When I was making a major decision in my life, I had a dramatic dream. I was in prison and somehow I flew out over the thick walls and I saw that the room only had three walls.
This is what a hairpin turn is like in our lives. It is a complete turnaround that allows us to discover that we are not the prisoners that we think we are.
Often we worry about the many things that could happen as we keep facing all that closes us in to other possibilities. When we trust in the goodness of our heart’s intelligence, we can, in faith, turn around and move toward the freedom we seek.
About a year ago, several of us got together and wrote a grant proposal for a project we were very interested in bringing to our community. When we took some movement toward doing this work together we found resistance to any change in some unexpected places. We were very discouraged and dropped any hope for this situation. However, this small group kept meeting occasionally and kept talking about the possibility of change for that environment.
Now over one year later, a request came “out of the blue” to take another look at this proposal. We gave this person the same exact document we had thrown away one year earlier. She read it and said: “Yes—this is exactly what needs to happen!” We have a new respect for “right timing” and are grateful for this renewed interest in bringing positive change.
Sometimes we “have to wait on the Lord” (as my Grandmother use to say) and expect miracles. Hairpin turns are full of waiting, surprises and miracles—in spite of our feeble doubts.
I attended a meeting where a local college official began with this statement: “We did not have to consult with the neighborhood about the development. Many, many colleges just go in and start bulldozing!” This statement set a tone for the subsequent conversation.
The first question from a sociology professor followed: “Did the college go to this southern neighborhood because it was poor and “bulldozable?” The lines were drawn with these three sentences. On one side of the line was “they were lucky to be asked at all” and on the other side of the line was “you had no intention to engage the opinions of these people.” The discussion went round and round and phrases like “white wash” and “manipulation” entered the room. People (including myself) took sides.
How do we talk with one another in ways that facilitate understanding and clearly express our authentic needs? Listening to one another and letting go of biases (or at least holding them more lightly) seem to be processes that are needed for healthy exchanges.
Three sentences sent the group into non-productive and even hurtful places. Three alternative sentences might be: “Here is how we screwed up.” “How else might we meet the needs of the neighbors?” “How might we engage all stakeholders in this planning?”
At tutoring this week, I took aside four of the 4th and 5th grade girls. They were not bringing their homework and were creating some “noise challenges” for the other children and tutors. All the girls are doing below grade-level work at their school.
I shut the door to our little room and one of them immediately asked: “Are we in trouble?” I said: “No. We would like your ideas on how you can help us with leadership and learning during our tutoring days together.” They got silent. Then the ideas started to come: “I would like to teach first and second graders spelling.” “I can help the little ones write stories and then draw a picture about the story.” Another child said, “I would like us to put on a play.”
When I asked what we might learn from putting on a play, D’Kala said: “Well after the play they could ask us about words they didn’t understand—like porridge.” (I remembered that over a year before we had put on a play about the three pigs.)
We paired each girl with a tutor to flesh out their ideas. Then we came back at the end of tutoring to show what had been accomplished. They were all focused and energized.
After the children left, Bill, one of our regular tutors, noted that author William Glasser said all of us want two things: to be accepted and to be valued. We saw the power of this at work in our young girls, and I will take that knowledge into this day and understand how these two things impact us all.
Our local nonprofit group had two events last week to celebrate November as nonprofit awareness month. As I stood in a crowded ballroom and looked around, my heart both ached and rejoiced at the same time. I saw people who, at great risk, had started a nonprofit to meet a need in the community. Now they are barely holding on financially.
I listened to others who, with great enthusiasm for their mission, took the next steps in a strategic plan—with faith that the funding would follow.
The room throbbed with creativity, compassion and courage, yet I suspected that at next years celebration some folks in the room would not be present—mainly because of the changing economic reality.
What can we do to help each other face this reality and yet also remain steadfast in taking risks to meet the many needs in our community? How can we manage expectations about a future, and continue to move courageously toward our goals each day? Can we celebrate our work in our lives and in the community, while simultaneously holding the realities and possibilities of this new economic climate?
I was asked to represent the “community” in a “think tank” session at our local university. The topic was scholarly activity and community engagement. All but three of us in the group were young, smart faculty members who wanted to understand this “new” movement to “reward” community scholarship.
Within the first hour I understood that many of those attending wanted specifics about “what counted” toward tenure and promotion. Did a new course design count, or did the work have to be more practical like a design for a training session based on the most current research? Many wanted to know if “the only thing that counted” was rigorous research that got published in a scholarly journal.
Even though I deeply understood the search for the answers (I was once a young tenure-track faculty member), I did wonder what would happen if we all abandoned the need to have everything “count” in some measurable way toward our own advancement? Would this change the work we are doing? What if children who benefit from a new partnership between the social work department and the YWCA could speak to this group about how their lives had changed as a result of this collaboration? What if we “counted” the value of this work more from the intelligence of our hearts, than from the money in our pockets? On the hairpin turn journey, we lead with these “counting” questions.
As I sat down to interview a ninety-year old woman for an article, I noticed the book Made for Goodness by Desmond Tutu on her coffee table. She had just finished reading it and invited me to take it for my own enjoyment. She is a petite woman with large ideas. She is one of the most radical people I have ever met—yet she seems oblivious to her trail blazing. Her father and grandfather were both coal miners in rural Iowa and yet she attended college and seminary in the 1940’s and early 1950’s. She has always been an advocate for improved “race relations” That was very unusual for a Midwestern white woman in the 1940s. She has been liberal politically and theologically, even though a seminary professor addressed the class as “you men” and refused to look at the few women in class. She knew ML King while he was working on his doctorate at Boston University and she helped educate young people about the sit-ins in the south in the early 1960’s.
She took vacation time to go and support Peter Beebe, and Anglican priest who hired a woman priest and who eventually had his orders taken away because of it. She worked at the YWCA and educated whomever she could about institutional racism. She remains radical and hopeful as she approaches her ninth decade. She has, indeed, been made for goodness. I, for one, marvel at the hairpin turns in her life and hope I can have this kind of integrity as I approach another turn.
After a long meeting, I gathered up the pieces of newsprint which held an abundance of logistical details on upcoming programs. I noticed that a member of the team slowly packed up her belongings. I became aware of her lingering moves and sensed she wanted to say something. We walked down the long hall and as were about to split up, she turned to me and blurted out: “How did you decide to write a book?” Immediately I perceived that she had something she wanted to express to the world. I asked her if she ever thought about writing a book and she hesitantly communicated her idea. She talked with tenderness about the possibility and also talked about what stopped her. She was an English major in college and had learned many rules about writing and she was not sure she was “up” for such a task. She looked at me with hope brimming in her eyes. How do we encourage each other to become fully expressed? Can we take a few minutes—even today—and ask someone near to us what is within them that wants to be communicated? And then support them through their hesitation? We can watch for such moments in our relationships and then we can pause and help one another become fully expressed.
Yesterday was a challenging day at Partnership Village—an after school program some of us created for children who are in great need in our community. The children were wild. We volunteers glanced at each other and tried our usual tricks to calm them down. Nothing worked. We flicked the lights off and on. We separated them into smaller groups and finally just started our play—Little Red Riding Hood. Sometimes this is challenging duty for the volunteers and yet we know harder still for the children. “We can do hard,” we tell the children and each other as we play and tutor together. But do any of us really believe that? Secretly we all seem to want “easy” and we want it now (loose 10 lbs in a week; write a novel over the weekend; get the children up to grade level in a month). What might happen if, instead of complaining or expecting instant or easy, we embraced “we can do hard”?