Sunday, September 1, 2013

Intervening in Other People's Lives

Intervening in other people's lives. Otherwise known as a ministry of accompaniment.

My husband and I have tried this mode of ministry in a lifelong experiment that has lasted the entire 30+ years that we have been together. We have had mixed results.

There have been some big wins - like our adopted family from the former USSR and their successful attainment of work permits, green cards, and finally, citizenship. They are living the "American Dream." Their children will graduate from high school and go to college. The parents know how to scrimp and save and sacrifice for the family back home and for the family here in the U.S. They know how to live many people to a small apartment with little expectation of privacy, for the good of the entire clan. They have patience and endurance. They have their eye firmly on potential and possibility. They believe in their capacity to reach their goals.

There have been some modest gains - like another family who acquired their green cards but finally had to return to their country of origin because they weren't successful in repeated attempts to find suitable employment that would sustain independent housing. The economy after the "Great Recession" of 2006-2009 has decimated job opportunities for those at the margins who want to make a contribution and be self-sustaining. There has been a ratcheting down of workers on the ladder of employment, with over-educated, over-skilled people taking unskilled jobs just to earn a paycheck. That bumps the under-educated, under-skilled, and immigrant people totally off the ladder.

I have spent countless sleepless hours pondering how to help one young person with whom we've engaged for eight years. We began with a litany of bad credit, outstanding collection accounts, and a suspended driver's license for outstanding traffic violation fines, mostly due to the mental and physical trials associated with family abandonment and bigoted behavior towards a person who identifies as LGBT. We worked through suicidal ideation and internalization of personal attacks based on prejudice against LGBT individuals. We've come really, really far. But we're not where we need to be - yet. I hope it's "yet," and not "maybe never." Sometimes, the "yet" feels doubtful.

It is difficult to know how much to give and to do for another person and how much to teach and to raise up. The balance is ever shifting, and I am merely human in my understanding and in my commitment. It's not unlike the parenting that is called upon when raising one's own children. Even then, I did not know how much to give and to do, how much to teach and to raise up. I'm sure I over-did in some arenas and under-did in others. There have been times when my daughter has said as much in very plain terms. My son has been kind not to criticize in my hearing.

I have long been an adherent of the ministry of accompaniment. I believe in it. I know that it's not enough to write a check, put it in an envelope, and send it off, and think that I've done enough to better someone's life, to salve someone's suffering, to give someone hope.

Each of us ministers in different ways. We see the world through different lenses, and we mete out our responses through the lenses of our hearts and of our experience. I accept that I am not privileged to know how or where or when what I do will make a difference in another's life. I just pray daily that I am doing enough and that I will find the will to continue to do enough. It's really hard some days to believe in this ministry of accompaniment.

Some days, I just want to retire from the world.


PseudoPiskie said...

I've been thinking about this all morning. I have attracted a number of dependent personalities over the years and have had to get away. I'm willing to listen but I'm also willing to comment and to answer rhetorical questions which is not always appreciated. I admire you in so many ways and your willingness to get involved for the duration is especially admirable. {{{Lelanda}}}


Dear Shelley,

I wish I could claim some nobility of purpose that persuades me to engage people. I have at a very pragmatic level just come to an awareness that many people I encounter need a family more than anything else. And being family is something I know how to do. My Chinese enculturation and fifteen years in Hawai'i have taught me to embrace naturally an extended family, an "ohana" in Hawaiian. It just makes so much sense to me and Herb.

Observing good boundaries is something that challenges me regularly. I think that many years of intentional work on leadership values have been extraordinarily helpful to me. Knowing why I do something also helps me maintain good boundaries. It's important to be honest about my own motivations and to slow down and step back when I'm moving forward for self-interested reasons, such as to assuage my feelings.

Blessings, dear Shelley.