Monday, September 3, 2012

The Story behind the Story

I’ve written many blogs since being home and never posted one.  Mostly about my feelings of being back home and what’s been going on in my life.  But none seemed worth posting.  I had kind of decided not to make another blog post, until today.  I got a message; did you hear the news about Belfast?  No.

 I Google and this is the article I found.   All  103 words of it. 

Since being back I have had many small brief conversations with people about what I did in Belfast, why I was there, etc.  I usually start with the same thing, “Have you heard of the troubles of Northern Ireland?”  I am sad and disappointed that most of the time the answer is no or a halfhearted yeah I think I know what that is.  Articles like these make me even sadder.   The same article can be found in the Huffington Post as well, almost exactly the same.    I read way more into this article then the minimal detail given.  Let me dissect it for you to give you a glimpse of what I have begun to digest that I learned this past year. 

Band parades are an integral part of life in Belfast.  It’s something people take a lot of pride in.  If your area has a band and they are marching, most of the neighborhood goes.  My youth kids never came to club on nights when the band of Tiger’s Bay was on.  I went to one of the big ones at the end of the year.   It was down pouring and I sat in the car of a church member and watched.  It was crystal clear when Tiger’s Bay was in front of me.  Heading the front was one of my favorite boys from Boys Brigade and one of the youngest in the group proudly swinging a baton. On the sidewalk I saw his Mum walking along to supervise and look at her son with pride.    Behind her came more then half my youth club walking along with the band. I asked the person I was with and she told me they would walk along the whole way.  And the band itself continued to play, soaked all the way through, still proudly wearing their uniforms. It was raining and it wasn’t a normal, everyday rain.  It was an absolute windy downpour.  The kind where nothing will keep you dry.    But little to nothing stops the bands from going out, or the people from following, especially for the big parade days. 

Now we come back to today’s article and the questions in my mind as I read.  What route was the band taking? What area of Belfast was the band from?  Were there kids in the band, like my young Boy’s Brigade baton boy?  What about the people following the band? Were they involved?  Important details to why and how a conflict would escalate to the point of such a long disturbance.  The article says 47 police officers were injured in an overnight clash.  In that 47 I see a lot more then just police officers injured but no one else mentioned.  I see nothing of property damage, the on looking crowd or the band’s involvement in this “clash”.  For 9 hours there had to be substantial involvement from a lot of different people with a lot of different backgrounds but no information offered.   But then I look back up at the top to the caption under the picture where you can see obvious property damage.  The parades weren’t even occurring at the time of the riots.  The parades were the weekend before and the riot seemed to be a result of tensions rising throughout the week, at least from my understanding of the reading.  But it does finally gives a location.  North Belfast.  My old home. 

I move onto the big question, how and why did it start then? A question I know an article can never an answer, a question I doubt I could even formulate an adequate explanation for myself but feel I could come up with a semi good idea of an answer without being told anymore information.  But it’s still a far cry from a simple answer.  A spark of rioting from a larger fire that has been raging in Irish history for a very long time.  When you try to explain the troubles you have to go back and explain more then just the 70’s, when you try to explain the riot in Belfast last night you have to try to explain more then the band parade. 

And when you tell the story, in some way, you are going to fail.  The last week when I left a few people asked me what the biggest thing I learned in Belfast was:  the answer is that nothing is simple and there is no unbiased story.  You have to talk to both or all sides and even then you will form your own opinions to cloud the actual events of the past.  Every story is told from someone’s perspective and you have to remember that.

The last part of the article is the part that strikes me the most, “One suspected rioter, a 17-year-old boy, was arrested Monday morning.”  Out of hours of rioting, ONE person was arrested and he was 17.  In that 17 year old I see the face of every one of my youth kids.  My kids who don’t trust the kids in the neighborhood next door, who hate without even always knowing why, who have inherited the hate and troubles of their parents, who don't always understand their countries history any better then the Americans I speak to everyday.    In that last statement I see the absolute necessity of the work being done by FMPCI at Macrory. 

