Tag Archives: children

When I Was A Child Living in Poverty

It was a Poverty Simulation our school district hosted. It was only for a morning. I was invited to attend as a community member along with school counselors and personnel from the district and some parents. I knew at the outset it would be stressful and that I would leave with an awareness I already had, that poverty was horrible. I even questioned why in the world I would attend such a thing when I could be going to yoga class instead.

I was shocked when the simulation began and I was assigned the role of a 9-year-old girl named Whitney. I assumed I would be a grown up, not a child. I lived with my younger brother who had some special needs and my 50 something year old grandparents who were raising us because our mom was incarcerated for drug use and our dad had disappeared. Grandma had a low paying job and Grandpa was disabled due to diabetes.

We spent the morning living out a month in the life of this family. My grandparents were totally obsessed with surviving; going to work; trying to access community services; getting food; paying bills. Periodically, life would happen and our family would be thrown a curve that sent us into even deeper crisis.

As a nine-year old big sister, I felt incredibly responsible for my little brother. At school, I was distracted worrying about my grandparents. I kept checking to see if Grandma was at work because if she wasn’t, we wouldn’t have food. My grandparents tried but they were so focused on surviving they could barely acknowledge my brother and myself.

At the end, my grandpa went to the doctor and learned his medication would cost $350 and there was absolutely no way we could afford it. The whole family settled into the devastating news that grandpa would probably die.

After the simulation, our family debriefed. We all felt stressed, out of control and couldn’t believe that our best efforts and planning did not help improved our family’s situation one bit. In fact, things got worse.

As eye-opening as it was about the terrible reality of poverty, I left with hope because of some of bright spots in place in our community. We have not solved poverty, a staggering 1 our of 4 students in our district live in poverty. But, we have created some light her; some let’s-just-do-something strategies which matter.

When I was a child living in poverty sitting at school worrying about my grandparents, if a mentor had shown up to visit with me, even once a week, it would have changed me. No one at home could afford to pay much attention to me. Here, we have a school based mentoring program overseen by Big Brothers Big Sisters to serve students just like me. http://www.gcisd-k-12.org (search Mentor) for an application. We have plenty of students in need, we just need more mentors.

When I was a child living in poverty, if I had been given a bag of food to eat over the weekend, it would have truly relieved pressure on my whole family. It would have reminded me that someone cared. We have that program here, which currently serves almost 1000 students in our district through the school year. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Weekend Food).

When I was a child living in poverty, if my family had a community agency that would visit with us and provide resources for clothing, food, medical care, holiday needs, a summer lunch time food option, it would have made all the difference. We have that here. http://www.gracegrapevine.org

When I was a child living in poverty if someone offered my family a hot meal, at a large table where we didn’t have to worry about the cost or the clean up, where we were treated like guests, we would have felt like we were less alone.  We have that here. http://www.firstmethodistgrapevine.org (search Be Our Guest Meal).

When I was a child living in poverty, if there was a huge Back to School Fair where I could get school supplies, a backpack, countless community and school resources, all in a one-stop setting, we would have felt equipped and loved. We have that here. (search Facebook for Connect GCISD).

When I was a child living in poverty, if there had been an after school program for my brother and me, my grandparents would have had more time to oversee our home. Someone would be there to give us a snack, a hot meal, help with our homework and a place to belong. We have that here thanks to a partnership with our local police, school district and churches. http://www.grapevinetexas.gov (search Grapevine Community Outreach Center Vast).

Living in poverty was horrible. And I know, I really have no idea how horrible. But, at least there are bright spots here. At least there are places you can give, serve and work and know that you a bringing light to a child.  At least there is that.

The Under Toad

I’m finding comfort in reading John Irving novels. Currently, I’m reading The World According to Garp. I like Irving’s writing even though I’m sure I don’t understand parts of it. His work always intrigues and challenges me.

In this novel, the Garp family talks to their young sons at the beach every year about the under tow. They describe what it can do to you. One of their boys becomes particularly afraid. Finally, they get to the bottom of his fear. He believed all along they were saying, “Watch out for the Under Toad.” He was picturing a massive frog-like toad, lurking under the dark of the water, big-eyed, slimy, ready to grab him by the legs and steal him away.

