Community

I got you girl

I got you girl. This is one of the most encouraging phrases that I hear.  My coworker and friend, Jessica Swiger, says it to me.  She says this when she has my back.  And it’s not that she says she has it. She legitimately has it 100%.  Whether it’s a project, task, conversation, or a needed break.  When I articulate some form of need or stress, she says, “I got you girl,” and then takes it on.  It’s so freeing because I trust when she uses that phrase that she really will come through.

As this grief week has kicked into high gear, I’ve been struggling. And when I mentioned I was not doing great, Jessica would say, “I got you girl,” and then proceeded to give me the rest of the night off so that I could engage the grief that seemed to be taking over.

Yesterday this happen again when another coworker and friend, Ben White, took on a fairly extensive assignment I had signed us up for.  I felt like it would be a great event, but the idea of standing at a table talking about FG seemed overwhelming when the grief that day was so strong.  So he sent me a text that essentially said the same thing, “I got you girl.” And he proceeded to go in early that morning to the local event, set up a table to promote First Glance, and stayed there for the next four hours so that I could have the morning to do other FG work and to care for myself.  

Later that morning I got this picture from the two of them as they represented First Glance well and gave me space to do what I needed.  “I got you girl,” and they really did.  

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Enoch’s birthday is tomorrow, I wrestle with grief and having moments of frustration that it’s taking over.  But I am so grateful for those who step in and say, “I got you girl.”  I’m grateful for Ben & Jess and also for the culture of our FG staff that continues to support each other in this way.  Additionally, we have had several others who love and care for us and step in, in amazing ways.  One woman reached out while writing this and out of blue asked if she could make or send us dinner next week.  There is nothing more encouraging than the “I got you girl” and they really do!    

The real reason FG turned 18!

This past Friday First Glance turned 18!  Honestly, my life wouldn’t be the same without First Glance!  Although I typically talk about what I’ve learned or crazy memories from the years, this year I want to talk about one of the main reasons First Glance is where it is today.  A lot of people give me credit since I’m the director, but the real reason I am the Director is because of this one individual, Karen Freeman.

I met Karen when I was all of 19 years old, before First Glance was even a thought in my mind.  She was old enough to be my mom, but we don’t really talk about that, mainly because she  never treated me like I was a kid.  She was the first person to back me when I said I wanted to host a program outside the walls of the church.  Together we had a desire to do this because people who don’t go to church, don’t go to church.

It was Karen that suggested we host First Glance in Kenmore.  After a few meetings with each other and a couple visits to the local community center, we were a team. Little did we know what all we would experience together over the years.  On September 14th, 2000 Karen and I opened the community center doors with 4 leaders, 2 sheet pizzas and some inflatable couches.  Little did we know, that night we had just founded First Glance.

From the moment we decided to start First Glance until now, I have been shocked and amazed how much Karen would teach, lead, support, and encourage me.  Karen was the first volunteer who’s number I had memorized because I called her most every day.  Seriously, every day.  I ran most ideas, problems, and questions by her.  Over time she encouraged me in my leadership skills and ownership of First Glance, while she eventually started the Teen Moms program.  Although in separate roles she remained my largest support and often coached me along the way.

People often give me credit for what happened 18 years ago, but the person behind me was Karen the whole time!  And so this years list of 18 goes to Karen, although there is no way to encompass all that we have experienced together over these years.

Lessons I learned from her along the way:

  1. To dream big.  Lunches together usually ended in new, big ideas.
  2. To speak and communicate the vision.  Karen did this well, clearly articulating how an individual fit into this major master plan of God’s.
  3. How to navigate upset volunteers, community members, or parents.
  4. How to ask bold questions to the students.
  5. Sadly, how to host a funeral dinner.  We did more than we would like to admit.
  6. That bribing is a great tool to use.
  7. To find the joy where you can and laugh as much as possible.
  8. To pray when it’s hard. Because sometimes it’s the only thing we can do.
  9. How to keep a straight face when the task or conversation before you makes your jaw want to drop open.
  10. That God will give us joy and help us through the sorrow, as she battled cancer and I lost Enoch.

The fun we had:

  1. Post FG hot tub nights for the first two years of FG.
  2. A crazy night at FG that we just labeled “thong night.”
  3. Road trips staying up way too late with students.
  4. And random road trips where Karen loses the toll ticket.
  5. Breaking up fights, which isn’t typically fun, but there were some funny stories.
  6. Creating giant leaf and popcorn pits, never quite learning our lesson on how much work it was to clean up.
  7. Getting the bat out of Teen Moms.
  8. Putting our offices directly across from each other on purpose.

Through it all, so much joy, encouragement and a lifelong freindship was created.

Last year Karen stepped down as the director of Teen Moms at First Glance.  The minute she told me, tears streamed down my face, and I wouldn’t let the FG staff even mention it for a solid four weeks.  It’s been almost a year since God moved Karen to a different ministry (who we partner with and still is in Kenmore).  It’s taken me this long to finally be able to write this post.  There really are no words for all that Karen has done for me and ultimately for First Glance!  So when you want to give me credit for all that has happened, know that Karen Freeman was really the catalyst of it all.  And she, of course, would say that it was ALL God.

