Chosen Sisters

sister picWe’ve been meeting for our regular sister dates since we first met right after college. At the time, we would go to Olive Garden as our “fancy” restaurant when we found ourselves with a little extra cash and we could suddenly spring for something other than cheap Chinese.  We still find ourselves at Olive Garden every once in a while, but now it serves more as our comfort food; the place we go to remember to hold onto our idealism and cherish our friendship in the midst of the chaos around us.  

We met for one of our monthly sister dates.  Her affect was somber when she sat down, I’m sure my face reflected the same.   The shooting had just happened and the city was just starting with rumblings of divisive action.  I wanted to say something; to see how she was doing.  I started with a stuttering, uncertain “should we talk about it,” rejoicing in the fact that in difficult times we can speak with incomplete phrases and thoughts. Her eyes were glassed over and she responded with a barely audible whisper of “I can’t.”

Our friendship has been marked with racial tensions and we always walk through them together. I knew we would this one, as well, but as we sat across the table with each other on this night, we just couldn’t.  She was struggling with school, balancing relationships, and the high demands of being in social services.  I was struggling as I had just come back from learning a kid I had worked with in the past had just been stabbed to death.  Although we wanted change, we wanted justice and equality, in that moment all we could muster was setting across from each other in silence, knowing that the other understood the silence and there was no pressure when we were together.  For the time being, we sat across from each other as equals, as sisters, just trying to get through the day.

So, we did what we had done for years prior; we ordered more breadsticks and talked about everything else.

Our friendship started years ago, when we were still young and idealistic, but also when we had no clue how much we would grow together.  Our individual prejudices were seated just under the surface.  As our cultures clashed, these prejudices would bubble over, forcing us to choose between colliding and running away from one another, or colliding and clinging to each other.   I can tell you that our first argument was over whether or not spaghetti was a side dish, exactly where we were standing when we discussed interracial dating for the first time, and the slang words we learned from each other.  I could provide several humorous (and sometimes devastating) stories of how we learned our hair was on completely different ends of the spectrum and how she rolls her eyes at me when I cut my hair and I roll my eyes at her when she covers hers with a knit hat. 

I can describe our first encounters with each other’s families.  My first encounter with her family involved a visit to Penn Station and her younger sister stealing a sandwich right out from under her mama’s nose.  Hers involved staying at Aunt Shirley’s and a recliner that threw her backwards. 

Our cultures dictated a lot, but it wouldn’t dictate our friendship. 

Through the years we became chosen sisters.   We experienced prejudice, anger, ignorance, and misunderstanding.  We also experienced celebration, compromise, and reconciliation. It wasn’t always easy, but we did it together.

Months passed and we watched our city cry out.  We watched and listened as it affected our ladies. Some were worried because the racial tension was happening in their neighborhoods.  Others had parents who were law enforcement and they worried about their safety.  Still others, voiced how this is something they live with daily.  We went to work trying to create a safe place for them, allowing them to voice whatever concern they had.  We tried to use our friendship as an example, but the tensions still surfaced in unexpected places.

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She sat with her back towards all of us with her head resting on her hands on the back of the chair.  Sherrita propped herself against the wall where she could be seen, but not intrusive and calmly, but directly stated that it seemed like she was refusing to follow directives from the white staff.  Tension showed in her shoulders.  She quickly turned toward us. Her eyes squinted in a glare and she spoke with venom in her voice, lashing out, “Of course I do.  I hate every one of them.  Why wouldn’t I?  Everyone who ever hurt me was white.  The people who prostituted me were white; the men who bought me were white.  Everyone was.” and with great force whipped back around so her back was to us.

That instant remains in mind.  The hatred, the depth of the rage, came rushing at me surrounding me like a plastic bag covering my face, causing me not to breathe; a hatred so intense I wasn’t sure anything could combat it.  I’m sure it was only a few seconds, but the cliché “time stood still” was written for this moment.  In that instant I suddenly realized the depth of the hurt racism had caused; I realized the grace Sherrita has demonstrated to me through the years, choosing to let go of this same kind of bitterness. 

