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The Weak--They are Us, We are Them.

"By all these things, I have shown you that by working in this way we must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
Acts 20:35

Science teacher Erik Gordon at Lincoln Alternative High School

I spent the morning crying through Paper Tigers--a new documentary about a school in Washington that implemented a trauma-informed environment with their students.  

The work that I do involves researching, creating materials, and training organizations around Trauma-Informed Systems of Care and the impact that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have on the development of a child's brain.

In Paper Tigers, high school staff at Lincoln Alternative High School in Walla Walla, Washington chose to take a new approach with their students by recognizing the youths' "problematic" behaviors as simply coping skills (albeit unhelpful coping skills) that the youth had learned from simply trying to survive in their communities.

One youth was quiet in school.  A loner.  "Weird."  His home life showed something different.  He lived in a single-parent household with a mother that struggled with mental health challenges.  The video showed a home in disarray.  His mother tucked away in the darkness.  The boy trying to do laundry amidst the piles of hoarded clutter.  He essentially lived alone.  Trying to care for a woman that should have been caring for him.

Another youth was failing school.  He barely attended.  He was angry.  A fighter.  Causing trouble. Constantly punished, suspended.  Experimenting with drugs.  Absent from school.  Failing.  No hope. No future.
And then the real story:  He was a "surfer."  Of couches.  Abandoned by his mother and father.  No caregivers.  No support.  No love.

One young woman spent most of her high school career in In-School Suspension.  She fought the teachers and the students.  Her emotions were extreme.
Later, she admitted to being abused.  Sexually.  Physically.  Emotionally.  Mentally.  Abandoned. Raped.  Half of the family was in prison.  Her mother kicked her out of the house and she had no where to go.

On and on and on.

These are "the weak."
And I watched as the principal, teachers, and support staff rallied around these students with compassion, love, empathy, and deep acceptance.  They poured themselves into the youth.  They gave their time, resources, energy, emotion... everything was poured into them.  When the youth threw chairs at them and called them names.  When the youth seemed to be making progress--was accepted to college--and then stopped attending school.

It's more blessed to give than to receive seems so trite at a time like this.  Could working with the traumatized, the tortured, and abused and abandoned be blessed?  Sure, but I believe that there is more to it.

I believe the first step is acknowledging that we, as the workers, are the weak.  One of the teachers admitted to being the "rebellious" son in a strictly fundamentalist household.  He understood abandonment and pain.  He said, "I've always been drawn to the kids with a little 'F.U.' in them." Another teacher disclosed being raped in high school.  She knew what it meant to be angry.  To grieve.  To feel alone.

The next step is self-care.  Too many times, those that work with "the weak" do not take care of themselves very well.
"Burnt out for Jesus.  Spinning my wheels for Jesus.  Exhausted for Jesus."
That's not what Jesus demands or intends.  That's not blessed.  I know a lot of workers that invest into their own self-care as much as in those that they are helping.  They retreat.  They sleep.  They get massages.  They vacation.  They spend time eating and laughing with family.  They go to therapy. These, and others, are all necessary ways to care for self.

And lastly, they position themselves to receive.  This is a part of self-care and also essential.  Working for "the cause of Christ" is not all about giving.  Receiving is an essential part of the plan.
Have you ever giving a Christian a compliment and they respond with something like, "Oh, it's just all about Jesus, glory to God."  Makes me roll my eyes every time.  I believe Jesus wants us to receive the compliment, the help, the provisions, the support.  This is all part of the blessing.
In the film, the graduation scene was powerful.  The student that was previously failing walked across the graduation stage because of the rallying support of his teachers.  He was on his way to college--and to a dorm where he finally had a bed of his own.
This was the day for the workers to receive.  The students were now turning around and pouring back into them.  Gratitude.  Love.  Appreciation.  Friendship.


I'll tell ya.  This is my passion.  The "weak" are all around us.  "They are us.  We are them" (My professor, Dr. Steve Rathbun).  When we work for the weak, we work for ourselves.  We are all One. When we give, we also receive.

We heal.


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