.  From the shower rod. With her bed sheets.  That first month I had been spit on, bit in the arm, tricked (several times), hit on, threatened, and cussed at (with words and sentences that would make anyone cringe).

Don’t get the wrong picture; there were some very intense, violent, depressing, horrible times.  But, I also had a lot of fun.  These girls were real.  The “you get what you see” kind of thing. They said some of the most hilarious things because they were so blunt and social rules didn’t apply.  They trusted very few people and it was an awesome thing when they would begin opening up and sharing very personal and deep hurts.  It was hard not to get sucked into their life stories; these girls had more life experience than most adults I know.

I keep thinking about a particular girl, one of the youngest on the floor.  She was also probably the most developmentally delayed.  (Think 12 year old who could not tie her shoelaces or write her full name.)  Her story is one that still constantly plays through my mind.  She was sexually abused as a young child, kicked out of her home by her mother and became a prostitute all before the age of 10.  She was beaten, raped, became a substance user, and wound up in the DCFS system after she was admitted into the hospital because her 40 year old “boyfriend” threw her down his basement stairs because he found out she was pregnant. Again.

Here’s the thing. This story can be extrapolated to so many children in our communities. Too many. What are we doing about it?  Nothing.  You know, I understand the desire that most people want to foster or adopt younger children.  But what about these preteens and teens that really need some consistency and love.  Who wants them?  What services are out there for them?  I was completely unprepared for the job that I held at this center; I didn’t provide these girls with the best services that they deserved or needed.  I tried my hardest, but it’s just not good enough when you’re fresh out of college and have little experience in this particular field.  I don’t doubt that most of these girls aged out of the DCFS system and found themselves in the DOC system or on the streets.  I don’t doubt that most of these girls ended up in the same situations that they were removed from.  What kind of system do we have for these children we’re working with?  A crappy one; one that sets them up for failure.

Now, we purposely turn away when we see that homeless man or woman walking towards us.  We avert our eyes when we see that homeless person begging for food, or money, or anything that will keep them warm at night.  We hold our breath as we walk through tunnels and viaducts because we just can’t bare the stench of days old urine.  Would you do the same if these homeless people were children?

Then why do it at all.

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there were NO needy persons among them

So last night I was troubled by something that I said in my small group. We were working through Acts 4:30-35, specifically 32-35.

32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. 33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Now, although I realize that this is meant to be speaking about communal living amongst believers, I guess I took it to a different level (probably not the right one). The question, what passage stands out was asked. For me, it was: “there were no needy persons among them”. Instead of viewing it as believers living in communities where other believers were not needy, I took it as there were no needy…in general. So then I went as far as saying, how nice for them. When we live in a generation where we are so unwilling to pay more taxes based on our income. HAHA. Ok. So, after sleeping on it—well, a night of tossing and turning because I couldn’t stop thinking about it… I realize that my comments on tax came out of no where.

HOWEVER.

Since I have my own blog, my need to be the person to have the last word, and also the ability to explain my every thought… here I go.

Back in the day (I know, already starting with a credible historical account), there was no need to use taxed money for social welfare/aide because the Christians/Catholics took care of the poor. Now, I am not going to address how poorly they did this. The (medieval) church was big enough to speak and look out for the poor and the Feudal system was not structured to take on the responsibility of this task. It was more of a private charity, the benevolence of the faithful (not to mention the idea of “good works = salvation). However, the idea of private charity failed in the Middle Ages (I believe).

“Nature, therefore has produced a common right for all, but greed has made it a right for the few” – John Knox (the end of the Middle Ages)

Then came the time of the “Protestant Work Ethic”, Individualism, the Friendly Visitors, Charity Organization Society, social workers, the principles of self-determination… Finally, with the Social Security Act, the federal government then took over the protection of the poor. A role very much like the medieval church.

The country then went through President Johnson’s “War on Poverty”, the establishment of the National Welfare Rights Organization, AFDC, Food Stamps, medicaid…

In a book by Alan Keith-Lucas, “The Poor You Have With You Always”, he writes that there were three basic alternatives (1960s):

1. Demogrant: grant is paid to rich and poor alike, and the cost is recovered by a progressive income tax.

2. Assure a minimum income for everybody by use of a negative income tax.

3. Expand the services that the community offers to all people without individualized payment on their part (i.e. American public school system).

