Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pain & Resiliency

I used to live in a bubble. Somehow I've managed to avoid difficult and insanely painful seasons, until recently (perhaps it's the millennial in me). Let me elaborate.

I don't think I consciously considered myself being exempt from pain, but I also never really took it seriously. Grief , in every sense of the word, was a bit foreign to me.

Fortunately, I've had the privilege of holding space for other's experiences. What became increasing evident, was that life is really, really hard sometimes. And I've been known to personally take on the pressure to “fix it,” (I know, I know, that’s not how I was trained). But still, when you find yourself in front of desperate, vulnerable, broken clients, the humanness inside aches to make the pain resolve in some way. Of course, there’s a fine line between empathy and co-dependency, one being an internal experience, while the other is often associated with some sort of unhealthy action. The journey of navigating through the overwhelming urge to “fix pain,” can result in more grief and exhaustion.

That is until I recently re-read Viktor Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I read the book several years ago, not really absorbing all the richness the work had to offer. After all, this was during what I like to call my “Utopian years.” Before I was vicariously traumatized tainted by the experiences of normal people, making every attempt to survive life’s blows.

I am a firm believer that the entire human race should be encouraged to read “Man’s Search for Meaning.” To say it shifts perspective, is an under-statement.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us will experience or have experienced “dark seasons.” I should probably explain the type of pain I am referring to…I’m not discussing the everyday stress, that increases blood pressure, or the “winter blues.” I am talking about a type of suffering that deeply burdens at the core. The type of pain that feels inescapable, the type that reveals the depravity of man.

Wow, what a Debbie Downer. But really, we secretly read that description with relief, because many understand that pain, all too well. And most of the time it feels so lonely. While we're all nodding our head in agreement, this pain looks different in each of our lives. Sometimes it blindsides us by some sort of tragic loss (again in every sense of the word), sometimes it slowly creeps in by means of addiction, other times, it simply appears from a chemical imbalance. Whatever the cause, it still continues to leave countless individuals in bondage.

So hopefully, you can understand my urge to resolve such pain. Thankfully, I’ve calmed down a bit and accepted my limits. And even more importantly, I’ve begun to see the value in pain, both through professional development and personal experience. While 2016 could have been much worse, it’s most certainly is not a year I’d like to repeat.

Let me pause for a moment and be careful not to “forebode joy,” as the incredibly wise  
Brené Brown would say. Please note that while I am primarily focusing on an extremely heavy topic, I firmly believe that it is equally important to press into joyful moments, big or small.

Now here’s the irony in all of this. Some of the most genuinely joyful people I have ever met, carry incredible stories of pain. For instance, I once met with a client who grew up in an overseas war zone, who lost their childhood house, whose parents still speak no English, and who longs to return home. This person also was one of the most balanced and sincerely grateful humans I’ve come in contact with. Seriously, I would find myself trying to restructure my thoughts to align with the client’s. The work ethic I observed was unbelievable and the desire to honor and respect others was remarkable. How is it, that someone with that type of background, can hold that perspective? I think the answer is in the question.

It seems so elementary and almost condescending when people attempt to encourage by saying “you just need to change your thinking.” Surely it can’t be that simple. 

I have observed two interesting truths 1.) Pain is inevitable. 2.) And we are resilient beings. Nowadays, if I can assist others in accepting these truths, while attempting to accept it myself, I am doing well. Accepting pain for what is, keeps us somewhat grounded and humble. It is acknowledging a very real part of life (rather than running from it, i.e. distracting ourselves with entertainment, food, alcohol, etc.), a very overwhelming and scary part of life, while having the courage to say “I am not afraid to embrace you,” or "this won't break me." I often wonder if hopelessness is birthed out of constant failed attempts to avoid or outrun pain. If that is the case, does it not make sense to embrace our emotions? 

So what do we do with the pain?

Now to insert a favorite Viktor Frankl quote. Frankl wrote, “Suffering ceases to be suffering, at the moment it finds meaning.” Grief, pain, or any other word used to describe suffering is an individual journey, with some sort of individual meaning. Seek that meaning. If it’s the death of a loved one, celebrate that the grief serves as an infinite reminder for the depth of love humans get to experience. Grief also allows us to never forget a person's impact in our life. If you are in the midst of what feels like a never-ending battle (i.e., addiction, co-dependency, etc.), how has this experience made your more human? What community has come from the experience? Has it slowed you down and taught you appreciate the small victories?

