Thursday, May 24, 2012

Who is your Child 10?

"I was the third child and oldest son of fourteen children miraculously from the same mother and father. When I tell today’s modern woman that my mother gave birth to fourteen children her jaw drops so wide that I can count how many times she has gone to the dentist. 

These days, our family would have been a reality TV show. My parents literally ran out of places to put children so my little brother and I ended up sleeping in the basement about fifteen feet from the washer and dryer. It was a loud sleeping area. I remember putting lyrics to the beat and rhythm of the tennis shoes drying and tumbling in the dryer.

My bed was directly under the floor of my parent’s bed and I could clearly hear my new brother or sister being born.  I would get goose bumps all over my teenage arms as I could feel a new spirit entering the world.
My childhood home life would be seen by some as dysfunctional. A few of the siblings who I helped raise before I left home have made a few disappointing choices as adults. It may be true that all of us at times have disappointed the ones who love us. Still, I can remember vividly the day some of my younger siblings were born and the sense of hope of a new person entering the world.
I remember vividly the extreme joy I felt around the birth of my much younger brother -- #10.

We were ripe for child number 10. When he was born, the whole dynamic of the house changed like sunshine entering a dim room. I couldn't wait to get home from school to play with him.  When child 10 was about two or three and I was around 16, I loved tossing him up in the air and catching him. He would burst out with an infectious laugh that drowned out all of the dysfunctional behavior of the well-intended adults around us.

Today, that laughing toddler is a medicated schizophrenic. For years he was in and out of the state mental hospital.  One terrible day in frustration, he broke out all of the front windows in the family home.  He spent time in prison for another crime. When he returned from prison, this once sweet baby boy was unrecognizable.  His appearance was scary enough to cause women to cross the street clutching their handbags.

Reeling from the effects of solitary confinement, this convicted felon needed help, healing, and someone to throw him up in the air and catch him once again.  He needed a team of people to help repair him. I had to fight the urge to run from him. I was simply afraid. I confess there were days when I ignored his number when it appeared on my phone.  I couldn’t handle him every day. I realized and accepted that I didn't need to handle him every day. I was part of a team. It was not my job to heal him alone. I had to learn to set limits of assistance. Child ten taught me not to be a silent, frozen bystander.

Today, child ten is on medication.  He still stands out at a family get together, but he has embraced God and the church family as he tries to wean off his monthly Social Security disability payments. He wants to work and pay his own way.
He is a constant reminder to me that although every child brings hope, it is we who bring the healing by just playing our individual role in the “team of assistance.”
We all have a kind of child ten around us .Who is your child ten?  Where is the team of assistance you can join in order to play your part?

Every human being, despite imperfection is someone who once was a sweet smelling baby who brought new hope and light into the world.  We all need someone to throw us up in the air and catch us." - Samuel

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Precious Metal, Precious Times

When I first started sharing my story almost a year ago now, I started by describing how it felt to become homeless, and what it felt like to lose my keys. You can read more about that story on the April 26th 2011 post, The Road To The Beginning. Back then, I had no idea of just how close I truly was to being on the road to a new beginning.

Here it is, mid-April of 2012. I'm still traveling down the road to new beginnings, but I've come s
o much further on my journey. I'm currently writing this post from the bedroom of my brand new apartment! Last night, as I recalled how it felt almost four years ago to lose my apartment keys, I thought about what it's like to have a new set of apartment keys, now. Just then, a television commercial came on featuring Reba McEntire from a few years ago. She said to some people, house keys are precious metal. For certain, I have to say that it feels great to have precious metal of my own. I will remember always these precious times.

These times are especially precious to me, because I'm experiencing so many important life transitions at once. Not only am I on safe ground again, but by the time this post
is published, I will have turned 40! All that joy and excitement might seem overwhelming, and it is. But along with joy come overwhelming feelings of fear, unpleasant memories, things to do and establish, appointments, and career opportunities to pursue. I've been figuratively spit out of a tornado and I've had a bit of a chance to collect my bearings. Although I still feel a bit wobbly at times, it's time to stand up firmly and get busy with solidifying my life. Wobbly or not, it's time to get moving. After all, what I accomplish now sets the tone for years to come. No pressure, right?

