we build, we break

I find it strange that you can journey with people for a long time and you never really discover how amazing they are until one day something clicks.

And so this was the case between an old friend and I. We were journeying, journeying, journeying when suddenly… click. One day, we were going to youth group and church, then I left for various reasons, came back, left again, came back and left again for employment, but continued to hang out with the old youth groupies. Then one day we started talking more. About work, life, faith, music. And suddenly I found myself failing to a crush thing. To be honest, I tried to crush the crush almost instantly. My old youth groupies have always been a key group of friends for me. We’ve been together since I was 16 and I just don’t know where I’d be if they weren’t around. I didn’t want to ruin that by creating something unnecessarily complicated. But it’s like these things have a mind of their own. I feelings grew uncontrollable, even to the point that I was telling him how I felt. That’s weird. I don’t often like people, and the ones I do like, I don’t ever tell them. It’s just not what I do. I’m Lani, the happily single.

But this one is different. He’s different to any other boy I’ve ever been involved with. First off, I actually like him. Actually. It’s weird but I’ve been out with guys before but never with a guy I actually like. This relationship is so weird. Maybe it’s because I’m grown up somewhat. Maybe it’s because we’re adults embarking on a mature-ish journey together. I dunno. Maybe it’s because I didn’t think I’d ever meet a guy who was worth relinquishing my singleness for. And maybe it’s because I didn’t expect it to be someone I already knew. That’s not to say I’m sure of him being “the one.” To be honest, apart from ridiculous movies, I’m not really sure I even know what that means. All I know is that he makes me feel funny when I see him. I hear his car coming a mile off and my heart skips a beat, I see him coming up my drive and I get all warm and stuff. Is that soppy? Yeah probably, but it’s true. He’s like the calm to my restlessness, who whispers words of grace when I feel useless and lame.

It hasn’t been easy. I’m constantly reminded of some of the reasons I have been single for years. One of the major reasons is that I have never wanted to explain my history to any guy. I don’t have the greatest track record, and in comparison, he’s an angel. I’ve done some crazy things, But it’s funny. The moment we began that conversation, he told me I was amazing. There’s still so much he doesn’t know but they aren’t secrets. Those stories will be told in time and the type of person he is, tells me that it’s going to be ok. And the other major reason I’ve been single for a while is my constant need to be independent. I’m from a line of women who are incredibly strong-willed and stubborn. Somehow, we always made it. I always knew that if I ended up in a relationship, it would be with a guy who would beat me into submission, or a guy who I’d respect enough to follow. Not that I believe in women being submissive, but I believe in the theory that women shouldn’t stubborn and independent in their relationships. He’s the guy I respect enough to follow.

And while I’ve been embarking on the fusing of new and different relationships, I’ve been venturing through old ones attempting to define what they really mean to me and trying to repair old wounds that sing to me now and again of a pain once known in a family of strange dynamics. My youngest sister was living with me for a while. I became aware of my limited capacity very fast. She’s a great girl with so much ahead of her, but while physically I could handle it, emotionally, it was killing me. I couldn’t handle being the parental boundary maker. I’m too relaxed a parent to place boundaries. Actually, I’m not a parent. I’m a youth worker. Such different roles. And it was hard to go to work to teenage dramas and come home to more teenage dramas. It’s like work and life never really separated. And it became harder to balance parenting, new relationships and the other painful messes I found myself carrying along the way. I was getting tired and I was turning into this grumpy mess… I was becoming someone I used to be growing up, and it was painful. My sister is amazing though and I just can’t  wait to see her grow and fly.

In many cases, in my inability to carry the various things, I began to feel like a failure. In fact, I still feel like a bit of a failure. I accepted this challenge and couldn’t handle it. I accepted that one and couldn’t handle it. I tried to carry someone else and the other day they rang me saying they wanted nothing to do with me, not because of anything I had done but because they felt they were destroying me. In truth, they were certainly wearing me out but that wasn’t supposed to come across.
I carry far too much emotionally. Even when things aren’t happening to me, I take the full emotional hit like it is happening to me. Though, when my young people start experimenting with drugs and walking down the wrong track, I start worrying and that becomes an emotional hit. When they feel left out of their own families as dad makes his new family, and they start trying to find belonging in the wrong social groups, it breaks me a little bit. So we try and create this space that offers them an alternative. And so I keep coming up with these ideas and running with them and thus I create more work for myself. But my biggest fear is who else is going to be there if I’m not? These kids mean the world to me and they’ve become like my little brothers and sisters. And I tell them this. We’re like a family.

