“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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Honesty!

I’ve always been honest to a fault.  At times, it gets me in trouble.  For honesty is often misinterpreted as insensitive, or rude, or annoying in our society.  Granted I could probably work on my delivery, or simply keep my honest opinion to myself, but ________ (fill in the blank with whatever excuse you see fit, because I’ve used them all).

My honesty is a prime example of my greatest strength often becoming my greatest weakness.  It’s one of the traits I value most in myself and in others.

I think it’s one of the reasons I value working with teenagers.  They ARE honest!  They tell you if your shoes are ugly, if you’re not as cool as you think you are, or if your talk, style, and everything else about you is outdated.  The filter of adulthood passive-aggressiveness is yet to develop so they let it fly undeterred by how it might be received.  And, they are shocked by the looks of disgust, or the sensitivity of others.

But often hidden below this external bluntness, is the hidden truth.  The things they think we, as adults, can’t handle.  Their honesty actually masks the truth that they secretly don’t want to hold onto, but are too afraid to release into our safety; afraid of what we may do with it.

This dichotomy is often where I find myself with my girls, caught between complete honesty and complete hidden truth.  I secretly love and hate it, because I never know where it’s going to take us in a relationship.

Last week, I was discussing with a young lady about what our individual journey may look like and we began to draw it out.  On her masterpiece, I noticed she had included me.  She caught me looking, smiled, and brought out a pink color pencil and quickly colored in very rosy cheeks (how’s that for honesty).  As we continued thinking out our journey, she began to explain how the people on her picture makes her feel loved.

Of course, my heart melted just a little, but I kept it together.  We continued to talk about it.  Why did those people make it on her list?  Did she feel loved by other people or just the ones on the sheet?  What did I do to earn that honor?  And she said something unexpected.  She said she felt loved by other people but the people all the list showed her true love because they were always truthful with her!

My heart swelled a bit.  A trait that many people find offensive, or too much to deal with, was the very trait she needed and valued.

Honesty demonstrated love.

Truthfulness encouraged her to be open.

True relationships helped her to be herself.

Honesty, it can be weakness at times, but this week it was my greatest strength.

It’s all in Perspective: life lessons from Addie

race for refuge

4:45 am…who would get up at this hour.  I know I’m suppose to be a grown up.  I know I’m suppose to grow into appreciating the phrase “the early bird gets the worm.”  I’m suppose to wake up energized, do a devotion, watch the sunrise with a cup of coffee in hand.  But, the truth is, even though I am in theory an adult, the only part of the “suppose to’s” that actually happens on the regular is the cup of coffee. 

Here’s the real truth…I rarely go to bed at a decent hour, I drink caffeine like I’m still a teenager, and I usually set my alarm to just enough time to run out the door. 

So, when I hear the alarm and I see the glowing numbers 4:45am, my body rebels.  It screams no, no, no!  I attempt to hit snooze, but then I remember that today is unlike any other.  It’s the Race of Refuge.  Who cares if it’s a Saturday, on Labor Day Weekend?  Who cares if my body couldn’t adjust to the shift and decided to stay up the night before?  Who cares that my eyes still burn with the uncertainty of waking up and my throat was still scratchy?  It doesn’t matter because today is a big day.  A day for small sacrifices like waking up early, running errands, and for some, running in the heat. 

About 500 runners showed up in the park to run for The Race for Refuge.  Among them several of my friends who traveled across the state to be there to support me and our cause.  Each runner was given a survivor story, so they would know who they were running in honor of.   For some it was simply a 10K and their focus was their best time, but for most it was about attempting to combat trafficking by coming together and offering awareness.

Among those who showed up to support me was Addie.  Most of you know Addie, after all she provides me with my best material and life lessons.  And this day was no exception.  She showed up decked out in black and pink ready to run with her family.  Her little three year old mind knew little about what the race represented but when questioned, she’d say, “I’m running for girls that were hurt.”  Simple but true. 

It was such a proud moment for an auntie, because not only was she there, but her new baby sister Lydia was also there to stroll through her first 5k. 

I smiled as Addie began telling me about the race.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Me:  Addie, what was your favorite part of the race?