This is why communication with others has never been more important to me th
an at this moment. At least, that's how it feels at times. I need a way for people and for agencies to contact me. I need to feel in every way that I'm settled and established. My Community Voice Mail number helps me to do this. For example, just yesterday, a lady who drove me home from the food bank asked me for my phone number. She wanted to call me with items she had around her home. I told her that my number was a voice mailbox. She asked me if the voice mail system sounded like some weird automated machine that half-captured one's information. I was able to reassure her that it features my voice, and that it sounds like an answering machine.

When people call me, they will hear a welcoming voice instructing them to leave their information. I was so proud to be able to tell the lady this information. Sharing about the quality of my voice mail with her made me feel a bit more...human and established. I'm grateful that I and others have dignified access to a voice mail system that others respect and trust. My voice mail box is indeed a precious resource that helps me through these precious times.

My name is Terrah, and I will be sharing with you ways that Community Voice Mail has helped me, it might seem like a small thing, but having communications gives hope, and that hope can be the seed for so much growth in life recovery. I hope you continue to read my posts, and I wish you well in your journey.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Voices in the journey home: My mother; The First African American I ever met.

We are fortunate in that because of our technology we have a built in way to have conversations with a diverse group of clients that is working on rebuilding their lives. Through these conversations we have met some incredible individuals and found some amazing stories that we have been able to share.  We are proud to be able to highlight another voice that has an ability to write and a willingness to share their journey.  You first met Samuel when we shared part of his story in a video on our home page and now he will be a regular guest blog writer in our feature we like to call Voices in the journey home”.

My mother; The First African American I ever met.

"I broke her heart. I broke my mother’s heart in two and smashed it with the heel of my ungrateful boot. I kicked her with my pride when she was down while holding my hands over my ears to muffle her cry's for understanding. That sounds terrible doesn't it?

Although that didn't physically happen, it figuratively occurred and I have spent the last three years of my life struggling with piercing guilt. I have gone back and forth from forgiving myself to torturing myself for sins against my own mother.

As that old Frank Sinatra song goes “Regrets, I have a few but then again too few to mention.” This is not the case with me. I was a troubled child with a troubled mother. I felt rejected by her so I lashed out. I didn't realize how much she must have loved me until years after she had passed. Truth is when I left home without saying goodbye to her I broke her heart - she died 9 years later.

During her life this classy lady would never leave the house with her hair undone even if she had to hide it under a wig. They did that in those days. Boy, could she walk with dignity. Her head would be up so high in public you would hope that it wouldn't rain. One would have never known that she was a survivor of the brutal south and unspeakable crimes against her body and her mind.

I wish someone had given me that information, even as a little boy I would have understood.

She was an amazing African American woman. She carried herself with dignity and masked the pain of her past in public exceptionally. No one ever told me about her past until after she had died. I didn't know that she was extremely terrified of white people. I only knew she came to Washington from Tennessee for a change before I was born and that she could be cold and insensitive at times. I was a selfish teenager focused on my own pain. 

In private when she thought she was alone Mama would talk to herself out loud. It was tough for me to listen too. At that time I had to gather the reasons for her mental illness out of thin air.

If only I had known.

Why am I writing about this? I want to encourage you to cherish the people in your life no matter what. Separate each person from their behavior. Try to look behind the reasons they are behaving the way they are. Contemplate understanding.

I forgive myself. 

You may have to distance yourself but try not to lash out or strike back. Forgive the hurtful person and then for God’s sake forgive yourself." - Samuel

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

I will have a home

Imagine knowing that one of the worst periods of your life would officially end in less than 48 hours? Could you imagine the wave of emotions that would flood over you? That's where I currently find myself. You see, after three and a half years of being homeless and in transition, I will be moving into my new apartment. I will officially leave the ranks of those in transition. I will have a home.

