Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Toilet Seat

Saturdays in my mind is a day in which I want to accomplish something. I think of hiking, skiing a mountain, starting and completing a project, devouring a book, or there are plenty of other options. The reality of Saturdays is that I often crash from the week unless I have made my plans in advance. I haven’t planned well the past few weeks so thus have had some pretty low key Saturdays. When I wrote my list out today of what I wanted to accomplish it was lots of errands and I decided to add some geocaching to the mix as well. The biggest errand was a new toilet seat. Yup… my toilet seat broke this week… it didn’t slam down rather it just broke. Home Depot was incredibly overwhelming… so many choices. So I had the measurement of my seat. I’m standing in front of about 30 different options, round, oblong, plastic, wood, white, beige, and more. A number of sales staff on the way in had asked me if I needed anything. Nope, I felt I had it under control. However I hadn’t brought my measuring tape and I asked a sales associate, who quite honestly looked scared I would ask him a question, he didn’t have one. So I’ve been using my bathroom, and same toilet, for over the 10 years that I’ve lived in my apartment. Round or oblong seat… of course I knew, I was too lazy to get the measuring tape to double check. I chose wrong…another trip to Home Depot is in order. FYI I need a round seat.

What I have kept thinking this week as I encounter my seat-less commode is how even this is a blessing. Having travelled enough in developing countries I realize that clean, functioning bathroom facilities are not common in many places in the world. I don’t know if I have ever thanked God for a functioning clean toilet, with a seat. However today I found myself thinking there are many people around the world who have never encountered one, much less have one to themselves. I don’t want to miss being thankful for my indoor toilet and seat.

Laugh… yes.. but it’s true!

The pictures that follow are a few of the bathroom facilities in orphanages in Moldova.

A boys bathroom

 A “teachers'” outhouse which had 2 precariously placed boards covering a hole in the ground.


Indoor toliet – this was a couple of feet of the floor, tiled in, sort of like a closet.


Emerging Spring

There is joy in the first true outing of nearly spring in New England. Today I ended work at 4pm, planning it before I learned it was aiming to be a day in the 60’s. How happy I was when I actually heard the weather report. Mid 60’s on March 18th is pure joy in New England. It’s tease of what is to come. I love the New England weather and the anticipation of what each season brings. Today it was the joy of the walk/jog/run around a local lake. It’s a lake that is often bustling with walkers, joggers, strollers, kids, dogs and their owners. There were those running that that made me wonder if they are training for the Boston Marathon. They look like they never stopped training or running… it’s about a month away now. Couples walk hand and hand and others have clearly set new goals for themselves for this emerging new season. Personally I go outside and “play” year round as much as possible and change my sports each season. Yet each new season also always has the “first.” The first bike ride, ski day, lake swim, hike, etc. So though I go outside and “play” regularly today felt different. As I ran today there was no jacket or long pants. Despite the last pieces of ice holding out on the edges of the lake it was shorts and t-shirt weather. It is this “first” outing each year that makes me smile and think of how there will soon be the smells of spring and the shades of green that can only be seen in the new spring. Today I don’t want to miss out on recognizing the spring season is trying to emerge.

Warrior Yoga

I tried yoga for the first time today. I don’t think my attempts at a couple of positions using Wii Fit counted. So today was the first time. Because it is also on my 40 for 40 list it can also be summed up as I don’t want to miss trying yoga. The class I chose, instructor and studio, seemed from the website to be focused on stretching, moving, and body awareness rather than on spiritual awareness. That was important to me because I didn’t want to be thinking in a class about whether I agreed with what the instructor was saying (spiritually speaking) when my goal is stretching, relaxing, balance, etc. Actually I didn’t know quite what to expect, though a friend told me the instructor was good and it would be an easy first class. My intrigue in yoga lies however more in the classes that friends will say “kicked my butt.” I sort of think that might be the type of yoga that I might also like to try. Yet today I spent $9, which was a donation to a local charity, stretched a lot and listened to my breathing. In no way did I do anything in the class that would make me sore later yet I liked it.

 I enjoyed learning the names of a few poses that have made it to popular culture (I have now done my first downward dog). My favorite was the “Warrior Pose.” Quite honestly I like the name, and the type of person it conjures up in my mind. It was a pose that we were up on our feet for and it felt strong and alert. However conversely near the end of the class I nearly fell asleep. As it was after so much stretching, and the instructor’s calm voice through the poses, I thought to myself… “somehow I don’t settle myself like this down at home, this is pretty good, I might come back, it was worth $9.” It seems that is what much of yoga is, settling down to listen to yourself and being still. It’s a practice that I have a very very hard time with. I’m often struck with a sense of frustration with myself when I am not “doing” of what I am doing appears to have little value. So yoga was good for me. I promptly went home, chilled out a bit more until I went for a run/walk and now I am sore as I haven’t run much, it’s been a long winter.