In that moment, I knew I had to respond with the same type of grace.  As gently as possible, I asked her if she could look at me.  I explained that I knew it was difficult, but I wanted her to see that what I was about to say, I truly meant.  She slowly turned to face me.  The anger was still evident but there was a hint of curiosity there.  I’m sure my breathing was labored and my words stumbled over themselves, but I looked at her and said, “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry for what you experienced and I’m sorry those people will probably never ask you for forgiveness.”  She looked at me more with shock and when she didn’t say anything I went on.  “You don’t have to do anything.  Our job is to show up every day and treat you with love, trust and respect.  Whether you choose to give it back will be up to you.  But, I want you to know I’m going to do it every day with no expectations from you.”  Her look softened a bit and then she responded with a sharp “can I go now.”

I nodded and she quickly left the room.  Sherrita waited until the door shut and promptly slumped against the wall.  Annie sat with glossy eyes.  Every ounce of energy I had went to that moment and I now sat deflated in my chair.  The hurt she felt was so real.  We all understood her hatred and bitterness, and were left holding it uncertain what our next steps should be.

As sisters, instead of professionals, we sat in the room and cried and prayed together. 

She Came Home

It had been almost 9 months since I last saw her.  In the fleeting moment of her impulses she ran out of our lives.  But, now she was found.  The court quickly stamped too high a risk, and without any other options available, she was whisked off to her temporary home.  She affectionately calls it “kiddie prison.”

After months of fighting for visits, I’m finally allowed.

I’m not sure how she’ll respond.  Working in this field, for this long, I’ve learned a few things.  One is that emotions are always extreme even if their not identified.  Another is that regardless of her response in the moment, my role is to simply keep showing up.

As I walk in, I almost miss her sitting there with her team.  She’s slumped over, her extravagant braids have disappeared, and she’s back to wearing lackluster scrubs.  As I walk past, she grabs the attention of her case manager and exclaims, “that’s her.”  As I turn and smile, she immediately puts her head down and attempts to hide the tear with her hand.

We started unsure and awkward, both trying to decipher what the other person was thinking through words and actions, while the other people at the table served as an intrusion.  Once the other workers were distracted with logistics.  We both turned our shoulders slightly to create some semblance of a barrier, a mock privacy in a room full of people.

I began asking, “Do you want to talk…” but before the words were completed, tears quietly rolled down her face.  After a brief pause, a barely audible “I didn’t want to run, but the other girls mentioned it, and I just hadn’t been free in so long.”

She wiped the tears and then continued.  “I knew as soon as I did it that it wasn’t freedom. I wanted to come back right then. But…I was too embarrassed.  I thought you’d be disappointed in me…and then more bad things happened…”

The response came out of my mouth without any thought, “I’m not disappointed.  I’m just sad that we didn’t have enough trust, so you would know you could come back at anytime instead of waiting to be found.”

She instantly picked her head back up and calmly said, “I trust you now.”

Our brief moment was quickly interrupted with further logistics, goal setting, and scheduling.  And just as quickly, it was time for her to move on to the next activity.  As we said our goodbyes, she quickly grabbed and hugged me.  She then said, “I know you’ll be back and tell Ms. Sherrita hi.”  She then smiled and joined her group.

After walking back to my car, my mind had to process a bit.  I replayed the moments finding out she had taken off.  I replayed all the emotions of realizing we had done all we could do and now we just had to wait and trust.  But I also replayed the phone call from her Djo letting us know that she was found.  I replayed the first time I met her, the first time she disclosed to me, and the time I was able to walk into detention and tell her we had a place for her.  Each of those moments hold equal weight in her journey.

The journey may be long, but it hers.

As I started to pull away, I realized why the story of the Waiting Father had been so significant to me this past year.  I realized why I came back to it time and time again. It’s the summary of our responsibility.  At times, we simply wait and trust, but we also hope and embrace the times when we get to run, embrace, and celebrate when our daughters come home.

 

 

 

Prodigal Daughter Come Home

Her face scrolls across the page and it’s startling.  What was suppose to be a simple distraction from a long day, turns into a harsh reminder of what I was fleeing from. An innocent post by someone well-meaning is my reality.  Her missing poster, flashes her charismatic smile, her innocence mixed with intellect.  I’m not sure everyone sees it when they’re clicking share, but when you know her and you see it, it’s undeniable.

It takes me back to five months ago, when I met her for the first time.  She was being held, against the judges’ better judgment, because she was a runner and what else can they do to keep her safe.  She was honest and disclosing, but at the time we didn’t have a bed for her.  She understood, but quietly hated the system for not having a place for her. She asked if I would come back to visit.  I quickly agreed and found myself looking forward to our next visit.

