You don’t have to be God people to be Good people.

I fell in love with this phrase when my friend, who grew up Mormon, said it one evening when we were talking about the Center and life in general.  One of the most interesting things about my job (aside from almost everything lol), is that I work daily with a LOT of people of all different kinds of faiths.  Everyone may be of different religions, or variations of a religion, or no religion at all, but they’re working towards a common goal; to concretely help people living in the most extreme poverty.

I don’t have a specific church that I’m a member of, but because I work in a Methodist church, people ask me, almost daily, if I’m Methodist or a member of that specific church.  I grew up going to a Baptist church, which was close to my house when I was a kid.  One of the advantages of not having a specific church is that I’m don’t feel biased over any specific religion or group, and can work easily with people of all faiths (or no faith), and as long as everyone is striving to do good in the world, I’m in their corner.  Everyone wants the opportunity to do some good in the world.

I often refer to the energy or force of faith as “The Universe”.  It excludes no one.  I’ve seen the amazing things that The Universe can do, and I’ve witnessed first hand the way that the things that we put into it can come back in beautiful (and sometimes terrible) ways.  I love the teachings of Jesus Christ and take to heart that we should love one another, show kindness and generosity to the poor, and be as much of a force of good as we can be.  They’re lofty goals, but again, callings typically have lofty goals.

Today was one of the busiest days I’ve seen at the center in a while.  We had so much going on that I didn’t have a moment to answer emails, take pictures, post to social media- I’ll be tackling those emails after I write this blog, but I’m trying to write daily, so I’ve promised myself that I will, in some form or another, write something.  I do have one of the few jobs in the world where by 2 pm I’ve already had “a day, whew” while other people are still at work.  Today was “a day”.

In good news, our Bombas socks came, as well as our stove to replace the one with the electrical problem.  The bad news about the stove is that the plug isn’t the right one, but we have someone coming to look at it.  St. John’s MCC made and brought lunch today, so that gave us some reprieve on cooking.  Our friend, Randy Evans who runs “Walking Tall Wilmington” came today, hung out, and then spoke during church service.  It was awesome to see him, even though it was so busy that we barely got to talk.

The saddest news that I heard today was that one of our community members, a young man, got the call that no parent ever wants to get.  His daughter had been playing on a jungle gym, had a seizure and passed away.  I sat with him outside in the smoking section and literally just sat with him.  There was nothing I could say, nothing I could do, but give him a hug and let him know that Pastor Robert was on site that day if he wanted to talk to someone who specializes in grief.  Pastor Robert worked in hospice for a long time, and loss is a subject that he doesn’t shy away from.  I then just sat with him some more and checked in on him throughout the day.  It reminded me of something Rev. Hugh Hollowell said, “I can’t pay your light bill, but I will sit with you in the dark”.  We do a lot of sitting with people in the dark.

Our friend who sees Demon Fairies was very calm today, and I hooked him up with some gear to replace the Marshall’s shopping bag (the handles on those shopping bags break easily).  I got him a donated book bag, canvas tote, and one of those small drawstring book bags, that way he can separate his things out as he needs to.  He apologized again today, but for the first time, when I gave him the bags, I saw a hint of happiness flash through his eyes and it gave me hope.  Hope for him, hope for the center and hope for all of us.

We were able to get two more tents to people who lost theirs in the flood!  One guy cracked me up and said his tent looked like “Jurassic Park in there”.  I also saw one of our young friends who we haven’t seen in a year!  She was 30 days sober, walking better with a cane (last time I saw her, she was in a wheelchair and had been hit by a car), and she looked very healthy.  She is a person who has been diagnosed with multiple personalities, and one of her personalities is 5 years old, so I found her 5 year old a toy dinosaur to replace some of the toys she lost in the flood and I hope that it makes her happy.  Her inner 5 year old had been acting out since the flood, and her therapist had said that this may happen.  I know all of that sounds really far out, but I’ve learned a LOT about actual multiple personality disorder, and I always take the requests of her other personalities very seriously.  If she shows up as a 5 year old, I respect that too and don’t expect her to do things that 5 year olds can’t do.  Luckily, she has a very supportive boyfriend to help her navigate the world, she needs that support and understanding.

One of our friends had to go to court for loitering.  Have you ever seen a rich person arrested for loitering?  That’s just all I have to say about that.  It’s a “homeless people charge”.