This is a very cookie cutter post.  I don’t have faith in my capabilities to comment broadly on the situation of Northern Ireland.  I have never really posted or commented publicly about any of it. Its because I’ve always been too scared to do so.  I don’t want to further the stereotypes and misconceptions, and I’ve been scared I’ll say the wrong thing.  I’m sure I’ve probably said something in this post that will be taken not as I intended it to or that is quite disputable but I hope not offensive. 

While I was in Belfast, there were bomb threats and riots, some very close to my home but I never witnessed one.  During my year I chose to blog about what I actually did because I wanted you to see the good work being done and the progress being made.

I did witness the hurt and hate that leads to the riots and clashes of Belfast.  The hurt and hate left from a long history of conflict. A conflict that the rest of the world looks at and pretends to know about but really is more ignorant then they’ll ever know.  But I witnessed a lot more while there.  I witnessed the faith of many to make their wee world better and reach out to their community.  I’ve seen the progress they’ve made, the obstacles still in their way, and have grown to share their vision.  Little by little, conversation by conversation I’m trying to show the world at least the people of my world, that Norn Ireland is more and greater then their history.  Belfast and Northern Ireland is more then articles like these show.  It is more complex then the current understanding.  So I will keep up my conversations with my fellow Americans and teach them to look for more then our news offers us or at least to know there is more underneath the news article.  And in the mean time offer up a prayer to all those involved, both Catholic/ republican, Protestant/ unionist/ loyalist, police officials, bystanders, or lost confused youth, especially the one 17 year old boy and continue reflecting on everything Belfast and its people taught me.  

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Some Crystal for Crystal

Listen to “For Good” From Wicked when reading this blog. Its what I listened to while writing it. 
Youtube link

This week is the week of goodbyes.  They started on Sunday saying goodbye to one of my favorite people, Stewart, the Boys Brigade Captain, and it hasn’t let up since.  He made a speech about my time in the BB and had one of the boys present me with a gift.  The box said Crystal for Crystal and had a lovely crystal jewelry box inside.  And that’s when it hit me in the gut.  Goodbye isn’t a future thing anymore; its now. 

Goodbyes are hard, especially when you aren’t just saying goodbye to people. I’m saying goodbye to people, a place, and a life.  I left a lot behind going into Young Adult Volunteer and I have to say there haven’t been too many moments that I’ve looked back.  But this week I find myself looking back a lot thinking about where I was and who I was then and looking at who I am now.  A lot has changed.

I knew a long time ago that the people I have gotten to know and love here have changed me for the better.  They have challenged me and supported me and showed me truly what it means to be a good person and to live out the Christian faith I lost a little of somewhere in my college journey.  They renewed my faith in people.  I now remember why I believe people are good, not selfish, and found my positive outlook on the world again. 

But it wasn’t until this week I realize what I truly mean to them.  They have taken the week to say goodbye to me.  Telling me how grateful they are for what I’ve done for them and how much they’ll miss me, how nice its been to get to know me this year.   They have gone above and beyond, I mean talk about a finale. The gifts offered are lovely, thoughtful and will be cherished forever.   But the real gift is in the moments when you, people of Belfast chose to say goodbye.  People I had no idea I meant much to at all wanted a moment just to say goodbye to me.   The fact that saying goodbye meant anything at all to you means everything to me. 

I have refrained from saying the word goodbye. I say “I’ll be seeing you” and here’s why.  A card I received puts it perfectly, I’m not really leaving you behind.  I’m taking all of you with me and leaving some of myself behind.   Because I knew you, all of you, I’ve been changed for good.

So thank you.  To the man at Newington who sent me jokes and debated me for hours at the Christmas party and the old women I looked forward chatting to each Wednesday. 

To the people of WAVE who shared their stories with me. Who trusted me enough to share their most difficult moments of their lives and took me into their family as one of their own.  The men and women who opened my eyes to the real Belfast and showed me how people can overcome anything.  You are some of the strongest people I have ever met and I know I will find strength through you to overcome anything that comes my way. 

To the youth club for challenging me and stretching me more then I ever thought I would be.  To the kids showing me what it means to have patience and that youth work is a necessary and entirely rewarding experience.  I will miss you and the high pitched way you say Crystal with an eye roll.