What pains me the most about this line of work is when you meet a kid who has had all the emotion beat out of them, sometimes physically, sometimes verbally. Their lack of remorse for their actions serves to show me that not only do they not care, but no one cares about them. So my attempt to be that one person that loves them no matter what their attitude can be fairly tiring. And I see the results daily. I’ve become the one person that the bad kids will stand up for. I’ve become the girl they’ll sit down and have chat with. I’m the one that surprisingly enough, they respect. But how does that turn into changing lives? How do I, and my colleagues, create change? I’m sick of people talking about them like they’re dirt with no future. I don’t believe that for a second. I believe there is potential in every punk. I look into their eyes and I see a whole lot of sadness while everyone else sees a whole lot of smartarse. And how do I carry that hope when no one else will?

There have been numerous occasions this year that I’ve wanted to quit my job because it’s been so tiring, but something tells me to keep going, not the fact that I’m all some of these kids have no one to keep them going, but because this is what I love. This is my gift. And the greatest thing about this journey with young people is that I have other people journeying with me to understand what it is I see in this community. I have the most empathetic flatmates in the world, I have a wonderful boyfriend to takes the opportunity to view various parts of the world in which I spend most of my time breathing. I have colleagues who in many senses are like comrades. I have volunteer leaders who are just amazing, and that one youth worker who works alongside me and whispers positive words in each young persons ear. He sees their potential and relishes the opportunity to see them grow. Then there’s that one who eases my burden and gives me grace when I don’t give it to myself.

I guess this is some of what I’ve been up to…

With love,
Lani

Manaakitanga

I’m low on words lately so here’s my reflections on the past week as told to HPCC

Many Samoans are taught from an early age that family is everything; that the safety and welfare of your aiga (or whanau) is paramount. Whilst reflecting on the past week I’m overwhelmed with how far the boundaries of aiga have stretched. An earthquake strikes and pictures of a few hundred people rush to my mind in quick succession with the question, ‘are they ok?’ But then I’m inundated with text messages from my young people in Rolleston saying, ‘are you ok?’

Maori have a beautiful community concept called Manaakitanga, where love is demonstrated in the responsibility people take to look out for one another. These past few days, I’ve seen the lines blur. I sat in a Welfare centre on Monday and watched as teenagers walked across the generations to offer water and service to struggling families. On Tuesday, I joined the masses of students (and our mini-troopers Asher and Hannah), who walked across the suburban boundaries to shovel silt until their backs gave way. And these past two days, I’ve had the honour of sitting at Hornby’s Community Cafe and getting to know the people who live in my neighbourhood (whilst drinking A LOT of good coffee).

Manaakitanga – this is what our family and community is about. It’s about sitting with that frightened and lonely neighbour. It’s about going to the places without electricity, and offering your gas stove. It’s about babysitting those scared kids so mum and dad can have a break to deal with their own anxieties. It’s about Aroha – loving people.

25 years later…

Yesterday I celebrated my 25th birthday. And you know what? It was pretty cool. The people who have journeyed with me most in the last couple of years were mostly there. And let’s face it, I spent more of my life with people I work with, than anyone else. But they’re not just my workmates. They’re my friends and whanau.

So despite having to celebrate my birthday “working”, it was good. I learnt lots, courtesy of Mike King. I enjoyed the most beautiful sunrise with Jess, courtesy of God. I got the sweetest cake ever, courtesy of Rach and Sharon. AND I got some sweet presents, courtesy of Sharon, KW, Philippa and Robstar.

And then we got to sit around a table and eat cake!! Pretty much made my day really.

So here’s to 25 years and to the beginning of another set of 25. I hope it’s a cool journey and I hope we can continue to add more cool little stories to the massive sweet one that’s already happening.

in the world…

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been involved in numerous conversations expressing the frustration around the willingness to serve in a community and yet not quite fully commit to being part of it. Tonight, I heard preach that we should blur the lines between inside and outside; that there should be no distinction between what goes on inside and what goes on outside, because essentially, we should reflect our community.

This frustrates me because I know we don’t reflect our community. We serve in the local high school and yet are unwilling to commit to sending our own to the local high school. I kept getting frustrated thinking that as a church community, we’re hypocritical.
Then I looked at myself…
I am willing to commit to serving a community 15 minutes out of town but I’m unwilling to move there. Part of my reasoning is that I’m comfortable where I am. And yet, in terms of where my heart is, it’s not here. I’ve been commissioned to work “over there” and my heart’s in it but I’m not budging.

I’m scared I’ll have no friends.
I’m scared I’ll become one of the many who feel isolation.
I’m scared of living with non-religious folk.
I’m scared of not being able to afford a decent living.

So I’m still here. Freaked out and yet convicted that maybe the right thing is to buy into the place and instill my own hope into that community. If I love it and show that I love it, perhaps others will learn to love it too.