We see a lot of things in a day at the center.  I spent a lot of time on my feet with my attention pulled in several different directions.  I was VERY happy to see my therapist today, as he is a person who has also worked in a daytime facility, specifically for people with Schizophrenia.  It was the PERFECT person to talk to, because as he said, “There were times that I would get together with old coworkers, and we all felt like no one else in the world could understand some of the things we experienced.”  He’s definitely a person who “gets my job”, and that’s excellent because I know that not everyone is going to get that.  I mean, some of this stuff, you just couldn’t make up if you tried, so having someone else who has been there to talk to after a crazy day is cathartic.

Now, I guess I’m going to go tackle all of those emails.  Stay good people!

 

Forgiveness is Huge

This morning, our friend who sees Demon Fairies, came up to me immediately and said “I’m sorry, I’m an asshole.  I had a total nervous breakdown yesterday.  Sometimes we hurt the people who help us the most, and I’m sorry.”

I asked him if his medications had been in the bag that got stolen, and he said they were, and that he had an appointment on the 3rd to have his scripts refilled.  I told him that if there was anything we could do to keep him calm and out of trouble until his appointment to let us know, and not to let it build up to yesterday again.  We’ll help you out however we can, but we have to keep the place safe for everyone.  He agreed to that, and I gave him a hug.  He said “I haven’t had a hug from anyone in a long time.”

He was quiet and went about his business for the rest of the day.  He ate at lunch (a good thing), and I got him a bag to replace the old, black trash bag that he had been hauling his worldly possessions around in.  It wasn’t much, just a Marshall’s reusable shopping bag, but he looked really happy and said “That’s a great bag, thank you.”

Grace is hard, and forgiveness is huge.

The rest of our day was busy, 62 people for lunch!  Billy and I reorganized the meat cooler and were in awe of how much pork we had in comparison to everything else.  One thing that we have learned very quickly is that a LOT of people don’t eat pork.  When we make pork (and we pretty much have to every lunch because it is the most donated meat in our area), we always have to make something to go with it.  We have St. John’s Methodist church doing our lunch tomorrow, so we’re planning Thursday’s meal.  So far it’s pork shoulder, and turkey neck gravy for the non-pork folks over rice.

Our hall was swamped with clothing and bedding donations, so I and our friend, Dave, took a stab at clearing it all out.  We have a lot of women’s clothing, a lot of men’s dress pants, and a lot of assorted bedding.  More bedding than we can use right now, so if you’re looking for sheet sets, pillow cases or a quilt, stop by and help yourself, we have plenty!

I’m trying to write something every day, so some days there will be more than others, however, I definitely thought that this deserved an update.  Tomorrow we’ll be starting the day with sausage, eggs and grits, so if you’re up and about at 9:30, join us for breakfast!

 

 

 

 

Demon Fairies

This past weekend, the center was vandalized- benches overturned, trash cans overturned, picnic tables overturned, and concrete benches torn apart; seriously.  We were able to put everything back together (minus 1 concrete bench that we were unable to save) before church Sunday morning, but it was a Saturday night surprise.

We had thought it might be the kids going back to school, that was what some folks said, but then a community member came to me and told me that he saw who did it, and it was the person that I suspected.  It’s a community member who is new to us.  He started out as quiet, not really saying much or making a fuss, but he’s gotten increasingly more talkative, talking in a loud, fast, jumbled way, and I know that if he was once a medicated person, he isn’t right now.

Today, he was in the shower truck cursing and screaming up a storm.  He yelled about demon fairies.  He sang loudly.  He freaked out a lot.  That was when I was approached by one community member and told that they were driving by and saw him break the concrete bench.  It all made sense.  A few days ago another community member with Schizophrenia told me that he often saw demon fairies in the shower before he got on medication.  Now here is this guy yelling about demon fairies in the shower- this man has Schizophrenia and the things that he sees are terrorizing him.

Later, out of the clear shit blue, while I was talking to another person about where he could do his laundry, our friend asked “What’s for lunch?”  I told him that I would have to check in with Billy.  He then called me a “piece of shit”.  The staff had done nothing to him, we had tried to be understanding, tried to offer whatever help we could, and tried to be very empathic.  Tomorrow, if he shows up, I’m going to have to ask him to leave.

I hate having to do that.  I know that he is suffering.  I know that he needs help, but I can’t force him to go get any.  The best that I can do is maybe call the police and have them take him to one of our local emergency mental health facilities.  A person who could do the type of damage that I saw outside of LW, by himself, is not a person that can be reasoned with right now.  He’s being tortured by things beyond his control, and he’s scared and angry.