Addie:  The finish line!

Me:  Why is that?

Addie:  It’s always great when I win!

Now, let me clear one thing up.  Addie was nowhere close to the best time.  It’s hard to compete when you’re pushing a stroller and keeping up with a three year old.  But, her perspective was she won.  Crossing the finish line was success for her. 

As I thought about it, I realized Addie had done it again.  Somehow, in her simplistic way she taught me what was truly important.  Too often I cross the finish line without even noticing, because it didn’t happen the way I thought it should or someone beat me to it, or it wasn’t my best time.  I measure my success in comparison with others or with wrong expectations.  I forget that the finish line is the GOAL! 

So, as I think about the race in front of me, I’ll try to remember to keep the finish line, true success in front of me, and just like Addie, I’ll run it with joy.

The Shackle Shuffle

 

handcuffs

Working in residential, you’re supposed to get use to the “shackle shuffle.”  As kids are brought from the detention center, dressed in scrubs or a similar jumpsuit, their legs and hands are shackled causing them to shuffle their feet in order to move.  Like I said, you’re supposed to get use to it, seeing it often, but I never have.  My mind can reason that it is a consequence of their crime and choices; it’s to keep them and others safe.  But, there is still a minor hiccup in my spirit every time I see it.

Maybe I cringe because this person in front of me is no longer a case on a page, but a living, breathing, and usually extremely likeable kid with their own story to tell.  Although I may not agree with their choices, I now understand them, or can at least follow the irrational thought process that led to them.

This week, I found myself in the court room waiting area, not just waiting for our name to come up on the docket, but also waiting to see her shuffling toward us.  This one was going to be especially hard, because…well…I especially liked her.  I distracted myself by noticing the drooping pipes hanging from the ceiling, the drab carpet worn from the many years of youth shuffling their feet across it, and the chairs wedged in uncomfortable positions to make the necessary space for the case workers and families that would also be waiting for their name to be called.

And the hiccup came, and it was stronger than I anticipated.  Her face was sad, but she mustered a small smile just big enough to show her child-like dimple for a second.  I’m not sure why these moments continue to affect me, after all I’ve seen it enough.  Maybe, this one was hard because she’s a mini version of my best friend complete with crazy hair, a feisty attitude that thinks she’s about a foot taller than what she actually is, and a chattiness that can jump from one conversation to the next without a breath in between them.  Or, maybe it’s as simple as I genuinely just like her.

Regardless of why, the sadness was still there.

We waited patiently listening to the clinking of the heavy metal doors open and close and made small talk.  We laughed as she would give a description of each passerby, at one point saying, “Mm-m-m, the things you see in the juvenile justice court system.”

The light-heartedness changed as soon as the court was ready for us.

Walking into the court room is always a free for all, with each party having to attempt to find the proper seating.  The DJO points one direction, the bailiff another and all you’re secretly praying for is that the judge won’t ask you a question.  Anxiety completely engulfs the room.

She is quickly directed to remember to stand up when the judge enters the room, even if it’s awkward with the shackles.  Once the judge enters the room, the formalities begin.  A list of all her wrongs are systematically read and the judge begins to question her for her plea and her understanding.  She pleasantly and politely responds with, “yes, your honor,” after each question.  Her anticipation and anxiety shows when her “yes, your honors” start coming at a quicker pace and at unnecessary times.  We hold our breath for the judge’s response, and that’s when it happens.  A small smile creeps onto his face and that’s when I know, he sees it too:  that undeniable likability of this young girl sitting in front of us.

She must have seen it too, because she relaxed, and then we all relaxed. Encouragement replaced anxiety and plans began to take place.

We left the court and I no longer noticed the drab carpet or bland walls.  I no longer cared that the chairs were placed just a little too close together.  Instead, I saw this girl in front of me with a glimmer of hope.

As we sat in the waiting room, talking about her safety plan and what she will do when she feels like running, she looked at me with a serious look on her face and said, “You don’t have to worry about that (holding up her handcuffed hands).  I’m going to learn to just read a book.”