Keith-Lucas goes on to say, “None of these services discriminate against the poor… they are more in the nature of pooled efforts. What is at stake is the amount that the wealthy are willing to contribute, not so much to the poor, but to the common good.”

Ok. So, if you have gotten this far in my rambling post, thank you. Here is my point.

Ready for it?

The church. We’ve failed to care for the poorest of the poor which has resulted in the government stepping in. Make your amends with that. How does the government (kind of) provide and protect the poor? Through funding for all the Departments (DOC, DCFS, DHS, DOJ, DOL, DPH…) which then helps fund their POS agencies. We know that with a lack of funding, these agencies and departments cannot provide the kind of services that are necessary to make change.

So, yes, I am one that thinks that a progressive income tax is a good idea. Sure, sure, Sean and I (+Pongo too) are living on a small social worker’s salary, and so of course this tax idea would not effect us… right now. But, if I could give more in taxes (even now) to help fund these needed services and help change our current economic and social policies, why not?

I do realize that with the way our lives are headed, one day, maybe Sean and I will be taking in more than $200,000 (Obama’s plan) a year. (My issues with people making so much money in a year will have to be discussed in a later post.) But, I truly believe that when and if that time comes, I will be more than ready and willing to pay that higher percentage of our income.

waiting on the world to change

Seeing the packed National Mall; people from every generation, race, religion, sexual orientation and gender, together, undivided.  Hopeful for what is yet to come, grateful for the history made, and eager to be led by such a man as President Barack Obama.

“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

There is no doubt that as a nation we have much to deal with; the current state of our economy, time of war, lack of  health care, political corruption… But I am so encouraged by this man and motivated to do more for my community, state, and nation.  This day marks something more amazing than perhaps I even understand.  As a minority woman social worker who is obsessed with racial reconciliation and ethnic minority rights, I thought I understood the depths of this election. But alas, I have to admit, I don’t really get it.  Just like many others I think it’s an incredible moment in our history, the start of a new and better era… but I don’t fully understand.

But, what I do understand is this: we have come a long way from the time of Martin Luther King Jr., we have come a long way from Jim Crow Laws, we have come a long way from “separated but equal”, internment camps, and ethnic exclusion acts.  This presidency gives me hope that perhaps one day one of my children from my multi-racial family can become the leader of this great nation.  Perhaps one day I won’t feel the need to worry that my parents are being taken advantage of because of the language and cultural barriers that are so innate in America.  Perhaps one day I can walk into a room and not have to feel inferior, or immediately count how many people look like me, or worry that I was hired only because of my minority race status.  Perhaps one day my gay friends can have the same human rights that my non-gay friends have.  Perhaps one day people of a different race, culture, ethnicity, language, religion, sexual orientation can fully feel like they fit in; in any situation, any room, any work place, place of worship,  school, and family.  I know, I have become such a “realist”, so jaded and burnt out in my perception of Race and Culture in America.  I want to so badly to hope for good things, so I am going to wait on it.  I know it’s not logical to think that one man can change the course of our racial and cultural existence, so here I am.  Willing to help it along, willing and eager to bring it to the cross.

New Year, New Shoes

New running shoes were well overdue prior to the marathon, BUT, I was a bit too attached and a little short on cash. (haha)  So, I put them on my Christmas list and without disappointment, HERE THEY ARE:

(My new companions for the next couple hundred miles)

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Here are my old shoes:

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I’m hoping to start running again more consistently.   My new shoes are the next generation of my old ones, they actually are way better.  Interesting that I can actually tell… I have some shoe inserts too, they help with the cushioning.  My right knee has started to hurt again (probably because I started running again), my left knee is catching up in discomfort.  I’m really hoping that I will make it through this next year (and a few more).  I’m getting excited for running with Team World Vision again.  I have some new ideas on fund raising (+ practiced begging) and can’t wait to have another raffle party with even better prizes!  So… stay tuned.