We have a lot of folks who experience sights and sounds that we can’t see.  Most of them are gentle people, and go through bouts of issues when their medication gets stolen or they run out of it.  Most of the time they can still be reasoned with to some extent, but I think this person is past that.  His belongings were recently stolen, and I’m betting he had some medication in those belongings.  Right now I’m going about the thought process of the kindest, most ethical, safest way to get him some help before he hurts himself or anyone else, so that’s what’s on my mind.

Schizophrenia is one of the only mental illnesses that cannot be dealt with any way but with medication, and it is hereditary, so a person is born with it.  Bipolar disorder also needs to be treated with medication and people can be born with it too, but they can also be triggered into it by trauma as well.  For this man, there is no amount of kind words or meaningful gestures that can help him right now (other than helping him to survive to see another day), he’s really going to need someone to notice that he is suffering and people to figure out a way to help him get back to himself.  I’m going to be thinking a lot about that tonight.

 

You are all of these people.

Social media reflects who we are, and often times I can tell “who I am” at any point in time by what people ask me when we’re in person.  In some cases, I can even tell WHEN they started following me online.  People are onions, peeling in layers, each revealing a new part.  Right now I’m the “homeless center lady”, but I’ve been other people, and I bet so have you.

I’ve been the “Lives in Los Angeles girl”.  Taking pictures of crazy/funny stuff.  Talking about things that I found amusing on the West Coast through the eyes of a Southerner.  Writing about my job on King of the Hill.

I’ve been the “Hemp Necklace lady”.  I sewed patchwork dresses and made hemp jewelry.  I drew mandalas.  I had an Etsy store.

I’ve been the “tomato/horticulture lady”.  When I was going to NC State for horticulture, people often knew me as the plant person.  I was working on some pretty cool things with heirloom tomatoes and had a little garden, access to a very big greenhouse, and plants were what I wrote about.

I’ve been the “Hawaii Girl”, taking beautiful pictures of my adventures working in a tropical botanical garden, learning a new culture, and living on an island.

I’ve been the “new dog lady”.  There was a time when having a dog was very new for me, and I wrote about him pretty often.  I dated someone who had 2 dogs, so there were plenty of photos and funny stories.

I’ve been the “soap-making lady”, trying out new techniques, new smells, taking pictures of freshly cut soap.  I vended at farmer’s markets and festivals.  I grew things that I then made into soap.

I’ve been the “chicken lady”.  I got some chicken girls, hatched baby chickens, took pictures of cool, colorful eggs, and talked to people about chicken diseases, how to care for babies, and what kinds of things they like to eat (almost everything).

I’ve been the “bought a new house person”, and took everyone on a journey of buying a home, painting it, decorating it, and settling into it.  I then became “Opening a new restaurant person”, and helped open a restaurant from scratch.  These journeys happened back to back.

I’ve been “Angry Activist Person”, charged, political, shaking my fist and screaming from the rafters an whoever would listen.  I’ve had someone who hadn’t met me in real life before open up their introduction with “Don’t start yelling at me about feminism and politics”.  I laughed about it and told them that I also do other things in real life.

Now I’m “Homelessness Lady”, and while that sounds pretty scary to people when you say it out loud, it’s actually a pretty amazing place to be.  I still grow tomatoes.  I still have chickens.  I still make soap.  I still shake my fist for justice.

You can be and have been many things.  You are a multi-layered person.  We all are.  As I told someone on Friday, “You are all of these people.  Everything you need lives inside of you right now”.  Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise, you’re not a “brand”, you are a soul.

You’re Welcome to What’s in the Fridge

Today I was messaging back and forth with some of our unhoused community members, trying to put together a list of who lost tents, how many, and where the the most damage happened.  During one of my conversations, I learned that 4 of our folks who lost everything had no way to get to dinner and were hungry.

Dinner is served in 2 locations that I know of; the Salvation Army Center for Hope on Capital Blvd, and a church off of New Bern Ave.  I realized in this moment that the best way to get them fed without them being stuck anywhere, especially now that they have no home base, was for me to just make and bring something.  I didn’t have much in the fridge.  I had just eaten a ham sandwich, so I asked “mayo or mustard”, and made up 4 ham sandwiches, and 4 bowls of ramen noodles, putting the hot noodles in take out containers that I had saved, and headed to meet them on Fayetteville St.