To a congregation who reminded me why having a community is so important.  Where to begin… How about Christmas? To those who made Christmas in Belfast as good as it would have been at home if not better.  A man who saved my Christmas Eve by asking me to go to a service with him, the family who brought me into their home and the congregation who made it a mission to fill my Christmas tree.  To all of you who invited me into your home for lunch or dinner. I cherish these evenings because I got to know you and you me.  Especially to the woman who invited me to so many lunches her home began to feel like my home. To the Bible Study who stuck with me as I struggled at the start and humored my often overly liberal religious views and love of Rob Bell.  I want to thank you for challenging me, disagreeing with me, and letting me be a part of your journey of faith and you mine.  To the team.  Being a part of you was an amazing experience and I am honored to have been a part of the amazing journey you are on.  Great things will come from you and from each Friday morning.  To you who each Sunday morning asked about my life and greeted me with a smile.  To the women (and sometimes Jonny, Mark, and Richard) of the Restore Prayer group sharing in some gossip and craic before taking a moment to talk together to the God who brought us together.  To the family who adopted me as their own.  There are not words to describe how much I will miss you.  

To the people who started this journey with me.  The YAVs.  And to the man who brought us here.   I thank you for seeing something in me I don’t think I even realized in myself at the time.  For choosing me. I especially thank you for the last few weeks.  For putting up with my tears and anxieties and keeping me grounded.  Your patience is astounding.

I could go on forever but feel I should wrap it up because if any of you are still reading you must be thinking what a soppy git. But I would like to conclude by saying thank you to you, my readers.  For wanting to know what I have been doing. There have been many occasions that I’m shocked to see that anyone actually reads this. So thank you, for your curiosity, your prayers and your thoughts.    I don’t even know who you are, but I would like to know.  Who has been following me?  I want to hear from you.  I want to know who you are.  Comment. Email. ( Whatever.  Something whether a comment, a question or just your name, I want to know so you can be in my prayers and my thoughts.  

So this ridiculously cheesy, soppy post is over and its time to turn off Wicked dry my tears and pack some of my bags.  See you this time next week U.S.A.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A final Goal

Two Sundays ago I completed one of my last major goals for my YAV year, Youth Sunday.  While I work with youth a lot in Belfast, I don’t often do much with the Youth Group at Fortwilliam.  We only have 3 solid youth, one of whom isn’t particularly interested in coming to any sort of fellowship at all. This makes it quite difficult.  So at the beginning of my time here we decided not to hold Sunday night youth fellowship and that we would instead meet periodically for coffee or different events instead.  Looking back this may not have been the best decision but it definitely made sense at the time.  We only went out twice maybe three times my whole year.  The people in charge of “The Point” (the name of the Fortwilliam youth) all have quite busy lives and our focus switched to other things during the year, The Point fell to the wayside.  Around January, I realized my flaw and began trying to come up with ways to make the youth group at Fortwilliam come back to life so to speak.  Most of the ideas I came up with didn’t work.

The whole year, I worked with the 3 youth once a week when they left the second half of the service to join my bible class.  I wanted to start up a youth fellowship one night a week or once a month but with one of them saying they wouldn’t come and finding a time that would compliment the other two, it seemed impossible.  So I shifted my focus to trying to actually get them to come each Sunday to Bible class.  I made special classes and called them before to say, “Hey we really need you in Bible Class this morning. We’re going to be doing something special…” If they weren’t coming for a youth fellowship, I wanted them to at least be coming.  Developing a routine, establishing a youth presence in the church.  I did things like making an Exodus Board Game.  We were in the duller part of Exodus when God gives about a million rules and laws and talks to Moses for what seems like 8 million years.  So I put it in game form to keep attention. 

The Full game board I made

At the end, my meanest and maybe favorite space was, you are Moses. Go back to Start. You know, cause he didn't get to go to the promised land. 

Some other examples of what other spaces said.  The arrow was just to show the direction the board went and was just a safe place to sit. 