Each visit she disclosed a little more.  She wasn’t proud “of getting in the situation” but she was very proud “of getting herself out.”  She confidently told of how he schemed her and she knew it, but she schemed him back pretending to love him until she found the opportunity to fight back.  And fight she did! Punching and kicking fiercely until she could get by him to the hallway and then running through the lobby causing a scene, knowing someone wouldn’t be able to ignore it because of her age and not wanting a scandal.

As the month ticked by, she never lost her confidence but she lost her faith.  She never doubted that she could take care of herself, but she began to distrust that anyone else would do it as well.  She continued to set in her navy scrubs in her cinder block cell assuring everyone that would listen that she had changed; she wouldn’t run again if they would just get her out.  But, family wasn’t an option and, well, our beds were still full.

The day finally came.  We had a graduate and she would be coming to us!  Everything was ready and she was happy.  For the next several days, she was polite and courteous.  She was gracious with her peers and kind to her staff.  She appeared peaceful and content.  She stated on numerous occasions, “she was ready to grow, to focus on herself, to do what was best for her for once.”

But the temptation was too great; the choice too daunting.  She was faced with the choice to stay and embrace the trusting, loving relationships around her or to choose running led by the fear of not being able to change.

She ignored trust.

She chose fear. But not without looking back.  She ran and we pursued. She pulled ahead and then for just a moment she stopped and looked back again torn between the choice of trusting her future or the fear of living in the moment remembering the past.

Again she chose fear.  We were left standing in dismay and heartbreak.

And, now her picture scrolls across the screen with the title MISSING at the top and we’re left waiting; waiting for her safe return, some deeper understanding.  We’re just waiting.

But we wait with anticipation.  We wait by following up on leads, contacting guardians, driving by places she’s been known to go in the past.  We wait, praying for the opportunity to show her compassion.  We wait, praying for the opportunity to offer forgiveness.  We wait, praying for the opportunity to present her with the best we have to give.

We wait ready to celebrate her return.  But most importantly, we trust that someone, much greater than us is also waiting of her return!

“So he got up and went to his father.  But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”       -Luke 15:20

 

I Lied Once!

I lied once and only once…to my dad.

It started out innocent enough.  The stamp was in my hand.  There was bright ink on it.  And, my sister was right there like a canvas waiting to be used.  It was too perfect! Too tempting! Too much for my little six year old impulse to endure.

I stamped her everywhere and enjoyed it.  I giggled and stamped, and giggled and stamped.

And then I heard it.  Someone was coming (and by someone I mean mom or dad), so I quickly dropped the stamp in between us.  The question came next.  You know the question, “who did that?”

I want to tell you I was noble, that I stood upright and admitted all wrongdoing and humbly took my punishment.  But that would be another lie.  Instead, I hung my head and pointed, selling out my 3 year old baby sister.  My dad responded as all parents do with, “Are you sure?”  Which I emphatically confirmed with a repetitious yes head nod.

The wise father that he was said, “ok,” and continued walking newspaper in hand to the bathroom.

The moment he left the room it happened.  My lip started quivering.  My body started trembling.  The tears started flowing.  I was caught between the fear of what would happen once I told the truth and knowing that it was the right thing to do.

I waited

and I waited

and I waited (he had the newspaper, after all).

Each moment that I waited, the quivering, trembling, and crying grew.  My fear was caught in my stomach, in my throat, in my head.

I slowly inched toward the door.  I just kept looking at it, trying to decide.  It was taking forever and I couldn’t take it.

Finally, I knocked!

I heard through the door a, “yes,” and then I let it fly, a 6 year old rambling confession of all I had done wrong.

You see, although, I feared the response of my dad, I trusted in his love for me in the midst of that response.

My dad patiently listened on the other side of the door.  He asked if he could finish his business and then we could talk.  And, again I waited, but this time with a little more peace.  I sat right outside the door where he could see me first thing.

When he opened the door it wasn’t with a scowl, a furrowed brow, or a mad posture.  He opened it with a smile.  He gently lifted me up and walked me to “our” chair and we talked.  There were consequences.  I would lose my stamps and, with his help, I would clean up my baby sister, but I never lost his Love.

That day happened so long ago, yet it still impacts me.  I remember feeling his genuine love, his patience and kindness.  It taught me the value of honesty and truth.  And, it created in me a desire to make my dad proud instead of disappointed.

But this week it carried new significance, because this week when it came to remembrance it brought a new understanding.  This week I realized that that one moment with my earthly father pointed me directly to my heavenly father.  I can and do come to him a trembling, quivering child with much to confess and make right.