Our folks don’t like to beg.  I don’t either.  I don’t enjoy begging the Universe for what the center doesn’t have, but I know that I have to use my amplified voice to advocate for people who can’t.  This very simple meal was well received, and everyone was definitely very hungry.  It wasn’t fancy, but making that simple meal gave me joy.  Why?  Because it was made here, in my home, out of my fridge and cabinets with my hands, and I had it to give freely.  I didn’t have to beg anyone for the makings, and they didn’t have to beg anyone for dinner.  Today no one had to expend that extra energy to ask the Universe, and instead we could simply enjoy our friendship, our sandwiches, and our noodles.

You might be thinking, “But you do that every day, why did this feel different?”  It feels different because it is intimate.  It’s not cooking for 50, there is no serving line, and it was just a small enough meal to be quick and manageable to pack up for 4 people.  I don’t bring people meals in the evening that often, and maybe one day Love Wins will be able to be the type of organization that serves a meal again in the park, but it won’t be like this.

When people serve on a large scale, it’s back to asking for donations, planning the meal, dealing with criticism (there are plenty of people who will be quick to tell you that ramen noodles are unhealthy to serve to homeless people, even though that is what I had for supper).  This is a different experience, like folks dropping by unexpectedly and having whatever you scrounge up for dinner.  It’s like family, and in that moment, I’ve never been happier to make a ham sandwich for anyone.

 

Real talk about depression, anxiety, and panic attacks

I spent Sunday having back to back panic attacks.  If you’ve ever had one of those, you’re probably nodding in empathy because you know how crappy they feel.  Your heart skips a beat and races; it’s hard to catch your breath.  It feels like you’re going to jump out of your own skin.

 

The last time I had these was during November of 2010.  I had just returned home from my internship in Hawaii, got off a plane, and headed straight to the funeral of my lifelong best friend, Jeremy Wynn.  It was Nov. 6th.  On Dec. 10, we lost our stepmother, Diane suddenly.  I was enrolled full-time in school and working in a busy restaurant the rest of the time.  Panic attacks suddenly became a part of my world along with great sadness and grief.

 

Thank goodness I had a wonderful grief counselor to help me navigate that time period.  I also got a prescription for a generic depression drug that wasn’t expensive, but helped create a little distance between me and my tremendous sadness.  I learned to grieve both my best friend and my step-mother, and attempted to not let the mix of the two losses compound together into a huge bowl of sadness- that’s incredibly easy to do.

 

This set of panic attacks is different with entirely different causes.  This set is work related, and the result of the tremendous pressure to constantly be fundraising so that we can keep the center open.  I’m “on” 24-7.  Even socially, I’m also working.  I worry every second of the day, even though that really doesn’t do any good.  I wake up in the dead of night, immediately worried about payroll, rent, bills, our insurance, and our taxes.  The first thing I think about when I wake up in the morning is my calendar, what meetings I have that day, and how we’re going to make payroll.

 

It’s taken over every corner of my life this past year.  I started trying to “self-care” and manage it away by first, giving away extra responsibilities.  I took a year off from Crape Myrtle Court.  I took a break from bartending at The Ritz.  Then I slowly gave away bartending shifts at Flex.  That way I could focus more. It bought me some time and energy.  Then I decided that I could no longer start my day listening to the President’s tweets on NPR, so I stopped listening to the news in my car.   My next stop on the “self-care” Ferris Wheel has been to drink combinations of herbal teas every day.  I got a therapist.  Those things also bought me a little time on the sanity timeline.  My therapist used to also run a center for people experiencing homelessness, so he gets the “non-profit blues”.

 

With the physical symptoms of an anxiety/panic attack onset, I called my mentor, Rev. Hugh Hollowell, as I know he has experienced the same thing in the same place.  He gives me a lot of perspective, which is something that we lose at times.  I often say “Objectively, it’s a great time to be human.  We live longer than we ever had and many major diseases have been eradicated.  Keep perspective.”  Again, that can be challenging when the news looks like a reality T.V. show and social media is enough to make anyone believe that we’re on the verge of a civil war.  People aren’t meant to take in that much information on a daily basis with no time to digest it.

 

My next step is that I’ve deleted the FB app. from my phone.  I asked my therapist, “Do you often hear that Social Media is stressful, or is that just me?”  He reassured me that he hears that very often and it is a legitimate stress for many people right now, up there with politics.  I’ve made an appointment to get those miracle pills that helped me through 2010, and I’m trying to schedule, on a daily basis, something beautiful to do for myself, since all of my hobbies have fallen to the wayside.  That’s how I know that I’m depressed too- no hobbies, and I can’t remember the last time I did something I really enjoyed.  I don’t even like cooking anymore.  Mostly I just network, answer email, write what I can, worry, shower and sleep (though not very well).