However, I will truly be starting over in every way. In addition to the normal things that people do when they move, I will have a lot of purchases to make, in order to have the very basics in my new home. I will purchase a little mat to sleep on to start out with. I will get things to cook with and I will set up my bathroom. I will have a lot of running around to do, and I will have a lot of contacts to make. I will also need to reach out to quite a few resources. Having said this, since real life isn't like the movies, I've been warned in advance that things won't be happily ever after, at least not at first.

I've been warned that I will experience my share of emotional issues. I was also warned that I might experience physical changes such as unusual sleep patterns, jitters, etc. or that I could experience emotional disturbances, such as panic attacks or depression. I was told that I should get in contact with my medical provider, in case I need to obtain sleeping aids, or if I start to experience any harmful inclinations.

This may seem unusual, but the fact is that in addition to obtaining a permanent home, I'll be putting an end to living in the “fight or flight” survival pattern that I've been in for years. Since I'll have the time and the safety to process what I've been through, it would be normal for emotional turmoil to surface.

I heard it was normal for many people in my position to feel like, “Now what?”  A person like me sits in their empty new apartment, very glad to be there, yet very apprehensive. You see, when you've lost everything, it takes time for you to believe that you're capable. It will take time and support to realize that I'm not going to lose everything again.

On top of the impending flood of emotions and doubts, a person like me has the enormous task of realizing that while I can recreate my life in any manner that I wish, I realize that I have A LOT of work to do! Life doesn't fall apart overnight, and the rebuilding process won't take place overnight either.

Getting through this will require the help of others. As such, those like me in these situations require communication resources. Since I'll be starting completely over, not only won't I have furniture, but I won't have a telephone, nor do I have the resources for a cellphone. Thankfully, I still have Community Voice Mail that has been with me for almost three years now. I've said in the past that Community Voice Mail has been the one constant thing that I've maintained in my transitional journey. That statement will prove to be even truer, as I use it as a source of contact until I get a telephone of my own. - Terrah

My name is Terrah, and I will be sharing with you ways that Community Voice Mail has helped me, it might seem like a small thing, but having communications gives hope, and that hope can be the seed for so much growth in life recovery. I hope you continue to read my posts, and I wish you well in your journey.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Lessons Gained

How many times do we go through live through life's ups and downs, only to ask ourselves “Why?” Have you ever felt as if the experiences that you've survived in life were all for nothing? Have you ever started a new year without any hope for anything to change? Or, do you secretly hope that this is the year that things will get better but you have no idea of how to go about making things better?
I used to feel this way. As a matter of fact, I've just realized that although the year has just begun, I'm already ahead of the curve. This is the first year where I actually started my new year with a head start. How can I have gained lessons from 2012, when 2012 just started? It's because I paid full attention to the lessons that I've learned from 2011. I not only gained lesson realizations, but I also gained lesson application.

Things weren't always this way for me. I used to be like a raft, aimlessly floating from one experience to the next, one year to the next. Why is this year different? What made things different for me this time around? I believe because last year, I paid attention to the signs and the lessons and I let those lessons become my guides.

I'm a firm believer that life presents to us lessons from many different resources. There are lessons all around us, if we are willing to open our eyes and pay attention. I've shared many of my insights in 2011, such as some of the lessons that I've learned in my journey back to recovery. Having said this, I'm going to recap some of the lessons that not only got me through 2011, but these lessons have become guideposts for the rest of my life:

Property Value: Everyone has innate value, regardless of their circumstances. It's so important to one's recovery process to first acknowledge that money doesn't provide one's value. Possessions do not provide one's value. This is why it's so important for those of us who are poor or in transition to have a method of being contacted, such as the Community Voice Mail service. This free service is a valuable resource providing a method of outreach for those who value us.

Recovered And Reclaimed: After you have accepted that you have value, you have to give yourself permission to be move towards a place of recovery. The great thing is that you will find that during the course of your recovery journey, you will reclaim parts of yourself that you lost or forgot about.