After that, whenever anxiety popped up in their family, they called it the Under Toad.

I’m seeing quite a bit of the Under Toad lately, are you? I see it in the news, in my Twitter feed and other forms of social media. I see it in families and friendship circles. I see it in schools, churches and in the community. Last week, I had a conversation with a relative over politics at her initiative that sent me rushing out the door, emotional, sweating, uttering bad words and covered in Under Toads.

One of the ongoing lessons I have learned in my adult life is that the Under Toad does not help anything.  It is bad for marriages and parenting. It is bad for leaders and followers. The Under Toad moves us from being thinking, calm people to overly emotional, reactive ones.

I hate it because it is so much fun to blame others, but the truth is we cannot manage other people’s Under Toads, only our own. When anxiety is high, all you can do is manage your Toad.

Sometimes our fears are real and based in fact. There really is, for example, an under tow out there which we should know about and respect. But, it is not a huge, amphibian-like monster plotting to get us. Millions of people do not die each year because of Under Toads. In fact, no one has even been hurt by one, ever.

How do we manage our Under Toads?

Everyone is different, of course, but here’s my list of anxiety-busters:

Establish some spiritual touch points and routines that anchor you like prayer, journaling, meditation, scripture. Do these whether you feel like it or not. Don’t wait until inspired. That is not how it works.

Engage with nature. Creation feeds our souls. The colors, the smells, the wonder of outside eases anxiety. Sunrises and sunsets are my favorite twice a day Toad repellent.under-toad

Music works every time.

Comedians. Thank God for the funny people. Did you know, laughter cannot co-exist with Toads?

Babies. Children. Find some. Rent some. Volunteer near some. According to Psychology Today, 4 year olds are reported to laugh 300 times a day. 40 year olds? Only 4. Find a small person, play and just laugh when they laugh.

Disconnect. I’m beginning to think our media feeds our hungry Under Toads and when our Toads are large and scary, we keep going back for more. When they see what sells it is like supply and demand. Maybe we should take a little break.

Breathe. Mary Oliver, the poet, writes, “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?” I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget to breathe deeply, especially when being pursued by Toads.

Exercise. It is amazing how we are made. Exercise is good for us and breaks the anxiety chain. It helps us feel better, look better and sleep better. I walk. Every day. Outside, in nature. I breathe there. I disconnect there.

Act. Do something. Go ahead and act. Today, I spent a couple of hours with some amazing women strategizing about how we would help serve the economically disadvantaged students in our public schools with school supplies and other resources. It kept the Toad at bay.

Love. Love people. Love strangers. Love your family. Love those who feel differently than you do. Try to listen but also take care of you. Learn to say, “Can we change the conversation? I’m having an allergic reaction to a personal Toad problem right now.” I promise they will stop talking.

Thank you, John Irving, for your writing. You showed me the power of the Under Toad…and more than that, you showed me it is not even real.

 

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Leaning

When I was a little girl the church we attended had a children’s church. It was not at all like children’s ministry today with colorful murals, indoor playgrounds, kid-friendly music and cool video based Bible lessons. It was called “Little Church” and it was literally a tiny child-sized sanctuary with little pews, a little pulpit and little hymnals. I remember attending Little Church when my legs were too short to allow my feet to touch the floor. I was too little to find the hymn number before the song was over so I just had to remember the words. I doubt I could even read yet. We sang songs like “Come to the Church in the Wildwood” and “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” We didn’t do the leaning motion during that song in Little Church. We were a little too formal for that. I learned that later at church camp. As we sang, we’d actually lean…as far as we could lean without falling.

All my life I’ve been practicing leaning: leaning on friends and family for help sometimes; leaning into tough challenges; leaning into school and study; leaning into marriage and parenting. I talk a lot about leaning into seasons because it took me so long to figure out how to not fight a season rather to lean into it. I’m not talking about actual seasons of the year but those are fun to embrace too. I’m talking about realizing the season you are in and leaning into it. Maybe it is a season of grief or a season of parenting.  Maybe it is a season of illness or a time of healing. Maybe you are in season of caring for a loved one or a tiny baby. Maybe it is a season of intense work or major projects. Don’t fight it.  Lean into it. Declare to yourself “this is a season of ….” and lean.