 

I’m looking at another month of no paycheck for myself, and that’s tough.  I’m burning through savings.  I’m probably going to have to start working a second job again, and I simply don’t know how I’m going to find the energy to do that- none of us are getting any younger, last I checked. The idea of having to do what I’m doing and deal with bartending at night- well, I guess if I’m that busy I won’t have time to worry about much because I’ll be in survival mode again, conversely, I don’t know how I’m going to keep up with it all.  I was so happy to be able to get a normal amount of sleep (or at least that option)…  You see where this is going.  It’s just hard.  Doing this work is hard in its own way, but funding this work is incredibly stressful.  Payroll taxes are enough to wake me in the night in a cold sweat.

The Weekend

It’s been a pretty amazing weekend in non-profit life.  The Crape Myrtle Festival Gala was absolutely beautiful, and everyone was dressed to the nines and having a blast.  I’m not sure how much money they raised (I’m on next year’s court, but this was Court XXXVIII’s Gala), but I’m sure that they did well, and Court 38 will be able to offer grants to all of our favorite HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ non-profits during the Harvest Tea this year.

The Chicken Fry plate sale at Landmark was a big success!!!  Stefani and Mell absolutely killed the plates and sides with deliciousness!  The turnout was excellent, and through a combination of plate sales, donations, t-shirt and soap sales, we raised just over $900, which will really help us keep the center open a bit longer.  That’s kind of where we are right now, every fundraiser really means a LOT.  A little bit goes a LONG WAY at the center, and people should know that they are doing a huge amount of good when they donate.

The plate sale was so successful that I really hope that we get to do another one.  I’m considering investing in some catering equipment if it would help :).  I’m so excited about the new shirts that we have gotten from Linda O’Reilly (owner of Landmark and Circa 1888).  I can’t wait to see what one of these nice, v-neck ladies shirts will look like in tye dye, it’s gonna be awesome.

I’m just super grateful this week that everything went well and that there is so much support for our community here in Raleigh.  With all of the growing and changing, people living in poverty are having a harder time than ever before surviving and making ends meet, whatever that means to them, however, having a community changes things, maybe just one chicken fried plate at the time.

10 days, no booze.

It’s been 10 days with no cocktails, libations or sports beer, so let me tell you what that’s like.  The first few days, I was thirsty all of the time.  I drank water constantly.  It was like my body was just making up for lost time.  I wondered if this was strange, but I had been assured by other that this was perfectly normal and happens to people who make last call like roll call.  If you choose to go dry, expect this, and know that it will slowly go away after about 5 days.

The first two days, I had no appetite.  Food just lost its appeal.  I have always had a contentious relationship with food- I love to grow food, cook food, and even eat food, but I also have spent my life extremely conscientious of my weight.  I’ve always had rules to govern what I eat.  I diet every year (come on, how many years on Facebook have you seen me do the yearly diet)?  When the bar scene came onto my scene, I created stricter rules for eating, after all, booze doesn’t have a lot of nutrients, but it has ALL of the calories.  I knew that you could eat what you want, as long as you took out something else.  In all of the times that I used myfitnesspal, I was true to my caloric intake- if it said I could only eat 1200 calories, then I dutifully logged my booze and ate accordingly.  It takes willpower, so I know that willpower exists within me, especially when I was expertly crafting 200 calorie meals.

My appetite did come back on day 4, and I was eyeing produce really hard.  My friend Blu said that when your appetite comes back when you get clean off of an addiction, your body is starving for nutrients.  She encouraged me to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible to replenish what was lost.  I’m a fan of fresh food, so that part was easy, and I felt genuinely better after a few good meals.

Sleep was interesting.  For the first 5 days, my sleep was absolutely crazy.  I’ve never been very good at getting to sleep, I’ve had insomnia (that I now see in my own 12 year old niece), since I was in 3rd grade.  Sleep issues are actually the reason I started drinking in the first place.  A nice little glass of wine made it easy to drift off to sleep, and for me, going to sleep has always been difficult.  My first 5 days of sobriety consisted of me sleeping for about 4 hours at a time.  I would wake up in the middle of the night, unable to go back to sleep for 2-3 hours, then snag that last hour of sleep before work.  It was rough.  I was EXHAUSTED.  You know you’re tired when a homeless guy walks out of the nap room at work, looks at you and says “You look tired, you should come lay down and take a nap.”  Yep.  That’s how I looked for days.  Raggedy.