Before I even brought up the question of them doing a Youth Sunday I prepared them with the skills they would need to pull of a service.  We took a Sunday to talk about prayer.  I discussed with them different tactics for writing prayers and how to make them sound more formal.  We discussed how prayer could be a kind of poetry and art for God.  We then all wrote our own prayers and talked about what part of the prayers we enjoyed the most and could use in our own prayers in the future. 

By the time I asked if they would be interested in doing a Youth Service, I was pretty confident the answer would be yes.   The idea of doing some of the service was already in their heads. It was just a matter of taking it from one prayer to a little more.  Clearly since the service happened Sunday, they said yes.

It was a long journey and WAY more stressful to get the service to happen then I imagined.  I think most people considered me a little crazy for trying; I had 3 youth.  Most people didn’t see how I could really make a nice service with only three people.  These doubters just drove me to work even harder to ensure Youth Sunday would happen and WOULD be a success.  But finding a date was nearly impossible.  Everything seemed to get in the way.  For a while I thought I wasn’t going to be allowed to do it.   Picking a date and planning involved a lot of miscommunication and I have to admit quite a few tears on my part.  It was in general just really frustrating.  But eventually, we finally got a date set, with only a 2 week notice before before.  We used the Sunday before to finalize our question and plan.  We made the order of service and assigned different parts to each person.  We also agreed we would split the sermon with the youth doing some video parts and me doing the rest of the sermon.  The youth took some video footage interviewing the congregation after church on Sunday.   The interviewing of the congregation didn’t go as I thought it would but it DID get done.  A lot of people were not pleased to be caught off guard with a  deep question let alone filmed answering.  In hindsight I should have made an announcement to the church of what we were going to do rather then just getting the ok from the minister. But we did get what we needed so in the end no real harm done. 

The only time they could meet again was Saturday, the day before the service.  This made me nervous but also ended up being for the best because they got to practice for the service the next day.  It resulted in me staying up almost all night editing the film for the sermon but in the end was worth it. 

I ended up sitting up front to lead the whole service.  The only major part I spoke was the sermon, but I was there to introduce hymns, prayers, and what not.  And I have to say being in front of the church alone in the role of the minister wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Maybe it was because I had to stay calm so the kids would also stay calm.  But it all went perfectly.  The youth were calm, they spoke slowly for the most part, and I wasn’t even really nervous when I got into the pulpit to preach.   I have to admit, my sermon wasn’t my favorite thing I ever wrote.  It felt a little, for a lack of better word, cheesy.  My focus for the youth service had been more on the youth and their part then mine.  However, I realize now this is me being a little overly critical of myself.   Everyone I have talked to said they loved the service and my sermon and they weren’t just saying it to be nice.  They meant it. 

People laughed and they even cried.  Seeing the youth do the service and knowing they picked a topic close to the hearts of the congregation really touched them.  The youth were proud of what they did.  They did the service because I asked if they would be willing.  But on Sunday morning they stood up because they wanted to and with pride in what they put together.  So without further ado, here are the videos the youth created for the sermon.  The first is how the sermon began, the second was in the middle of the sermon and the last was a reflection where people were invited to reflect on the topic.  Where do you find God?  So sit and watch. And when watching the last video maybe sit and think to yourself, where have you seen God lately? Where is he working in your life? If you actually sit and think, you’ll realize he’s there.  (really though watch the reflection to the end.  There’s a wee surprise at the end.)

Monday, May 21, 2012

A picture is worth a thousand words

I haven't uploaded a picture to my blog in ages. So instead of summarizing what I've been up to, here are some pictures with brief descriptions.  Enjoy =)

YAV Thanksgiving. We played football (American style of course) before dinner at out site supervisor's house. THE Mr. Doug Baker

YAV Christmas. With Ellison who made Christmas amazing. He helped me decorate the mantle, a tradition I've done forever with my Mom.  

All the YAVs on our Retreat to Donegal in the Republic of Ireland in February. 