Sometimes the most productive response is to embrace pain and suffering, while recognizing and growing from the resiliency we practice. We were designed by a Creator, who made us sturdy enough to walk outside of bubles.  And look around, chances are someone nearby has either walked through, is walking through, or will walk through. Lean into that support.






Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Little Lessons on Accountability


Oh the things that inspires us to blog…

I often find myself itching to document my day at work because it’s just so dang entertaining. While most of my stories revolve around those that utilize the EM services, today, I am urged to communicate a different type story/challenge.

It all started when I walked over to the Men’s Social Service office, where my good friend/co-worker Jeffrey Tennant is stationed. As I do upon most greetings, I managed to regurgitate all of the morning’s events (you know normal stuff, like investigating who is defecating in the shower, conducting 7 drug tests while attempting not to spill urine on myself, and praying that we have enough beds to house all the needs for the night).

Jeffrey patiently listens, but often has his own set of issues. We listen to each other. Quinton “Q” Williams also joins us from time to time.

I can’t quite remember the context of the conversation, but Jeffrey decided he would include me in on a previous debate between he and Q. You see we, at the Eugene Mission, aren’t really attached or too proud to change things. If something isn’t working, we tend to strategically figure out a new or better method.

Jeff’s suggestion: eliminate disallows (asking those who are not manageable to leave) and implement the “tickling policy.” The current dialogue and thoughts are why I am a fan and will support Jeffrey’s platform.

Jeff: “Q didn’t like my idea of creating a ‘tickling policy’ rather than disallow.”
Holleigh: “So you’re suggesting we tickle uncooperative and sometimes violent guests instead of disallowing them?”
Jeff: “yes, tickling is painful, my family used to hold me to the ground and tickle me.”
Q: (with a very sincere and almost distraught expression) “I don’t have enough people tickling me in my life.”

While this may just be an ordinary conversation, it represents so much more than what meets the eye. You see, I recall being tickled when I was young and it was painful. But through the pain and torture, I could not help but release an innate response of laughter.

In the context of this conversation, Jeffrey is suggesting that tickling be used for accountability.  While I’m not sure that tickling is the most appropriate technique to encourage accountability, it is obvious that accountability is absolutely necessary among the population we work alongside and to be perfectly honest, it is necessary for us. However, it’s important that we figure out a way to produce effective strategies to hold individuals accountable.

What I’ve noticed is that accountability requires genuineness and love and for some reason, we humans can’t seem to figure out how to give and receive accountability in a way that does not leave scars.

How to love each other so much that we want people to move away from things that aren’t producing anything positive in their lives.

The process of accountability is so tricky because it takes a delicate balancing act of love, support, and truth.

Which leads me to reflect on the correlation between being tickled and held accountable. The process doesn’t feel good but for some reason (unknown to me) our body responds with an instinct of a sort of freedom (uncontrollable laughter or bladder). It’s like you now have a reason to let loose, whether you want to or not. When we're tickled we cannot hold anything back, we laugh through the pain.

I can’t help but wonder if true, genuine accountability could produce similar results. If we loved each other so much that we confront somewhat painful topics head on, but find immediate freedom and joy when we aren’t trying so hard to hold it all together.

The most interesting thought in the midst of this conversation is Q’s response; “I don’t have enough people tickling me in my life.”

So my challenge is simply this:

Do you have people tickling you in your life?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Volcanoes, day hikes, and desert squirrels


I love Central Oregon.  It’s got to be the most beautiful part of Oregon (many argue this opinion).

While driving through the mountain pass there seems to be an invisible line, where once crossed, all my stress dissipates. Seriously, it’s an incredible phenomenon.

Not growing up here, I learn something new each adventure. Mustache Man knows a lot about this area. I can glean all kinds of new information from him.

He has shared his insight on how not to create an avalanche (not that I would ever venture into the backcountry without him). He has shown me what to do if we encounter a cougar (although, I still question whether the technique will work or not). He guides me on how to be green and to “leave no trace behind.” And if I ever go hiking without him he always stocks my pack with items that I argue are just added weight, however, I always end up using. Its like he can see into the future.