Now, sleep has seemed to level off.  I may not go to sleep immediately, but I’ll lay down with a book (NOT THE CELL PHONE), and read until it gets tough to read anymore.  I don’t try to force myself to be asleep by midnight even, if I stay up later, that’s okay.  I still have to wake up in the morning at a similar time, so if I don’t get enough sleep, it will catch up to me normally.  I’ll just get tired earlier the next day.  It evens out in the long run.

Essentially your first week will be a readjustment of your drinking, eating, digestion, and sleep.  Then there’s your old friend, depression.  Suddenly, there will be some kind of depression.  For different people it takes different forms, but one common experience that I can tell you about, is that you’ll wonder if you’ll have friends anymore.  If most of your friends were people that you saw in bars, I totally get why you feel this way.  It’s true.  You’re going to feel like you’ll never see your friends again.  If you have a highly social job (like I do), and you’re a social person, that will help tremendously.  The weekend might be a bit tough, though.  That’s when you might be used to going out, brunching, getting one of Sandra’s famous Bloody Mary’s, and spending Sunday in a vodka-soda fueled bar hop. If you’re a Sunday Funday person, you might find that your first two Sundays do not feel like Fundays.

I’ve found that having some one-on-one time with individual friends really helps.  Have someone come over or go over to their house.  Another gift is at your fingertips- your telephone.  Actually use it to make an old-fashioned voice call.  Talk to a friend who you don’t get to see much.  It will get you through the “failure pile in a sadness bowl” that you feel in the moment.   I can’t tell you how many times that these things have helped.  If you’re a person who is attending AA, go to a meeting, or meet one of your new AA friends before or after the meeting for coffee.  See if there is someone in your meeting that needs a ride back to their Oxford House and give them a ride.  You’re helping someone, getting to know a new person, and exercising your newly found sobriety to drive somewhere.  If you’re driving after dark… LOOK AT YOU DRIVING AFTER DARK!  GO YOU!  No Uber or Lyft for you, just a totally normal sober person driving after dark.  High-five yourself, you’ve earned it.

After the first full 7 days, I found that the depression fog lifted, and it lifted big!  For me, it helped that I’ve had back to back meetings scheduled for something or the other for the past 3 days, and all of those meetings demanded that I be at my best, so I had something to focus on.  I am a person who needs to stay busy, which is also part of why I started drinking, it’s hard for me to shut down.  Drinking forced me to sit, be in the moment (at least mostly), and it slowed down my thinking.  It was forced down time.  Forced down time is great sometimes, but it also has consequences in the form of hangovers.  Hangovers suck.  They only get worse the older you get, I’m here to tell you.  When you think over your life, and realize that many of your key memories also involve a hangover… well, I’m pretty sure that someone reading this just shook their head a little.  I know you know what I mean.

On day 10 I’m happy to report that I do have more energy than I did before, I’ve noticed it in everything that I’ve done in the past few days.  It came on slow.  First I noticed that I simply didn’t feel like shit.  That was a pretty good revelation.  Then I noticed that I was sharper and everything that I did was a little bit faster (a great improvement over the first 3 days, where everything I did was slower and I was kind of lost in a fog).  I’ve noticed that I’ve found joy in food again, and not in a ridiculous way, but in a fun way, where I actually find myself craving something, or looking forward to making something, or even picking out a restaurant that my husband and I haven’t been to in a while.  Funny story, hangovers make eating not so fun.  I feel better about this, in general, because I figure I’m probably saving 800 calories a day by not drinking booze, so I’m not overly worried about eating poorly, I’m a pretty good eater.  I did order a milkshake for the first time in several years at Alamo Draft House the other night, just because it was the first time that I had thought of that as an option.  It was delicious.

It’s strange, but in 10 days, I can say, I don’t really miss it.  I just feel so much better, and I get SO MUCH MORE DONE.  I forgot that I could feel this way.  I just figured, over the past 10 years, that I was aging, like everyone, and that’s why I had low energy or weird aches and pains.  Some of the weird aches and pains are still here (I still limp when I get up from a seated position sometimes, and there is definitely arthritis in my left thumb), but overall, everything seems to hurt less.  I’m also finding new routines and things to do.  I’d been stuck in a sort of rut where I spent my late evenings in a couple of standard spots, and hadn’t really branched out past that.  Now I’m finding new things to do with my time, and it’s nice because that’s the sort of thing that keeps our brains from becoming stagnant.