At the top after hiking up Slieve League, the highest sea cliffs in Europe on our February Retreat. 
Trying to friend a sheep on the way back down. I've been trying all year, but they all run away.  This is the closest I've ever gotten. Guess I will not make a sheep friend =(

Above 4 pictures are from the Macrory Re-Opening Event. After the vandalism we held this large event to show off the renovations to the hall.  We had groups from the community come with information booths, music, food, speakers, crafts for kids, face painting and in general. GREAT craic. It was an amazing event filling the halls of Macrory with life and laughter.

Trip to Edinburgh (the trip I was supposed to take with my parents until they had to reschedule the trip because of Mom breaking her elbow) This is in the bathroom of the Elephant House. Where JK. wrote Harry Potter.  Its all the same except in the toilet... HILARIOUS

Day trip to the Irish American Folk Museum in Omagh with WAVE.  Picture is in a model boat "on its way back to America" Guess they were ready to get rid of me ;)

St. Patrick's Day in Downpatrick visiting the grave of St. Patrick and the Cathedral. Delightful lunch, dancing and parade. 

I have become known for my Quiz games at WAVE. I did one for the Men's group one week and have done many since.  Above two pictures are the women playing my game and me as Quiz master at the Women's Group Residential.

Women playing the rain game at residential.  They loved it. Didn't have the heart to tell them the game came from Native American Rain Dancing to bring on the rain.  I mean we get enough of that in Ireland don't we?
The whole group. 

My lovely WAVE site supervisor and I. The Tammen's.  (She has my last name)

The Boy's on Display Night of Boys Brigade (BB). BB does a showcase and awards night the last night of the term.  The boys are standing waiting to be awarded.

The team of fearless leaders of the Anchor Boys standing and trying to keep the boys quiet, standing in a straight line. 

Me dressed up like a man for the Company sections skit of Take Me Out. Lots of ppl in the evidently couldn't tell it was me.  High moment of the night, being put on the spot rapping and rhyming my man name, Steve, with weave. What can I say, I have mad skills. 

Folding the flag, but first a pose. I was asked to fold the flag into the standard triangle most Thursdays.  Thanks Girl Scouts for teaching me how. =)

The one and only night they have ever gotten me to play football. I was a TERRIBLE goal keeper. But it was good fun anyway.

Old BB uniform hat. Stylish no?

Gardening Event at the Community Centre in Tiger's Bay.  

Youth club, (well mostly youth leadership) put on Soup Stall at the Gardening Event.  These are my two wonderful assistants to the day.  Couldn't have done it without you.  We had 6 different kinds of soup.  People took a sample from each and tried to guess what each soup was.  Some of them were quite obvious. 

Some of the youth from Club trying the Soup. 

For Derby I put on a special event at club. I came in dressed as though I was ready for the derby and made a slide show all about the festival leading up to the derby with a lot of pictures.  I talked to the youth about how the Derby is what my hometown is known for and asked them what they thought Belfast was known for.  Really insightful, interesting conversation around this topic. I also had a list of the horses and let them pick which horse they thought was going to win.  Don't worry no money was gambled, just a laugh at some of the names. No one picked the winning horse.  I picked Done Talking as a small joke, you know since I rarely ever shut my mouth ;)

We had our own race at the end with various relays. It ended up being leaders against youth. HIGHLY amusing. 

We made tissue roses as a craft that night.  

And I made some derby pie.  Also a lot of the youth gave me one of their flowers they made in the craft.  I had a substantial bouquet by the end which is currently on my living room table. 

Mark and Anita finally made it.  This is an afternoon where a church member took my parents and I to Belfast Castle for afternoon Tea. It was lovely. My parents had a wonderful time as the previous blog, courtesy of Anita testifies. 

A picture collage from the Church Sale this past Saturday.  I ended up helping at the plant stall.  The sale was to raise money for Christian Aid.

Day trip to Mt. Stewart.  The girls in the garden in the pictures above and below.

That's all for now folks!  If you want more detail about one of the events or pictures shown, by all means shoot me and email at 

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Mother's Perspective

This blog was written entirely by my mother and is her reflection from my parents visit over Easter.  They did not get to see everything I am involved in, such as youth club, Boys Brigade, and my Bible Study because things were not operating normally. Easter break and all.  But they did get a really good picture.  So instead of hearing me talk about myself a lot, Anita Tammen ladies and gentleman....