Recently, he taught me that most of the mountains here are actually live, dormant, or extinct volcanoes. The last time we were driving I noticed a house on top of one of those volcanoes. I told Alec that I thought it was probably dumb to build a house on a volcano because their house insurance premiums were probably out of this world. He gently explained that it was not a house, but an observation deck for scientists to track volcanic activity. That makes more sense.

I often wonder if Mustache Man is secretly priming me to live in the wild.

Not too long ago, Audrey and I found time to hike Black Butte.  According to Merriam-Webster a butte is an “isolated hill with steep sides and a flat top.”  I learned that when I first moved here. Apparently, most of the “mountains” I have been exposed to were actually more butte-like.

We drove about 2 ½ hours to the trailhead. I didn’t know this beforehand, but Black Butte is referred to as a stratovolcano, which is composed of different layers (lava, tephra, and volcanic ash) and has a steep profile. Unlike some of the other “mountains,” Black Butte, has no glaciers and hence, hardly any erosion. That being said, it appears to be a baby butte but is actually older than some of the other Cascade Mountains.

The hike was about 4 miles roundtrip. I think the elevation gain for this section of the trail was over 1500 ft., which if you do the math, is a decent little hike. Needless to say, we weren’t talking much on the way up.

                                         (photo credit: Audrey Williams)

When we arrived at the summit there are a couple of old fire watch towers. The older (condemned) fire tower was built in 1934. They were cool, but the view was unbelievable. 

                                         (photo credit: Audrey Williams)

Black Butte is approximately 6,300 ft. of elevation, at the summit. And in my humble opinion, the panoramic view was even better than that of Smith Rock (maybe because it felt more remote).

                                         (photo credit: Audrey Williams)

You can see in the pictures several peaks. In no particular order, you may see, Broken Top, North Sister, South Sister, Mt. Washington, Belknap Crater, Three Finger Jack, and I believe Mt. Jefferson. The pictures do not do the view justice. And there were a few forest fires, so it was a bit hazy that day. On clear days, some claim, Mt. Hood can also be seen, which is over 100 miles away, as the crow flies.

                                         (photo credit: Audrey Williams)

I really appreciate the desert squirrels. They seem to be somewhat trusting. I thought this little guy was gonna sit in Audrey’s lap.

                                         (photo credit: You guessed it, Audrey Williams)

Anyways, if you ever get a chance, this is one of the many wonders of Oregon, again, my opinion. Maybe my next entry will be about hiking South Sister (Mustache Man will definitely need to be present for that one).

 -Freckles

Thursday, July 18, 2013

"in my weakness"


Recently I had my yearly evaluation at work. Evaluations are always hard for me. I tend to focus on the “areas that need improvement,” rather than celebrate my strengths. The day of the review I tried really hard to restructure my thinking and focus on the fact that “in my weakness, He is stronger.”

Although this thought stopping technique worked for a bit, I decided to do my own work performance inventory and critique myself. You know, so there’d be no surprises. As I reflected on the past year, half of which was spent in a different role than I currently serve, I obsessed on the mistakes I made. The real frustrating part is that I feel like I gave 100% most days. I mean, long work days, midnight phone calls, death threats, etc. To most people, giving your all should be enough to feel accomplished. However, I became more discouraged because I felt that my all wasn’t good enough.

My thoughts continued to spiral out of control…I suddenly felt defeated and like a failure, and the review had not even begun. Yikes, I started to question why I would even be put in this place. I wept. I seriously had a mini-meltdown. I questioned my ability to lead. I am so young. I am the youngest of all the staff. Some days (a lot of days) I don’t even know how to respond, but somewhere along the line, it became my responsibility. “I don’t understand, why me?” I thought to myself. “I’m not seasoned enough for all this.”

I struggle with my mind on a regular basis, maybe we all do. I can remember having a conversation with my mother-in-law about something unrelated to me. But she mentioned a statement that stuck with me. I can’t remember the dialogue word for word, but she said something like “you learn life by the mistakes you make, that’s how we all figured it out. People shouldn’t be so hard on themselves.”

When I was in graduate school I kept thinking that I was missing something. I graduated confused and completely unsure of how this was all supposed to fit together and what a real career would look like. I thought this was only my problem. I was afraid to tell anyone that I really didn’t know that much more than before I started, for fear of not landing a job, of course.

The review went well, partially because I work with amazing people who are super gracious and could tell me I was the worst human being alive and I’d probably still love them. They are the type of employers that I can be honest about my insecurities. They challenge me and encourage me.