Bite-Sized Pieces: Your recovery program will seem overwhelming at times. However, you'll learn new levels of control over your life, when you break down your plans into smaller steps.

Just Ask: You'd be amazed of how many opportunities come your way when you ask for them. You'll learn how to develop direction for your life when you start asking yourself the right questions.

With these things said, I hope that this is the year where you allow your life lessons to become your life guideposts. I hope that you will ask yourself the right questions and develop answers that help others. I'll close this post out with a quote that I used in the beginning of my CVM blog journey:

“The questions that we ask ourselves determines the quality of our lives” - unknown

Ask yourself what your life has taught you last year. Ask yourself what life is teaching you now. Your answers will determine your outcome, so never stop asking.

My name is Terrah, and I will be sharing with you ways that my Community Voice Mail phone number has helped me, and I will be sharing tips on how it could help you as well. It might seem like a small thing, but having a phone number gives hope, and that hope can be the seed for so much growth in your life recovery. I hope you continue to read my post, and I wish you well in your journey. These lilies represent the fact that within the seeds of one form of life, rises the beauty of a new form of life.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

"Bite Sized Pieces"

I am not the most patient person in the world. Age is helping me to get better at this virtue, but the word NOW is only second best to the word YESTERDAY to me. I have come to believe that part of the reason that my recovery has been slow is because I get depressed that this process is taking so long. I have to remind myself every day that even baby steps are still steps in the right direction.

I have created a paradox of sorts for myself. I get depressed because beyond my Community Voice Mail account, I really don't have the resources or the energy physically or mentally to speed up my recovery process (never mind that fact that I have clinical depression anyway). My depression causes me to further become depleted, and then I fall behind on my goals. It's quite the merry-go-round that I can find myself on. So, how can I get off the merry-go-round?

I can resign myself to the fact that my financial and life recovery process is what it is. It's going to take time. There are lessons to be learned. There are life skills that need dusting off, or that need to be implemented. There are decisions to be made and sacrifices to be considered. I get scared and overwhelmed by my choices, because when there is so little money and resources, there are very few palatable choices available. However, I've also come to accept and spur myself on with the fact that I do have choices. They might not be the choices that I would want to be faced with forever, but I do have choices.

So, facing the fact that I have choices, one thing that I am choosing to do is plan my recovery goals into bite sized pieces, or baby steps. I'm also choosing not to feel like a failure, but instead I can feel empowered for taking baby steps. Here's a practical example from my life:

A few days ago, I got sick and tired of being too sick and tired to perform heavy duty housekeeping around my room. I was totally overwhelmed by my need to scrub the shower, clean the baseboards, etc. I didn't want to borrow a vacuum from the hotel front office, but I couldn't seem to get things together to buy a vacuum. On top of all of these considerations, I had to try to bang out some work that day. I thought my head was going to explode with the considerations of housekeeping, possibly getting sore and tired from housekeeping, not having enough tools or time to get everything done, and oh yeah, having the mental space to be creative enough to write internet content for my employer.

What I decided to do was to break the task down into bite sized pieces. I decided that I could clean my kitchenette area. I could borrow the vacuum up front. The floor would be able to stay clean enough for a week or two until I could buy my own vacuum. I could scrub the shower. There are other parts of the room that need a good doing-over, but those could wait. I decided that any cleaning that I engaged in would be progress. I would feel better, and my living space would be healthier. Sure enough, I did feel better and more accomplished with the little that I performed. While I didn't hit my financial goal that day, I reasoned that I needed to take care of home so that my mind would be clear enough for me to accomplish my higher priority, which is work.

If you are reading this, and if you are in transition or homeless, then know that some issues that you will have to overcome are simply going to take time to resolve. If you have kids, then you know that sometimes you have to feed them bite sized pieces of food. Sometimes, even the bite sized pieces are too big, and you'll have to split those up into smaller, more manageable pieces. The important thing is not the size of the food; the important thing is that it's being digested. Life is the same way in many cases. 