Mark and I just spent a week experiencing Christina’s life as a Y.A.V. in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  She has been there almost 8 months. The first thing I noticed is that she obviously loves it in Belfast and the people equally enjoy having her there.  I believe that the lovely welcome we as her parents received is a direct reflection of this.  The hospitality and generosity we received from many of people in her life is truly heart warming. 

Within a couple of hours of arriving in Belfast, we were taking part in a Prayer/Peace Walk.  Catholics and Protestants were walking side by side through the areas hardest hit by the violence, united in their belief in the peace effort. At this point all I really understood about their past conflict was the simple version we saw on the nightly news where it was condensed to a series of guerilla-type battles between the two communities.  This Walk marks the start of my understanding of the “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland.

The Peace Walls were built to divide nationalist Catholic neighborhoods from loyalist Protestant ones.  These barriers range from 10 – 25 ft in height so they can stop anything thrown from the other side.  Some now have had gates installed in them that are opened during the day but closed at night.  These walls are oppressive although efforts have been made to make them more attractive – note the murals painted on them in the picture.  They restrict movement between the areas of the city but were necessary to stop the violence and make the nearby residents feel safer.  On this day, I was concentrating on placing one foot in front of another and really did not understand the significance of the peace walls and the fact that gates were opened that normally are closed so the walk could proceed through them.  I only now understand how incredible it was that this walk happened at all.  Many people in Belfast have worked for a long time to make this a reality. 

Picture taken by Karl (another of the Y.A.Vs) of the Peace Walk

My education continued as we went with Christina to the WAVE Trauma Centre. The aim of WAVE is to offer care and support to anyone bereaved or traumatized through the violence of the the Troubles, irrespective of religious, cultural or political belief (from their website).  Christina helps with the meetings of the men’s and women’s group.  On Wednesday, the men’s group was finishing a lunch of Sheppard’s pie as we arrived.  What followed was an afternoon of meeting and exchanging conversation with this group of extraordinary men.  As one of the told me, “ I am a survivor not a victim”  They gave me a book called “INJURED… on that day” which contained their stories of the injuries they suffered through the “Troubles”.  The inside flap of the book warns that it is not pleasant to read these stories as some are very difficult to hear but that it does bear testimony to the sort of trauma visited upon so many.  I have started reading the book and have found it to be very moving as I am now acquainted with many of the people featured in the book.
The following day, we met and had lunch with the women’s group.  After lunch they went around the table and introduced themselves and told their stories.  Once again I was struck with what they had survived and how the group was providing support and friendship to each other as they work through their traumas.  It was another afternoon that left me with many new ideas to ponder.

My view of the violence that occurred in Northern Ireland has been permanently changed.  I am so proud of Christina for taking this year to be a Y.AV. as  I believe she is making a difference in the lives of the people she is working with and am sure it is making a difference in hers.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