I fear the response of my Father, yet I trust in him.

I set waiting for a response.

He opens the door.

He picks me up.

And, His response is love.

“Do You See Anything You Like?”

“Do you see anything you like?”

It’s a phrase I’ve heard on movies.  I’ve read in articles.  It’s common in The Life, but I never anticipated how I would hear it the first time.

Last night, I did something most people would consider unwise, dangerous, risky, but it came out desperation.  Our girls our constantly forced to work on the streets.  Night after night, they’re put out time and time again in clear sight, yet hidden.  And, even when they’re placed in a safe, peaceful place, they’re sometimes drawn back to the darkness.  The fear and terror pull them back, to a place they hate yet feel comfortable in.

So, last night I needed to understand.  I needed to see for myself.  I needed to know what drove them back to The Life.

My heart pounded and my head was foggy.  I knew exactly what to expect and absolutely nothing to expect.  As we slowly drove through the stroll, a liquor store came into sight.  In front were several young girls, dancing and singing and smiling at the cars driving by.  Several cars were parked with men setting, gazing, and slowly taking drags off of…

My anger took over my anxiety and we pulled into a spot nestled between two of those cars.  Many people stared at us as we stepped out of the car.  As we walked into the store the girls and boys followed us.  We went aisle by aisle trying to breathe, trying to acknowledge what we were experiencing.  The kids would look at us and smile and discretely follow us around the store.

But once we stepped back outside that’s when we heard it.  The bell click of the door was loud and clanking and then he was beside us before I knew he was there.  His words caused me to take pause, “do you see anything you like?”  I was baffled.  My mind couldn’t comprehend it.  He thought we were there to purchase.  We were two, normal looking women and he thought we were there to purchase minors.  Again, I couldn’t breathe.  I was caught somewhere between disgust and confusion.  It had to be directed at someone else.  But then he came and blocked our path.  There was no doubt the question was directed at us.

As soon as he learned that wasn’t our intention, his demeanor changed.  He walked a fine balance between attempting to appease us, while warning us to not come back.  He made small talk, trying to be civil and asking prodding questions, but shaking our hands and refusing to let go while staring us in the eye.

Once back in the car I was caught somewhere between barely being able to breathe and being physically sick.  I wanted to quit and go home.  I wanted to go to bed, cover my head up, and forget everything that happened.  But, that sickening experience fueled the anger; the anger and realization that those kids standing on the curb attempting to balance in between their services could have been my kids.

We went to the seedy hotels who swore they would never let minors in their rooms.

We went through parks where “kids” were walking and offering.

We went to the metro where girls quietly stood waiting for their next dates.

And within hours we were exhausted.  But the exhaustion was also a reminder.  A reminder of what it is we are truly combating.  A reminder that regardless of how tired I am, the work has to go on and have purpose.

And, the reminder that these are kids.  They sing and dance.  They slowly put one foot in front of the other while pretending the curb is a balance beam. And, they smile in the direst of situation, because that innocence is still there hidden deep within them.

Founder’s Corner

So honored to be part of such an amazing organization! Please follow The Covering House to learn more about our anti-trafficking efforts.

businesswoman with a note-book

Me: Lindsey, what size shoe do you wear?

Lindsey: Well, it depends on how cute the shoe is?

Her quick wit won me over immediately.

This is a typical conversation for us around the office probably because 99% of us are women.

Meet Lindsey Ellis our Director of Operations at The Covering House. Two years ago this month, Lindsey became a part of The Covering House team.

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Here is what you need to know about her.

Don’t get between Lindsey and a shoe sale.

Don’t get between Lindsey and a good cup of coffee.

Don’t get between Lindsey and her desire to help kids.

When Lindsey joined TCH team, she came with 13 years of experience working with children both in the “system” and out. Her expertise of residential children’s homes and all of the policies that surround opening a home is just what we needed at The Covering…

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I Had a Good Ride with Old Blue!

old car

Today, the inevitable happened!  It was time to get Old Blue cleaned out and ready to be sold/given away.  A few weeks ago, after a few near death experiences (one including a kiddie scooter), I decided it was time to get a new car.  Something more reliable.  Something more practical.  Something that had a driver’s seat that actually sat upright on consistent basis.

So, last week with some help from the family, I drug myself to the car dealer.  I made it clear from the beginning that I’m somewhat of a cheapskate, I didn’t need bells and whistles, and I planned on driving it until it died, just like I did with Old Blue.  I think a small piece of me was secretly hoping it wouldn’t work out; they couldn’t meet all my demands.  The result, me walking off the parking lot and sticking with the familiar.  But, that didn’t happen.  Everything I asked for I received and then some.