The Power of Our Words!

addie fountain3

According to about a million websites and self-help books, it’s not uncommon for a lady to use up to 20,000 words a day. I’m not sure where the research comes from, or who decided to start counting, but I do know that I use every single one of my words daily. I love to chat. I love to debate. I love conversations in the backyard and conversations on the front porch. I love going for coffee so we can talk. I love to verbally process. I love talking so much that sometimes I go somewhere public to engage a complete stranger in telling me their entire life story and in return sharing mine, just to get all my words in.

20,000 words daily and I get them all in!!

That is 140,000 words weekly and, if my math is correct, 7,280,000 yearly! That’s a lot of words!

But, how many of those words do I actually think about and process before they go straight past my lips? How often do I think about the expressions I use, the sound bites I share, or the piece of advice I offer?

I wish I could tell you these thoughts came from my profound maturity and wisdom. But, the truth is it came from a simple conversation with Addie, my adorable 4 year old inspiration.

I’m trying to be a more intentional auntie, checking in on my kiddos and letting them know I love them. This week while texting Addie through her mommy, I replied, “tell her I love her bunches.” Simple, right. I think it’s a pretty common phrase which usually leads to a simple response of “love you too.”

But, not with Addie. Her response was, “she loves me as much as bunches! What does that mean?” It took me a minute, because I knew she wanted a real answer. A simple catch phrase we throw out randomly would not suffice with Addie. She needed to be able to see it; to understand it.

So, I thought before I responded. I wanted to find a way to help her understand how much I loved her. After much contemplation, I responded with, “it would be like if you took all the stuff that is important to you and put it in a bunch or a pile, that’s how much I love you.”

It apparently appeased her because she simple responded with, “oh, ok. I love her too.”

A simple, un-thoughtful comment led to a great life lesson… Think about what we say and communicate to one another. Does the other person truly understand what we are trying to tell them? Can their mind grasp the feelings we are trying to express? Are our comments intentional and effective, or are we just trying to get in our 20,000 words?

I set in a booth at Bread, Co., of course (trying not to engage the women next to me), thinking about my words today.  Not all of them were encouraging or edifying.  A few were harsh and unnecessary.  Several were impulsive. 

But, these thoughts of Addie, made me a little more intentional; a little more thoughtful.  I caught and stopped myself a little quicker.  I paused before sharing opinions and checked motives. 

So, I may have only got in 19,000 words today, but they were a little more meaningful.

***the picture above has very little to do with our words, but I think it definitely captures Addie’s spirit & why she’s so inspiring!***

Bonding on a Plastic Chair

red plastic chair
I slowly placed my bags through the x-ray machine, hoping I had removed anything that could be perceived as a weapon. I then hold my breath and walk through the metal detector, a habit from the many times I unintentionally set it off in the past. The DJO is paged over the intercom and I’m then escorted through the waiting room. I wait for the click to signal I can walk through. I adjust my strategically placed scarf (I was a little cocky thinking I could eat in the car) and shift from foot to foot, while I patiently wait for the click.

I’m not sure what waits for me on the other side, but I anxiously wait.

Once I’m ushered through the door, I see her sitting, waiting for me in a box-like, cinder block room on a flimsy, plastic, red chair. She’s hunched over the table. We’re both apprehensive and we recognize it in one another.

The introductions are made and door closes behind me. We’re two strangers, yet the expectation is that she’ll share intimate details with me of her life as a run away.

She looks up at me and I instantly like her. She’s tough but with a baby face. And, her hair sticks up in all directions held out of her face with a small headband. We attempt small talk, but quickly realize we both prefer to just be straight with one another.

Within minutes, we were laughing.

And then she would disclose something.

Then we’d laugh again. The cycle went on and on, she’d disclose, then joke, and then back again.

I was struck by the dichotomy in front of me. I was suddenly aware that the young woman setting across the table from me was caught between being a completely, innocent kid one moment and that innocence being completely stolen the next. I listened to stories that were hard to hear, but recognized the importance of her getting to tell it. I watched as bit by bit she was getting her voice back, and although it was hard to hear it was beautiful to watch.

Our time was up, but as I as I was waiting to hear the click of the door, I left knowing I would get to see her again; and knowing that I was going to grow as much she does.