Observing the Lenten Season

I nearly missed it. I went to the community Bible Study group I attend last night and realized it was Ash Wednesday. This was of course after I ate a very tasty cookie with some amazing caramel in it. I live in a very Catholic dominated area.  Though I had driven by a church with many many cars around it I didn’t think much of it, despite it being the middle of the week. The car ride to study included a discussion of my friends’ son.  He decided, without their encouragement, to observe lent and “fast” from unnecessary internet. Then Amanda came in with ashes on her forehead and I was further struck by the importance of the day. Here I was finishing up my cookie and thinking about a second and I was disappointed in myself.  The cookie is of significance as for the last 3 years I have given up sweets, in all forms, for Lent.

If you rewind 4 years observing Lent is nothing I had ever done.  I never thought I would be able to follow through and then observing Lent during one seasons has turned into 3 observed seasons. The discipline has meant to me denying just a little part of myself in anticipation of Easter. My disappointment in myself is not that I broke this lent tradition, and quite honestly I would like to observe lent in some way this year, it was about not slowing down. Though I have been spending time in Bible reading and prayer it has been more rushed than I would like. I have not been thinking that Easter is coming.   Though I have heard Easter mentioned at church, and seen the chocolate bunnies and yellow peeps out, I didn’t pause.  I have not paused to reflect on what this season will mean for me. I nearly missed it.  Yet I am so very thankful that a teenager’s Lenten internet fast and Amanda’s observance of Ash Wednesday jarred me back to what is important. The Cross of Christ, and all that it represents, is central to my life. The day that we celebrate Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is not just a day rather it is core to my life and all that I believe and should be celebrating and living for each day.

I went to a Catholic Mass for a funeral on Saturday and the crucifix hung boldly over the front altar as it does in all Catholic Churches. The body of Christ still on the cross has always been hard for me. This church though had another cross at the back of the church that you would only see if you lifted your eyes up as you looked on your way out. It was another cross with a vision of Jesus alive with his arms wide open. This Lenten season I don’t want to miss looking up and reflecting first on the cross but then the resurrection and what it means to my life.

The Inconvenience of 9-5

As I was driving home today from work I thought to myself “I can’t believe that my job is to walk alongside people that I am honored to know.” I walked alongside “Beth” a lot this week, to the point that some may think I could be overstepping “professional boundaries.” I thought about it a lot… not wanting to make our relationship confusing to her. However over many years of walking alongside her in her journey of healing our boundaries with each other are clear. My title is that of a social worker but in her words “you know me better than my mother.” She is my client yet I am the constant in her life and I often been seen as guardian, protector, and surrogate parent. When the child agency that takes custody in the state stepped out of her life the agency I work for, and our relationship, remained. She has wanted me to be her parent, though has never gone so far as ask me to adopt her. There is no possible way to walk alongside someone for nearly 11 years, moving from adolescence to adulthood, having deep conversations, allowing them to see the hurt, rebelling at times, laughing with them, swearing at them, discussing God, contemplating life, considering death, and be able to keep a relationship uncomplicated. I’m all about talking it out though, and quite honestly Beth and I are “good.” Our relationship has transcended the client/professional relationship yet that is what it is.

Beth asked me the other day why I keep working with her. I reminded her that she’d had some pretty significant troubles and life changes in the past year (that’s how it was justified to the higher-ups). The reality of why I continue to work with her is that our relationship offers stability for her, I really love this kid, not just working with her but the person she is (like I love my nieces, nephews, and the youth group kids I’ve mentored.).  It feels to be that it would be an injustice to “terminate” (what social workers call ending a working relationship) because it’s not convenient or the paperwork gets confusing. How do you “terminate” as a surrogate parent? She still needs help from my agency, and I expect she will for much of her lifetime, but she doesn’t neatly fit on my caseload easily and I expect it would be frowned upon to see her outside of work time. My fear often is the agency I work for will make me terminate with her and I don’t know how I would explain that to her quite yet. It is not what I meant to blog about… time is the topic of the day, however this is related.

