“This life, therefore, is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness…”
I am white, young, married, middle class. I live in a one bedroom apartment in a affluent area of St Paul, MN the more homogeneous half of the Twin Cities. When I wake up in the morning, I go to the Y to work out. While I run, I read Self Magazine, celebrity gossip, or every now and then the New Yorker. I come home, I check my email, my Facebook. I do laundry most mornings, and then I shower. I straighten my hair and then I go to work.
They are sometimes biracial, sometimes products of single parenthood or grand-parenting, and all socio-economic classes. They live at Holcomb because it is unsafe at home, either because of their actions or the actions of their caregivers. (Often those actions are in tandem.) When they wake up, they take turns in a bathroom with 4-6 other residents of the same gender. They brush their teeth, they apply sheen spray or gel, they straighten their hair.
“…not health, but healing…”
We meet in the afternoon. My coworkers and I introduce the day, run through the daily shift plan. It is the same as every other Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, but we review it. They have not been able to trust adults before; the adults in their life have sometimes reneged on their responsibilities, sometimes been unable to live up to them. Because they cannot trust adults, they need to trust the schedule.
Together we snack on beef sticks or cereal and go to different rec activities, different therapy groups, and a different dinner every night. They flood their food in ranch dressing. The evening commences with trips to the pool and a rec center and on Wednesday nights, the mall. We play with teenagers who were unable to play as children.
“…not being, but becoming…”
We teach empathy to teenagers who never had empathy modeled. We teach the actions of forgiveness with the hope that the feelings follow. We teach accountability with the hope that the forethought eventually follows.
We laugh both with and at them and expect them to do the same. (We walk the earth, not eggshells.)
Sometimes the nights are tough. At the end of those nights there is extra paperwork, sometimes extra laundry. I have been called names that are physiologically impossible and filed charges for assault. By the same token, I have received hugs from kids who used to flinch at physical touch.
“…not rest, but exercise…”
At the end of the shift, my coworkers and I fill out logs and count their successes. The teenagers sleep, and we slide our peacoats and parkas back on to slip into the Minnesota night. Our cars scraped and brushed we go home.
I open my door quietly, my husband long asleep. I check my email, brush my teeth and crawl into bed.
They are changing old habits, learning the safety of routine, that adults can care for them, and that they really are capable. We are learning to let go of ourselves, let our affect fade, care for kids who are unlovable, that diagnoses can hardly be described in textbooks.
“…We are not what we shall be, but are growing toward it…”
As a counselor, I am unfinished. I am in the process of pursuing a graduate education and licensure. I still find myself locked into power struggles I am unsure how I started, I still notice my affect showing, and I am learning more and more about the craft of counseling. When I started at Holcomb, I thought that a year later, I would be done with my practical education, ready to move on to other things having have mastered the craft. Yet, I continue to find that each teen brings new challenges to me, new opportunities to learn and refine. When I think of Martin Luther’s quote, woven throughout this post, I think first of the teens I work with. They certainly are not what they shall be. They are growing, physically, socially, emotionally. However, I find that the growth is not only theirs. It is also my own.
I am learning more and more that I will never finish my education as a counselor and helper. When I have my doctorate, post-doc, supervision hours, license, the process will have only begun.
“…the process is not yet finished, but it is going on…”