I once heard a therapist say “We must lean into that which is difficult.”  That’s a new idea, isn’t it? Instead of running from that which is hard for us, lean into it. Have that tough conversation. Bring up the subject no one talks about. Lean into facing what is hard to face. Do that thing that terrifies you. Lean into it.

This morning, my favorite devotional book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young had a line that jumped out at me. “Go gently through this day, leaning on Me and enjoying My presence.”  I guess we had it right way back at Little Church, our little voices singing about leaning.

 

School’s Out

Ahh, the last week of school, remember that feeling?  We used to say, “No more pencils, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks” and laugh together as we left school feeling so incredibly free. As students bask in their summer freedom this week, my heart is heavy thinking about next fall already.

I’m part of a non-profit organization, Connect, http://www.connectgcisd.org, which began four years ago to specifically address the needs of economically disadvantaged students in Grapevine Colleyville ISD.  Even in our affluent community, a stunning 1 in 4 students are economically disadvantaged.  For the past few years, Connect has worked with other community groups to sponsor a Back to School Fair for these children in which they receive all kinds of resources plus a new backpack and a complete grade level appropriate school supply pack. We believe that when the poorest children are equipped and ready to learn, all children in our community benefit.

So why the heavy heart?  We have a record 1600 children already pre-registered for the August 8 fair and only enough funds to provide school supplies for a little over half that number.

Since founding Connect, there have been several times when we’ve had to rely on faith and the goodwill of others to provide the resources for these children.  The need just seems a little daunting right now.

This week, as happy children shed their backpacks, used up supplies and books, I’m praying for full backpacks, for every child, this fall.

To directly purchase school supply packs for these children go to http://www.educationalproducts.com/shoppacks. School code GCE000, Or, you can donate to the GCISD Education Foundation/Connect, PO Box 292, Grapevine, TX 76099, write Connect School Supplies in the memo of your check. All funds will go directly to purchase school supplies.

I Want Us to See Them

In our local school district (Grapevine-Colleyville, Texas) there are over 3000 students identified as economically disadvantaged.  That number grows every year, currently it is right at 1 in 4.  These are the children on free and reduced lunch.  This the little girl who showed up to see the school nurse on Monday morning with a tummy ache.  When the nurse questioned the child she discovers the last time the little girl ate, last Friday, at school.  This the little boy seen limping every day.  He wasn’t injured, his shoes were just several sizes too small.

I know we can debate poverty forever.  I know many of us disagree on how to address it.  Maybe the people should work harder.  Maybe we are enabling them to stay like that by giving out food and clothes. Maybe there are immigration issues that no one can agree on.  I finally decided, that I, personally am not interested in debating poverty anymore.  I’m done with it.  I just want these children to be seen.

So a few of us decided to tackle something really big  It is so big there is no way it can be done alone.  We decided to invite our community to look into the eyes of the children in need in our school and do something to transform their situation.

I want us to see them; get to know them; listen to their stories and hear their needs. We all know if children are fed, clothed properly and have the right school supplies, eye glasses, dental and medical care, they will be better learners and community members.  We know if a child has just one mentor, they are less likely to be at risk for all kinds of things.  When they are better served, we all move forward.

So less than two years ago, Connect was born.  www.connectgcisd.org. Connect is about doing not debating.  Connect is about tackling something bigger than any one of us.  Connect requires all of us, churches, synagogues, civic clubs, teachers and school administrators, the city personnel, businesses and countless other organizations to pool our resources so that we can see these children.

When I first heard the story of the little girl with the tummy ache who hadn’t eaten all weekend, my eyes filled with tears.  Then I got mad.  Then I just said, “Not in our backyard, not in our schools, not on our watch.” 

You and I are what we see.  Our life is somewhat defined by what we look at.  Right here in our community, in our schools, just around the corner from our neighborhood there are children in need.  I want us to seem them, really see them.