Boundaries and limits that Beth and I have with each other occasionally transcend an imposed time of 9-5pm. Why am I talking about 9-5? In my office those are the hours that I am supposed to work. Sometimes I work a little earlier or later (8am to 6pm is the limit that has been given). However people’s lives, circumstances and crises do not always fit neatly into the hours of that are set out. It actually doesn’t bother me… it’s not that I want a chaotic and unpredictable schedule each day/week but occasional disruptions don’t usually unravel me and I’m at a stage in life now that I can handle disruptions without impacting a family of my own.  The truth is of course my own life has disruptions beyond the hours of 9-5 so how can I really expect anyone else’s to be different. A super early morning to get to a school meeting, a hard conversation that lasts well after 6pm, lunch, (which we are required to take on our timesheets) is often spent with a client or worked thorugh, earlier this week an ER visit late into the night, and Thursday a drive home from the hospital which landed me at home late again. The late nights were Beth’s… and in this situation there was not someone else that went to stay with her.  I’m not saying the other people/agencies in her life were wrong not to go… it’s complicated and we all have limits.  This week I was willing to bend my normal limits and walk alongside of her in a crisis outside of 9-5.  I want to be the person that asks the questions first of what is needed, who/what can meet the need, and if I can be the solution – be willing step up.  If it’s outside of the hours of 9-5pm it’s not about a pat on the back, overtime, or trying to get out of work on another day and time. This time is my choice and the late nights are the exception. It’s been years probably since I worked past the 9-5/8-6 hours for Beth.  I dont’ think I’ve ever met with a client on the weekend, that is a personal limit that I believe helps us both, however I have made an occasional call of condolencense over the loss of loved one on a weekend, or given a reminder call for an early Monday meeting.  

The challenge is this… if some co-workers and higher-ups knew about my occasional late night I’m not they would understand why I would ever need to do this. Couldn’t someone else be found? Isn’t there another resource? I was informed my time sheet is never to reflect hours outside of 8-6pm, yet I have also been told my timesheet should accurately reflect the hours I work.  The young adults I care about sometimes have needs that don’t fit neatly into my planned schedule. Each situation is unique and I know the importance of limits and boundaries yet I feel I also know when to question them.  This week I found myself feeling more frustrated that I had to figure out what to write on my timesheet then I was with eating quickly at my desk and getting home at midnight one night. The second late night could possibly have been resolved with a cab ride costing a couple of hundred dollars, paid for by a hospital’s social work dollars.  However I had the time.  The trip with Beth yielded a conversation initiated by her about values, what she is hoping for in life, and what relationships are concerning to her. I don’t want to miss meaningful conversations to convenience.  I don’t want to miss out on walking alongside people I am called to serve, even when it’s occasionally not conveniently between 9-5pm.


Tuna Salad Inspired Me

If you haven’t read the previous post “Laughing over Tuna Salad”, my time with Heather, this is a part II. I decided to write again as it had been a tough choice what to pick about that interaction. Heather was laughing hysterically and repeatedly because I said she “inspired me.” She has a tough past, and in many ways tough present. As I mentioned her step-mother seems to have stepped out of the Cinderella story to participate in her life. Her father does not fight for her. The family on the very surface says the right things but their actions are all wrong. Any words they share with Heather regarding her abilities have been quashed with subsequent comments about her deficits and challenges. They expressed how much she needed help but then didn’t even call a social worker, teacher, etc. when she seemed to be having a more difficult time. They inconsistently answer her phone calls. They rarely answer professionals phone calls couched in the new reality that she is an “adult” or they “didn’t know.”

When I meet with people of all ages I aim to come into each relationship with the beliefs that I can learn something from each person, they each have value, and they all have something to offer. There are people that can be challenging, case in point Heather’s step-mother. I haven’t even tried to work through that relationship personally in regard to how to overcome my anger with her or what she offers. But this is about Heather. She’s not had enough encouragement and recognition of her abilities and the value she brings to counteract all the negativity. She has been told that she is hated by her family (later this was somehow justified). She has been abandoned to the adult world with justification it is for her best. Heather does not have a good grasp on what her abilities and strengths are. The professionals in her life will help her learn. We can focus on what she knows about cooking, money skills, transportation, education, etc. and build up this foundation. Yet how do we help her understand that she truly does impact those around her, not because of her negative or positive behavior, but because of who she is? How do we affirm her as young woman? Heather has value because she has opinions, dreams and a story to tell. We will pour into her the knowledge we already have that she has value. As I heard from her hysterical laugher when we know her thoughts and opinions impact us she is overwhelmed and can’t seem to believe it. She is overwhelmed that she was listened to by me, and she inspired me, because she does not yet trust or believe she has worth and value. What has been withheld from her I am determined will be given back and I don’t want to miss the opportunities to help her recognize and affirm the value of her life. Words of affirmation… do you give them generously?