After the review I went back to my office and had a few voicemails. One of my first career lessons was that it’s important to call people back, or they get really upset. I had a voicemail from a lady in the community who wanted to volunteer. We chatted and she told me she had recently seen me during a local t.v. interview. I was floored when she asked me if I were from the south…I thought my accent had gotten a little less distinct. I replied “why yes, how did you know.” She said, “I met you 2½ years ago, when you first moved here.” We discussed our first interaction and she began to share her heart with me. I was humbled and moved by her words. She continued to describe how timid I was when I arrived in Oregon. I was so intimidated and she said “and now you are head of the Women’s Center, you are so young, and God is doing huge works.” She was so excited because she felt that if God could use this timid girl from Alabama, He was big enough to do anything. Her words pierced the lies and I was so convicted. My “thorn” was her joy.

God uses my age, my mistakes, my lack of knowledge and “seasoning”, and my timidity to show His power.

I still get anxious and nervous often at work. But I remind myself of this phone call. This is really what it means when Paul says, “In my weakness, He is stronger.” So now, when I can remember, I find joy in my screw-ups.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Crazy is My New Normal


Living in Eugene has been journey to say the least. Before moving here, I used to believe that I was cultured and possessed a well-rounded view of the world. The longer I live here, the more I realize how little I know. I think the most eye opening experience has come over the last year. To be honest, even what I am about to share can in no way describe the reality among the homeless population. I am writing this as I am watching a documentary that exposes life on Skid Row. I am not even sure why I am watching it, because to me, it is depressing. It’s depressing because the stories are similar to the stories I hear on a daily basis. The hard part is that this issue continues to expand all over the nation. It’s easy to avoid such districts as Skid Row and pretend that this issue does not exist. But it does and the hard part is that the remedy is not always clear.

Once hearing personal accounts it is evident that this is not all about hard working individuals, losing their jobs, in a declining economy. If you listen, you hear stories of tragedy, domestic violence, mental illness, addictions, and the list goes on. We as a society believe the solution to such an epidemic is more jobs. I wish it were that easy. I believe that at least half of the individuals I work with daily are not able to maintain employment for one reason or another.  So what’s the solution for these folks? Please note that this is not about any political agenda. I am simply sharing my heart because this is such a struggle for me. I truly am overwhelmed by the needs. This is not about people being hungry or cold. Again, those problems would be an easy resolve.

Moving out of your comfort zone forces you to become a good listener.  Apparently I was not a good listener, even after six years of training. It did not take long to realize that I talk too much. I suddenly became insecure and self-conscious of how much I talk. So now I listen. I listen because I’ve been taught that listening makes people feel heard and special. But I also listen because I am not always sure how to respond. You would think that after a while you become desensitized to the stories, to the erratic behavior or even the lack of structure in a day. Every moment is unpredictable. We never know what story is going to walk into the Women’s Center.

To many of the homeless, their life is stuck in a revolving door. They can’t keep a job because they can’t function in society. They can’t function in society because they don’t take their medication. They don’t take their medication because they can’t pay for the medication. They can’t pay for the medication because they don’t have a job. Similar scenarios seem to plague most of the people I work with. And to be honest, not all of the people I serve desire to live a life beyond what they are experiencing. However, there are others who want to move forward, but can’t because they are stereotyped as a thief or an addict.

A few weeks ago, I was completely blown away as I was greeted by a random Eugene citizen looking to hire an in-home caregiver for her mother. She had no idea who I was and I was shocked that she would take a stranger’s recommendation. I gave her some options and within three days a guest who had been stuck in the Women’s Center, seeking employment for over a year, now has a home and a secure income. A week later, I had another guest participate in a news interview promoting the new Women’s Center. She was nervous because she knew that revealing her homeless status would make her less employable. But she chose obedience and a few days after the interview aired, she received a call from a local employer, who heard her story and wanted to give her an chance.

All this to say that while crazy is my new normal, there are days when I get to sit back and watch God work. While in one moment I can have a disgruntled guest threatening my life and refusing to leave until an intervention takes place (kudos to EPD and CAHOOTS) and the next I have the pleasure of watching God restore relationships, rebuild lives, and conquer mental illness and addictions. The latter always reminds me why I am in this season.


I encourage you guys to check out the documentary Lost Angels to learn more. Expand your horizons, it will change you.