All you Need is Love

Good Friday: a day about love and sacrifice.  God so loved the world he gave his only son Jesus Christ, Jesus so loved us he gave us his life.  Tonight I took my parents (who just got into Belfast today) to the Good Friday service at Fortwilliam.  The service was a mixture of scripture, all from Mark, call and response prayer to the scripture, and singing.  It’s a rare for a service that truly hits me but this one did (just what a minister wants to hear right Lesley?) probably more then anyone else sitting in that half circle although I truly hope those of you reading this who were there got as much out of it as I did. 
I was really surprised to walk in and see only about 20 people there and further surprised to see chairs around the communion table rather then people being in pews.  Its rare that a service at Fortwilliam would surprise me, mainly because I’m always in charge of putting things together for them, but I’m glad I wasn’t in charge of anything for this service.  I had no idea what to expect.  For once, I had no idea who was reading or what they were reading or where it was all going to go and I didn’t really try to look ahead in the program I was handed.  I sat and listened to Jesus’ sacrifice and unending love for me, and for all the people around me, all the people around me who I have truly grown to love.  I knew every single person in the circle all quite well.  They were some of the people I have gotten to know best in my time at Fortwilliam and sharing such an important day with them and with my family was indescribable for me. 
 I shared it with a mentor who has helped me grow and challenged me in ways she’ll never know, with a coworker who appreciates and shares in all of my small and large victories, a roommate who has become more like a sister then a friend, with women who always worry about me, care about me and pry into my life in ways only family would do, with a captain who is impossible not to love, respect, and enjoy but who also worries about you too much to let you walk anywhere alone at night, with friends who mock you relentlessly, introduce you to new things, and support you even when they don’t even realize what they’ve done has made all the difference in your day and your life, and with many more.   In the time of silence after the reading describing Jesus taking his final breaths, I sat and closed my eyes.   I didn’t pray, but I felt it.  I had one of those moments when you feel that your part of something bigger.  Love.  The love of God, of Jesus, of the people around me, and my love for all of them.
 Good Friday is about Jesus’ sacrifice and I appreciate it more today then I think I have ever before, but really its about how much Jesus loved us, how he wanted us to love in the same way.  Tonight I got that, really got it. Tonight I felt the love of God through the people in that circle.  Tonight I am humbled before my God and his sacrifices and his gift to me. Tonight and for many nights to come, I am grateful. 