My name is Terrah, and I will be sharing with you ways that my Community Voice Mail phone number has helped me, and I will be sharing tips on how it could help you as well. It might seem like a small thing, but having a phone number gives hope, and that hope can be the seed for so much growth in your life recovery. I hope you continue to read my post, and I wish you well in your journey. These lilies represent the fact that within the seeds of one form of life, rises the beauty of a new form of life.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"The thing from which it has freed us"

353rd Infantry near a church at Stenay, in France, wait for the end of hostilities. 
10:58 a.m Nov 11, 1918, two minutes before the armistice ending World War
Today is Veterans Day, and by my calculation, this is the 92nd year this day has been recognized in our country.  Veterans Day was originally called Armistice Day, to commemorate the day that the actual fighting ended between the Allied nations and Germany during World War I.  The thinking was that this “war to end all wars” would be the last of its kind, and the armistice would be remembered as the last instance of large-scale warfare between countries.  With the wars that followed, the decision was made to honor the people who had served our country, and Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.  

To commemorate the first Armistice Day in 1919, President Wilson said the following: "To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations…"

“…The thing from which it has freed us” Wilson was talking about, was the fighting, and unfortunately, there will always be wars from which young men and women in uniform will need to free us.  When I read these words, however, I am reminded of another “thing” from which we need to be free:  homelessness among veterans. 

This is a battle that happens after the fighting but is one that continues for far too many veterans from all wars.   It is a fight that is being waged by veterans against the economy, the lack of affordable housing, health issues, their own difficult past, and yes, sometimes against the VA and other agencies that are tasked with supporting them.  We’re not winning this war right now, but we’re still in the fight.

Here at Community Voice Mail, we’re doing our small part for veterans who are homeless (or as Donna Beegle rightly says, “Veterans who don’t have homes”).  About two years ago, we realized that while veterans are over-represented in the general population of homeless people, and 11% of our clients are veterans, we weren’t providing phone numbers through the Veterans Administration (VA), where many veterans are seeking help.   If we aren’t where the veterans are, our service can’t effectively help end veteran homelessness.  We decided where we might be able to have the biggest impact within the VA, and worked with U.S. Senator Patty Murray and her staff to gain approval for a federal appropriation that would let us conduct a one-year pilot project in Washington State to provide voice mail and information services to nearly 3,000 homeless or at-risk veterans.  Things were going great, and we were ready to go…

But then things came to a stop.  The federal funding to do the project fell through when Congress failed to pass the 2011 Federal budget.  We had a good plan and the support of the VA in our state, but no available funds to conduct the pilot project.  The weeks and months ticked by, and we were no closer to getting CVM numbers into the hands of veterans who need them. 

Finally, we decided to just do it.  Instead of waiting for funding, we told our VA contacts that CVM was going to fund a scaled-down version of the plan, and seek financial assistance from corporate and private foundations. 

It turns out, people care about veterans.  A lot of people.  And fortunately, our simple plan to provide veterans with a reliable way to be contacted and a stream of useful, actionable information resonated with the foundations we approached.   Soon, we had funding commitments from The Boeing Company, Medina Foundation, Tulalip Charitable Fund, and Suquamish Tribe, and these welcomed grants have enabled us to launch our project this month!  Within a year, at least 750 veterans who don’t have a reliable way to be contacted will be using a CVM number and receiving messages about jobs, housing, benefits, healthcare and other important resources.  We’ll keep you posted about this project in the coming months.

On Veterans Day this year, consider this:  there’s a good chance that the homeless person you encounter on the street once wore a uniform for your country.  Between then and now, you won’t know what has happened in a veteran’s life unless you take the time to ask, or at least have a friendly chat with them.  And while you’re talking with the veteran, you might want to say “thanks” for all they’ve given and all they’ve sacrificed while they served our country.  And share your hope for a day when no veterans are without a home to call their own.