Also, here is information about volunteering with the Eugene Mission. 



Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sticky Situations


Yeah, yeah…I know, it’s been a while. However, despite my lack of consistency, I feel the need to continue to make attempts to update this journey.

I am currently working at the Eugene Mission. Which is part of reason I have not blogged in a while. It’s busy. But it’s also part of the reason I am encouraged to continue blogging. I often walk away from work thinking this day should be documented, though some days I’m not sure anyone would believe me. Really, it’s that crazy.

But more than the craziness of the work, the real the story is the way I am being molded and stretched in the process. Working with people is messy. Messiness is intensified when you add working with people desperate for basic needs. The difficultly in all this is that several, not all, of these people are stuck in a season. Sometimes that means addiction, mental illness, or just plain lack of motivation. The Eugene Mission seeks to provide food, bed, gospel, and restoration in a SAFE environment. Being it is the job of the staff to ensure this safety means that sometimes it is necessary to turn people away. That’s a hard call to make.  And if I am honest, I hate confrontation.

Like I said earlier, I am being stretched. God knows the weak areas of heart. He knows I hate making decisions and being the person responsible for “the tough calls.” It’s easy to put blame elsewhere, “well my supervisor says…” I mean really, who wants to be the bad guy?

This season of my life has been exhausting for me. But I am in it for a reason. I am learning what it means to take each day one moment at a time. I am learning to forfeit my own ideas and wisdom because I know it’s the only way anything good will come of my day.

I have found rest in relinquishing control of my own desires. Seriously, there is freedom in allowing God to be in control. I had to make a tough conversation Monday. A guest made a decision that would not allow her to be in the Women’s Center, for safety reasons. I hugged her and asked to her to call me the next day and watched her walk down the street.

Normally, I would go home and wrestle over this all night. But I was confident that the Spirit guided this situation. I am not the Creator and I am not in control of this woman’s life. She is okay and safe, I spoke with her yesterday. And that had absolutely nothing to do with me. Anyways, this is the serious side of life at the Mission. Believe me, it is also entertaining. We can get to that later.

Warmly, freckles

Hear a story from one our guests here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Silly Waffle Talk

Last weekend Mustache Man had an opportunity to spend some time with some youth from Hosea. He was so excited that he invited them over for breakfast. Ordinarily I would have been stoked, I mean it's the combination of two of my favorite things, community and food. 

However, Saturdays mornings now begin with a checklist that starts when my alarm sounds at 6:30AM!  I have recently begun an 8 AM training/study/accountability/everything else group in order to volunteer with Hope Ranch Ministries (please check it out http://hope-ranch-ministries.com/). Also, I must confess, I love to start with an early morning run. So, needless to say, I was bit stressed about how I was going to fit a breakfast/quality time into this routine. 

To top it all off, Mustache Man didn't arrive home (he had taken the same youth to a conference) until 11 PM. I asked what we would be cooking and he said our guests really like waffles. Awesome. I like waffles too. Except, we don't have a waffle iron! It was at this point that I decided it was probably best for me just to go to bed. And, despite his disgust for Wal-Mart, Mustache Man, made a trip to purchase a waffle iron. 

I didn't do my early morning run. I was bummed. But there was no time for that. When our friends arrived we all sat down to have a nice breakfast and enjoy each other's company. Our young friends shared some stories about living under different bridges with their families and how just 5 months ago they were able to find steady housing. I was so encouraged and challenged by their stories of resilience. 

We had two, cold waffles left. But my sweet friends had already endured so much. At the very least, they deserved fresh, hot, waffles. I offered to cook more. I was immediately confronted with my Western world mindset, as I was questioned about what would happened to the "cold waffles." To which I responded with a lie..."they will be my mid-morning snack," knowing that they would not be touched again until mold started to appear. 

My heart sank. Was I really that wasteful? Am I really one of those people I judge the most? After our "Mending the Soul" group I came back into our apartment to see those dang waffles still sitting there, daring me to eat them. I promise I tried to eat them, but they were gross and cold, so I just threw them away. I then took an inventory of the food in the fridge and the cabinets and just noted how blessed I am. It's funny how weekly I buy "needed" groceries, even though I have still have so much food. Why do I require so much just to throw it away? I can't stop thinking about not our brothers and sisters on the street and faces from those in Africa and Mexico. I'm sure they would have eaten the stupid waffles. 

-Freckles