Tuesday, November 21, 2017

WE moved as a Family to live in the 3rd YMCA in our lives - moving from London's East End - a new community - a new 'Wilson Mansions'

2nd May
My birthday, a new community, challenge and journey began.

Someone sent me a little note:
"Incredible thinking back to that stuff you lived through. 
And your words terror and failure - so powerful. 
You do and say incredible things."

I came from London E16 as a battered human. 
I had lost my resilience. 
Not destroyed. 
Not broken – but battered from living life on the front-line. 
I was in need of refreshment. 
Re energising, much to offer, but ready and passionate for a different challenge.

We moved into the second floor flat. 
It was a great relief to be there. It was a haven for me as much as the YMCA haven for others. 
I looked around in this big building. 
Eleven floors high – a tower block with 150 bedrooms in the top eight floors. 
There was also a large sports hall, fitness gym, four squash courts, programme rooms, dance studio, Kitchen, Dining room, coffee bar/ lounge, aerobics spaces and plus, our second floor staff flat - the new ‘Wilson Mansions’.

I remember standing looking out of our flat window. 
The main view was a brick wall 15 feet away. 
It was the end of the large sports hall. 
As I looked left I could see open space, grass and the trickle of water that was the River Rom. 
It was so refreshing - less urban and inner city. 
I breathed deep and thanked God for all things beautiful.

Joy was at London Fashion College by now. 
Ann started at the local school in Dagenham. Joan and I walked into Romford holding hands. 
A sense of freedom - new life.

I didn't want the normal office. 
I wanted to be at the heart of this community, in the centre, close to humans. 
Not stuck upstairs out of the way – or in a back office but in the thick of it where the action was. 
The first job was to demolish a cupboard. 
I wanted it because it was right next to the coffee-bar which I sensed was the heart of the YMCA community. 
It became my office with my juke box, pinball machine head, critical cartoons of Margaret Thatcher 
(I was told to take them down by a Board member) 
and I moved in there with my PA  Maureen and my friend  ‘Mo’.

The door was always open other than when I was involved in a private one to one. 
I aimed at learning the names of 150 residents as soon as possible. 
This was to be a relational piece of work. 
And it was.

I was made welcome. It was strange though. 
I was amongst strangers, even my staff colleagues. 
I had left a community where I knew and was known by thousands. 
My head was remained full of court cases. 
I had spent a lot of time in Crown Courts with young East Ender humans. 
I had been supporting so many as they faced the Justice system and forthcoming dates remained in my diary at Romford. 
I was usually there as they faced the scary judicial system as their only articulate friend.
(Articulate  - me!!)

I had spent hours drinking tea in the Crown Court café with many family members and the accused and now, as I lived out my mission at the YMCA, I knew young people were in court without me. 
I cared for them. I prayed for them eager to know the outcomes. But - I had to move on with head, heart and activity.

Now I was here at Romford YMCA amongst thousands of local community member coming in and out all day and with residential members always present 24-7. New challenges were before me. Making contact, building relationships, making impact whilst still discovering and developing my role at the YMCA.

I started a film/discussion evening pretty soon after my early days. 
I just didn’t want to work one to one with everyone, 
I wanted to conduct some group work. 
The programme kicked-off at 10pm every Monday evening. It was a short movie of 5 to 10 minutes followed by hot discussion. They called it arguing! 
Never about God - but she always with us and came into the frame by many of the fiery members. 
Often it spilled into late night sharing and I loved that. 
Afterwards I crawled up to our family flat on the second floor reflecting on the many encounters of the day.

I was responsible to young humans living there. 
Dropping in on me became their habit. 
Wondrous conversations, first-aid counselling, befriending, sharing and tears. 
I always worked until midnight - late nights always the best. 
I was used to split shifts in youth work so I worked mornings and evenings with as many afternoons off as possible.

As well as the management of the 150 bed hostel, the young residents were my focus. 
I was tired after my ‘first day at school’. 
The people had been fantastic with me, to me. 
It is said that the first four minutes of contact lasts forever. 
You never have a second chance to make a first impression! 
Those guys had been glorious.
 The community, the welcome, the acceptance, the naturalness - loved it.

Dennis Carnaby was the General Secretary. It was he who had visited me in Canning Town and invited me to apply. 
Other senior team members were head of sports, programme, children’s work and administration.

‘So tired now,’  I wrote often.
 ‘Makes me think and feel what a new resident coming to the YMCA feels on their first day. 
The bigness, the routines, the policies, the strangers all around which includes the staff. 
All the residents here have special needs. 
All unique. 
All a precious one-off. 
All handmade and, like me, a broken offering to the world. 
Some have been through hell. 
Some still there working it out. 
Some with a lifetime of rejection. 
Some feeling 'not ok' to the depth of their being. 
Some hiding all these feelings and stigmas with artificial distractions.

Among them are angels. 
Some are staff who seem to give and give and share their own life journeys with the stumbling ones. 
Some are residents themselves who have been blessed and supported through crucial times and are no longer only 'YMCA takers' but have become 'YMCA makers’. 
They are giving back from their life skills to others who are stepping in their footprints.’ 
So beautiful.

God must weep with joy and weep with sadness at all the pain and the beauty, sorrow and love flow mingled down’ 
If Jesus came today into our culture maybe, maybe, that’s where he would be - in our YMCA hostel. 
So the stigma, which is carried by so many of our young homeless humans, cuts into His soul just like that crown of thorns rammed on his head, but it hurts SO much more.

In the tiredness, at the end of each day, writing these reflections to the depth of my soul - does me good. 
So bless you as you read and join me on this little journey as I journal some of my experiences. 
We need each other. 
I want to share stories with you and reflect. 
I must always reflect and learn.

I share these reflections with you. 
It is where I am in all my Beautiful-Imperfection.