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A shock to my flat lining

            When we started the YAV year, they gave us a culture shock diagram.  It started with a heavy incline of loving the YAV year, a honeymoon period, then a skydive drop.  After the drop, there was an increase then a stagnant time.  My drop was brief and had very little to do with my actual YAV year.  Overall, I stayed on top for a really long time and would say my stagnant time has been quite high on the chart, but there has been a distinct stagnant time, especially in the new year.   Within my work I am in a plateau, despite a large effort on my part to move out of it, most days I find myself going through the motions.
            Recently in the Saturday night Macrory Youth Club, I have become the leader in charge of the kitchen and organizing the kitchen activity.  I have gone from every now and then helping with the arts and crafts but mostly working in the sitting area doing games or casual conversation with the young people to the most stressful area of youth club.  Not only is it usually the most stressful because there can only be 6 young people in the kitchen at once and everyone wants to be in, I have never been in the kitchen before and I was assigned at a time when a lot of changes were being made to how it was run.  More structure has been added to the kitchen activity, which is completely necessary, but the young people absolutely HATE the changes.  Each week for the passed month I have spent each night in what seems like a constant battle.  Trying to encourage basic good behaviours and getting nothing but resistance and cheekiness.  The kids have done everything from constantly storming the kitchen and refusing to leave to making signs that say we hate the rules and want less leaders.  Really mature things. The most common response however is just really terrible behaviour, doing things they know are unacceptable just to push me, test me, and see how far they can push me.  I have had to let a lot of things slide, but if I think something is important I stick to it.  Manners is one I never really back down from. I always make them use proper manners.  Another is if I ask them nicely and politely to do something like wash their dish, stop dumping flour on their dough, stop pushing each other, stop yelling in the small space, or other like things, I expect them to do it. 
            The big change all around club that has really come into play with the kitchen and my club morals is the new 2 strikes and you’re out policy we just started.  Under the new policy leaders can issue warnings for completely unacceptable behaviour as a last resort.  My second or third night in the kitchen I had to issue warnings to two of the young people because they refused to leave the kitchen after I asked at least 15 plus times for them to do so.  Later in the night one of the boys was in the kitchen with me and his behaviour was the typical pushing the limits.  He began throwing dough. I again asked numerous times that he not throw the dough.  The third time I literally saw dough leave his hand (I saw it flying through the air a few times before that) I felt as though I had to issue a second warning which meant he had to leave club.  He left club without too much of a fuss, but the rest of the night the bad behaviour got to me more then ever.  When the debrief with the rest of the leaders came around, everyone talked about their nights and what they thought was good and bad. The whole time I just stared at the floor. When it became my turn to speak, I began explaining the situation which led to the boy’s removal and by the end of it I couldn’t hide the tears that started coming down my face.  I am a crier, I always have been.  When I get mad or frustrated tears usually fall.  This was not the first time I’ve cried about something since being here, far from it.  But this was the first time I shared it with those I work with and actually cried in front of anyone else.  I explained how much trouble I was having with the kitchen activity and how I hated that the only relationship I was getting to have with the young people was disciplining them. 
            After club, people thanked me for being so honest and open. I tried to just laugh it off as me being a big baby but I don’t think anyone was convinced or even thought I was a baby.  My cards were out on the table.  A few leaders went out of their way to make sure I was ok.  Texting me and offering me encouraging words on top of the hugs and tissues offered at the debrief.   One in particular not only sent me a text after I went home but also the next morning an encouraging and inspiring scripture.  He knew the next morning was the morning I was scheduled to preach my first sermon ever.  I had been agonizing over it for over a week writing about 3 different versions and terrified to do it.  This night at club didn’t make me feel any more capable or confident to preach a full sermon.  I literally didn’t sleep at all that night.  I couldn’t stop thinking about club and how terrible I felt about having to remove a young person from club nor could I stop rewriting and thinking through my sermon.  The night had shaken me and emotionally drained me.  The next morning is the earliest I have ever been to Fortwilliam.  My sermon isn’t what I am writing about so I won’t give details about it (I’ll post some later this week) but the point is, it went well.  After I felt as though I finally had a victory.  I had truly succeeded at something big for the first time in weeks.  I may not be able to win in the kitchen but I did something great.
            Tonight I had another one of those experiences winning experiences.  It was a band parade night in Tiger’s Bay so attendance at club was low.  Another American woman who married into Belfast and comes to help at club once a month and has helped us with behaviour mangement training was helping me in the kitchen. I went into club already feeling a large sense of relief that she was going to be there, knowing that she would take some of the wrath tonight and be able to deal with the behaviour well taking some heat off me.  It also didn’t hurt that she was more leading the activity then me because we were making American pancakes and I am not the best at making them.  Lately we’ve had about 24 kids at club each night.  Tonight we had 7.  This meant everyone got to cook and that we could keep the groups small.  The normal two groups of 6, became a group of 3 and a group of 4.
             While the kids cooked I actually got to talk to them and have real conversations with them for the first time since I started the kitchen activity.  They still did things that required me to ask them to stop or change behaviour, but I never had to ask more then once.  THAT NEVER HAPPENS. EVER! That alone would have been amazing and a great victory to my night.  But they went out of their way to share the pancakes with the leaders each kid making one of the leaders a pancake and hand delivering it with syrup and all the works.  Normally they never want to share any of what they make but tonight they kept a tally to make sure each leader got one.  Sometime in the night I started talking to the young people about next Saturday when there is a special celebration event for our halls being open again and asking if they would be there.  I told them they should come because my parents will be in town and since we won’t be having club that night I would really like for my parents to meet all of them.  From this they decided that my parents arrival meant my parents were coming to take me home.  They started saying things like, “Crystal I don’t want you to leave. Can’t you stay?” “We like working with you in the kitchen and having you around.” and “We’ll miss you when you’re gone.” I was floored.  Every week I hear them say, “We liked it better when you didn’t do the kitchen activity” or “Wow you’re mean” or “Why are you talking to me?”
            Nights like tonight make me realize that even when I am straight lining through my year, my daily activities matter.  These activities DO make a difference. I am right where I am supposed to be doing what I am meant to be doing.  This night will keep me going for many Saturday nights to come when the dough is flying, the kitchen doors are slamming, and no one is listening to me.  They make me realize I am more then the bad guy and the discipliner in their eyes.  They want me, and even if they never show it, they appreciate me and all the other leaders and all that we do for them.  My kids and club have a fairly rough reputation of cheekiness and misbehavior.  As the Northern Irish say, a lot of times they just do my head in, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world and tonight they showed the world why.  They are a bit rough around the edges, but they are wonderful and appreciative.  Tonight, thanks to the kids of Tiger’s Bay, my straight line has been interrupted by a large spike up.  I love my job.