I’m hoping to have some new things to report next week or even in a month or two.  I’ve been taking the dog on longer walks, or just more walks if I’m short on time during one part of the day.  It makes me feel like I could actually do something like, I dunno… exercise or something (lol).  Seriously, though.  Once you do one positive thing, it gets a lot easier to do more of them.

 

 

 

Strumming the Non-profit Blues

I just said “Goodbye” to my mentor for the past year- I’ve been preparing for this for almost as long.  I don’t really cry like “normal people”.  I have a tough time with that.  I reassure myself that he’s only a text or a phone call away, and if we have issues at the center that I haven’t seen before, I can at least ask for advice.  Some days it feels like I’ve bitten off more than anyone can chew, others, it doesn’t.

We’re going to make it through the month.  After payroll tomorrow, both of my employees will be paid (I will not), and with a check I got today, we’ll make rent, so that’s good.  It’s survival mode.  It takes so little to run the center; $6,500 per month, but we’re not there yet, so everything is touch and go.  We have a Peer Support Program, but funny story, Blu IS THE PROGRAM, it’s peer support.  She is the peer.  She is literally the program.  We deal in the business of investing in humans, and people no longer seem to understand that as, well anything.

The other day, someone asked me if the opening of the new Oak City Outreach center would “impact our business”?  I laughed.  “You mean another place to help poor people?  No, build 2 more.”  He said “Aren’t you afraid that you’ll go out of business.”  I said “Sir, you’ve mistaken us with a store, that sells things, for a profit.  We give things away for free, for no profit.  If anything it means that in a year you’ll all be eating steak and getting name brand deodorant”.  He laughed, and maybe, I think he got it.

A non-profit is not “a business”.  It doesn’t run like a business.  It runs like a house.  You pay the bills.  That’s how that works.  You start a program and you fund it.  Our programs center around people.  We have a nutrition program that I can get food for, but there is an unhoused man who runs it that I can’t afford to pay, and that breaks my heart.  The difference between him being housed and not could be this part-time job- a job that he can do, that’s rewarding work, and that a person with disabilities can do and maintain dignity.  I wish that I could give him the title of “Kitchen Manager” and the little bit of money it would take every month to keep him housed.  It’s literally $800.  For $800 a month, I could give this man a job, and he could use it and his disability to move out of Pullen Park and into a rooming house.  This is the big picture.  This is what I want to do.

These are the hard choices.  Right now we can’t even afford a director (that’s me), but we have to have one, because I do our book keeping, social media, website, fundraising and daily operations.  I also work in the business, it’s a LOT like being a waitress in a very busy restaurant.  People need things, and then you try to help them find what they need.  It’s like being the personified version of Google for folks who need extra help to navigate it.  Luckily, I worked in a bar for a year while I was working at LW and saved every penny that I could because I knew the hard road was ahead.  It can be stressful, but I’m glad that I could save what I could to be able to go a month or two without a salary of any kind.  How I’ll ever get anyone in the future to take my job?  I’ll never know.  It’s a hard sell.

People who run organizations can typically get “better jobs elsewhere”, with large, funded organizations.  This is why a lot of these organizations are run by pastors and ministers, they have a job with the church, and then their mission work is the rest of it.  If you aren’t any of those things, you don’t have that title or income to survive, and while I’ll be fine, I’m unsure, down the road, how this could all work.  We have to build it up.  It’s working.  The place is AMAZING every day.  We do so much, but from a “business” standpoint, it’s tough.  No one wants the stress of the entire existence of a non-profit on their shoulders, and the worry of not being able to pay their own bills.  I’m okay for now, I’m a lucky one.  Not everyone is that lucky, and if I have to, I can always still bartend at night.  I’ll be a zombie at work, but I’ve done that before.

It’s a calling.  It’s definitely nothing else.

Name Your Crazy: Callings and Crisis of Faith

If I had to name my crazy, it would probably have to be a proper noun, as I haven’t really found anything else that fit the bill. I’ve searched for what this thing is inside of me that fills me and spills out everywhere else, but I’ve come up short on the diagnosis. It feels like being overwhelmed by purpose and guilt all at the same time. Sometimes it moves my feet for me towards something that looks like an ocean wave made out of fire. It erupts out of me and leaves me exhausted and glowing like a tiny ember. It feels powerful and delicate. It’s exhausting, but beautiful and terrifying. I feel like this is what ministers refer to as “being called”.