That’s how I found myself cleaning out my treasured friend today.  And as surreal as it feels, it’s time.  As I began cleaning her out, I couldn’t help but think of the lessons she taught me. I know it sounds crazy, I mean after all she’s an object, a machine, nothing more than a necessity to most people.  But to me, she hold memories, lessons, and was with me half my driving life.

Here’s just a few things I learned through the years with Old Blue:

1.  Life is too short to not have some adventure!!

The first trip this car took was a impromptu weekend trip to Colorado.  We left in the middle of the night on a Thursday with the only rule being we could stop at any point of interest we wanted to along the way.  Bobby D was always up for anything, and Annie, well she was easily persuaded when we were road tripping.  This particular adventure led us to “see 7 states” from our tower tourist site.  As we pulled up, we realized something was not quite right.  First, there were rusted out cars with huge boulders setting on top of them.  As we got a little closer, we noticed there were taxidermy animals setting inside of it.  This was a small red flag, but we were young, on an adventure, and perhaps we thought ourselves a little invincible, so we kept driving.

As we pulled up to the building, it was the kind of place tourist go into and never come out, and as we looked up into the “tower” we were met with what I’m hoping were mannequins staring back at us.  I was something straight out of a House of Wax movie.  In that moment, we found out exactly how fast Old Blue was able to move.

This was the first of many trips she would make across the country.  When I couldn’t wait to see the Stanfield Clan,  Sherrita and I loaded up and headed to South Dakota.  She guided me to Louisville to visit great friends and a side trip to the Zappos Warehouse. She drove through what can only be described as a blizzard to get me to the airport hours away, so I could make it to my first professional conference.

Adventure, we’ve seen our share together.  But there were other lessons along the way, as well.

2.  Community is built by spending time together!

As I was cleaning out Old Blue, there were some things I just wasn’t going to be able to clean.  There are stains left in the floorboard from spills from my youth kids, or my many coffee trips with friends.  There were letters from friends tucked in the glove box, my handmade coffee cozy sitting under the radio, and a “few” pairs of my favorite shoes hidden in the trunk.

Every item I found, reminded me of an event.

The shoes, for example, reminded me of a time when some of my girls (junior highers at the time) and I were enjoying their summer off.  We stopped to get gas and it was a great opportunity to teach them how to pump it.  What I hadn’t expected was that they had all put on a pair of my high heels they had found in the floor board.  As K got out of the car to help me pump, I was met with a pair of bright yellow, green, and orange heels.  We laughed so hard we forgot to put the gas cap back on and I drove off with it setting on top of my car.  We suddenly became aware of it as we heard it clunk to the pavement as we pulled up to the stoplight.  It rolled back several feet and once again K agreed to help.  She dashed out of the car and ran as best she could in her bright high heels to come to the rescue.

It made several trips for coffee, or late night Steak ‘N’ Shake trips.  We drove on back roads, sometimes listening to music and sometimes talking until we were so tired we could barely make it home.

All my relationships, friendships, community, had memories in that car.

3. As time goes by, we must learn to be innovative!

Year by year, things started going wrong as they often do with cars. I wasn’t in a place where I could justify buying a new vehicle, so I had to improvise. I had to be innovative. I had to use duct tape! If you look at the seats, you’ll see tiny slivers of silver from where I put tape to keep the springs in the chair to keep it from ripping our pants.

But, just a few months ago I had to be really innovative. I sat down in the driver’s seat and I heard a pop and suddenly my driver’s seat reclined back, all the way back! It was great if I wanted to take a nap, or perhaps spy on someone, but it wasn’t so conducive for driving. I spent the day setting completely upright and realized right away that this wasn’t going to work. My mechanic was having neck surgery and was several towns over, so I had to do something. I slipped myself underneath the seat and used my legs to push it as far forward as I could manage. Then I took a small laundry basket and wedged it in between the back and front seat. I then filled with random items so the weight could hold it in place. I was pretty proud of my innovation, until I realized there were people watching the whole situation. I wasn’t sure if I should smile or take a bow, so I opted for running inside.

There are a million more stories I could share and want to. Maybe, it will become it’s own category someday.

But today, I’m just experiencing gratitude for life I’ve been able to live the past 10 years and the car that joined me on the journey