Monday, June 01, 2020

"Your words of terror and failure - so powerful."

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

I came from London's East End 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 in a 
11 story tower block YMCA.
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 less 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 store room.
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
-  my friend  ‘Mo’.

The door was always open other than when I was
 involved in a private 121's.
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 still 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 members
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 in 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 was 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,
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 duty 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 was in all my


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