I wouldn’t say I was in any way a special child; I was a deep thinker when I was very young, often agonizing over the realization that life is so short, so fleeting, and so temporary. I was never the kid singled out for any sort of leadership training or very many awards. The few awards I did receive when I was very young were mostly for writing, but as someone once told me, “If you can do anything, don’t write.” I let my voice die for a few decades, being pragmatic, applying myself to occupation in a very concrete way, but I’ve always felt this brooding sort of pull. It feels exactly like purpose, and it’s maddening when ignored.

Sometimes, I wake up in the morning nagged with guilt. Actually, most days are like this. What did I do? Should I have said that? Or even worse, “what DIDN’T I do?” It’s a side-effect of having this kind of crazy. Perpetual guilt and a leftover feeling I can only sum up as “If you’re not afraid right now, you’re probably a fool.” It’s like being a leaf in the wind… with a propeller. The world swirls and vibrates with the energy of a Van Gogh painting and I can see how each thing is interconnected. It’s beautiful and it gives me faith.

Faith, when doing this type of work (passionate justice types of work), is like a thick rubber band stretched between 2 pegs that are about ¼ in. too far apart. It’s thin and taut, twanging when brushed up against. The sound is as loud or as soft as you make it. It’s always right there on the verge of breaking, leaving you a crying mess on a floor, then just as you feel it slipping, you stand up. You scream at the top of your lungs in the world’s biggest, emptiest room. You fight for that faith with a howl that will leave you spent and exhausted. The energy around you swirls, and faith answers you. It brings the peg 1/8 of an inch back in and gives you something to hold back on to.

I’ve met other people who feel this way, so I know that I’m not alone. People are called to things; causes, concepts, God, work. People who are called to something describe all kinds of maddening experiences. No matter how folks describe it, there is a thread, a feeling inside of there that I recognize every time. It’s a duality of both power and fear. It’s a feeling of awe, like something that deserves to be trembled before, mixed with a calm that’s equally unsettling. Essentially the feeling of 2 tremendous, opposing forces at the same exact time. In each and every description, I feel the thing as I experience it, and no amount of words will ever truly do it justice. People who feel it see it in one another, and we recognize each other like old friends. It’s the burning desire to try to right an injustice.

I think that there is a reason that humans tend to use the symbol of scales to represent ideas concerning justice. Scales look like what a “calling” feels like- 2 forces, in motion, balancing, trying to find equality. I find that a lot of people talk about this feeling in reference to religion, which also makes total sense. People are called to do the work of the Lord, or called to serve a higher purpose. Ask any clergy person how they ended up going into their work, and you will get the story of a calling. I’m not a person of any specific religion, so I tend to refer to “The Universe” as this giant polar energy attempting to strike balance, but trust that I mean it in that same, exact way. I’ve just given it a name, a language, a way to discuss it with others.

Feeling “called” is as old as humanity. That’s why there are so many things written about it in every single language, in texts as old as language itself. When you feel called, you know it. It feels like something has taken over your body, and you might even find yourself telling someone else “I might be losing my mind, I’m about to *insert crazy sounding uphill battle here*”. It’s being called to action, and it feels like you’re being moved by a power beyond anything your humanity has ever known before. You may cry. You may feel angry. You will definitely feel overwhelmed. Then the ball is in your corner, and you choose whether or not to “answer the call”.

If you do answer the call, I want to prepare you to have every piece of your faith tested at any moment. I want to prepare you to have your heart broken no less than once a week. I want to prepare you to be resilient, and to see, to catch that moment when you’re about to do something that terrifies you- learn what that feels like. It’s how you know something big is about to happen. It’s a unique feeling, hard to explain, but it’s like the ground is shaking, metaphysically, like a glacier is coming up behind you. When you feel that, it means that you’re about to change the course of something forever. You’re literally about to change the fabric of the future. Folks who have felt it before are likely reading this and shaking their heads, and folks who haven’t yet are saying “Holy crap! That sounds like a crazy person!” All of us head-shakers know it sounds crazy.

When you have a calling, it defies any normal logic. Sometimes it feels like a crisis, sometimes it feels like a compulsion. When young people say they “want to change the world”, that is exactly what they mean- they’ve been called or they are waiting for their calling. Nurses and Doctors often feel called to their professions, so being called takes many forms that don’t have to be religiously related. I’m still thinking of a nice pet name for my “crazy”, but until then, I’m just going to think of it as my “calling”, and add one more piece of writing describing the impossible to a long list of better pieces that came way before mine.