Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Lifting Hands That Hang Down

A friend of my mother once asked what I did for work. I responded that I worked with homeless families in Salt Lake City. She told me how sweet and kind that was of me, to which I responded, "I just feel blessed not to have a heroin addiction." I think she thought I was joking. I wasn't.

I began working in Salt Lake City doing case management with homeless families in July of this year. This was after months of stress, unemployment, and a very depressing bank account. I didn't know what to expect when I started at The Road Home, and a lot of times I still have no idea what to expect from day to day. That's the adventure of it. It's exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Yes, I actually get paid to work there. Yes, I get benefits, and even paid holidays (holla at you Columbus Day)! There are days that I love my job and days where I just want to hide. But, I love the people I work with -- both clients and coworkers.

I'm writing about this because I've had time to pause and reflect on what exactly the work I do means and why I do what I do. Working with people who are in constant crisis is anything but a walk in the park. Some days, it's downright hell. When I tell people about my work, they respond in a few ways: "Oh, that's so sweet." "That must be SO rewarding." "I could never do that." That last one frustrates me the most. In essence, individuals who respond in such a manner are saying, "I don't know that I could ever work with people who are so different than myself or get involved in work that required feelings and suffering." I paint with a broad brush, and do so on purpose.

That final response irritates me because I believe in a God who commands us to do the things that we would rather avoid. I believe in a God who commands me to be in the trenches loving my neighbors as myself and giving what I have to the poor and destitute. I believe in a God who blessed me with the capacity to do the work I love because He knew I could. I believe in a God who commands us to reach out to the poor and needy, to rescue those drowning in their own sufferings. I believe in a God who wants us to treat His children equally, regardless of situation, status, or station.

I feel blessed to believe in such a God. There are few things I believe in as firmly as the God I have just described to you. I was raised in a faith that preaches the ideals of a man who sought out the most destitute and forsaken people and dined with them, lived among them, and loved them. He did not do so at a distance, hoping a simple wave of his checkbook would solve the ills of the world; rather, this man, whom many call the Son of God, immersed himself and gave entirely of himself to the people like those I see every day.

The people I work with are not statistics or nameless bums. The people I work with have lives and stories and experiences that surpass anything I can even comprehend. As I sit with clients in my office or drive them to appointments, I get to know the deepest parts of their souls. And in that darkness, turmoil, and confusion, I find hope and love.

You may shudder or shy away from the individuals I work with. Some of you may even condemn them, spewing forth poisonous rhetoric that such people deserve what they got. That is not Christian. That is not what individuals who profess to be followers of Christ do in any circumstance. I'm not asking you to give money out to every person who asks you. That doesn't help. That merely satiates the desire to feel like a good person, much like the priest and the Levite must have done to the poor man who lay dying on the road to Jericho. Bind up the wounds. That is what I am asking. Lift the hands that hang down. Please do not just rest on your laurels and do nothing. There are people in need, there are chances for good all around. Please, do them, and do them because that is what God -- in whatever form you believe him to be -- wants from you and wants from me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Sometimes, Life Changes

Sometimes, life changes in very unexpected ways. It did that when I was going to transfer out of BYU after my mission and instead stayed to complete my degree. It did it again when I got an offer to teach middle school English in Kansas City with Teach For America, and instead decided to once again stay at BYU to work on my Master's in Social Work. And now, life has done it again.

This last semester has been a hellish adventure. I began the semester with the highest of hopes for my clinical education. No longer were classes being taught by professors who had no theoretical grounding and just rambled. This was to be the semester of solid, theory-based practice. I started going to therapy, thought I was getting my life under control, and feeling confident about the work I was doing.

And then life changed.

In the middle of February, I had an emotional breakdown. I ended up at the hospital, and spent a week in inpatient care working through issues of depression and suicidal thoughts and plans. My time at the hospital taught me the importance of mindfulness and support networks. Throughout it all, my family and friends were a great support. I told the social workers at the hospital there that I was just there for an immersive social work experience so that I could understand what the client experiences in those settings. They didn't buy it.

After the hospital, I reentered the world of academia. I tried to slow down a little, but still keep my rigorous schedule. I had presentations to work on, papers to write, and statistical models to create. Life seemed to normalize again.

And then life changed. Again.

This time, it was much slower. I began to isolate myself from those closest to me, stopped doing things that I enjoyed, lost interest in my school work and social life. I became despondent. One night, I decided that I was going to end it all. The appeal of nonexistence became greater than the desire for life. The next day, I was once again in an inpatient facility, this time for five days. I ended up going back to the hospital, the one thing I committed myself not to do after the first stint. But, I was safe. That was important.

While in the hospital, I had a sort of Come to Jesus moment, where I realized that if I left the hospital and didn't change the status quo, I would end up dead before I had a Master's degree. That was a pretty sobering moment. And so, life began to change again. After lots of really deep discussions with professors, mentors, and my therapist, I came to the conclusion that I needed to take a break from school. That's right. No Master's. No more social work. No more BYU. For someone whose whole life since 2007 has revolved around school, academia, and BYU, this was scary. My therapist said I dreaded the idea of not being in school because that's where I got my validation for life.

The lesson here is that life changes, often in ways we don't expect or welcome. And sometimes, it's frightening as hell. And sometimes, even though it's terrifying, it's what is necessary or right or good. Even when such change is not what you wanted. Even when you do everything in your power to resist that change. And so, we adapt, evolve, and develop. All in a response to change. It is change that allows us to change.

Life changed. I'm still here. That's a good thing.