We really have had and continue to have a front row seat at what God does.  I’m glad that Karen was sitting right beside me the whole time!

 

Harvey needed skulls

After struggling with infertility and the loss of a baby you start to become aware of what you can and cannot engage when it comes to other babies.  For instance, I don’t do baby showers or kid birthday parties. I rarely go see a new mom and her baby, and I NEVER go to the hospital where Enoch was born. For the most part, these rules have served me well. But, every once in a while, I have to break them. I never want the rule to be more important than the relationship.

I break my birthday party rule with Xavier who asks every year to have his birthday at my house with a bon fire.  I’ve gone to the same hospital when Brea, our daughter, had surgery.  And when my dear friend Hannah became pregnant I knew several of my rules would have to go.

Hannah and I managed to navigate pregnancy well, she and I had a couple awkward and emotional conversations on how to love and support each other during this season.  I told her the same thing over and over, I never want her to go through what I did, so it’s never a matter of jealousy!  I was thrilled for her to get to be pregnant and become a mom.

Soon, Harvey arrived!  And I found myself needing to go see these two.  Again so excited, but also very aware that this little guy would most likely stir the grief in me.

The morning I was headed their way I realized I needed to bring Harvey something, not because he needed something else.  I know the Nitz’s are very loved and probably swimming in baby stuff.  But, I also knew that Harvey would need someone to toughen him up a bit, the boy needed some skulls!  And so I walked into Enoch’s room, which is still the way we set it up for him to come home.  I went into the dresser and grabbed a small newborn onesie that had a skull on it. This wasn’t just a random onesie with a skull, but the one I had picked out specifically for our little guy.  Not knowing if our baby was a boy or girl I went out just weeks before he was born and bought an outfit for each gender specifically for when he/she was born.  This was the onesie I needed Harvey to have.

As I roamed through his room and his clothes it was the harsh reality that it’s been 2.5 years and I’m most likely not getting pregnant again.  I’m coming to grips with the fact that we probably won’t use this room for a new born.  BUT, it also was the joy of giving this gift, this very specific onesie to my dear friend!  This friendship means so much to me! And there was nobody else I would rather have this onesie than Harvey.  Plus his parents are never going to put him in skulls.

A couple days later I received a text from Hannah with this picture.

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In the text she told me how she told him all about Enoch and myself.  Which made my heart happy, and my eyes weep, because while we were holding Enoch in the hospital we stayed up all night telling him all about our friends, including Hannah.

It always comes back to the joy and the sorrow.  The loss of Enoch continues to create sorrow in these moments, but equally, we find the joy of new babies and new life of our friends.

Don’t worry, Harvey, I’ll make sure you love skulls, jeeps, converse and mountain biking adventures… Just wait!

The one and only Hannah Nitz

I have to tell you about this 7th grader I met years ago.  She was impressive even as a 12 year old.  I often tease her that she acted like a 25 year old back then.  It’s true; she was mature, insightful, outgoing, and made everyone in the room feel valued and like her best friend.  We met while I worked at The Chapel in the Jr High department, and she was in my class.  I had the privilege and opportunity to watch her grow over the years.  When Hannah served as the First Glance Board President for four years, I really felt old.

Over the years Hannah has become my friend.  I used to wonder as I watched people become friends with former students how that happens. And then it happened.  Hannah and I stayed connected, and although she served on our board and even was the president, our friendship shifted when I started learning from her.  One day over lunch soon after I found out I was pregnant, I told her I felt like I needed to start a new blog.  To me this was weird. I already had one, and nobody read it.  Why would I start a new one?  I remember so clearly that warm day sitting outside the Mustard Seed and saying, “This doesn’t make any sense, but I feel like I’m supposed to start a blog and announce my healing and pregnancy.  And I feel like I’m supposed to have you help me.”

Within a few days those first three blog posts about my healing and pregnancy were written.  Hannah was the first person I sent them to.  She edited and helped me launch my new blog.   Little did we know that my son would die and blogging would be a way for me to process, inform our friends and family of our grief journey, and hopefully encourage others in their faith.

Hannah has continued to be a resource of information and insight for me, some with this blog.  You should probably thank her because she’s the one that has continued to push me to write, post them on FB, and post the blogs that feel the most vulnerable or scary to write.  I can’t tell you how often I send her one and say “Are you sure I can post this? It feels scary.”

Then a year ago, I invited Hannah to go away for a few days with me, think through, pray about, and brain storm what would happen if we started a conference called “bad-ass women of Akron unite.”  As many of you know, Akron Women on Purpose came from that weekend just months later.  And now we are planning the next conference for March 24th!

The thing I admire most about Hannah and continue to try and learn from is her natural, unconditional love for every person she comes into contact with.  I saw this in Hannah when was she was 12 years old in the Jr High room and still see it now as she approaches 30.  Over the years I have prayed a lot about seeing people as God sees them, and I can honestly say that Hannah does so without much effort.  She genuinely sees the best in people, encourages them towards those things, and sees God honored because of it.  Hands down she does it better than anyone I know.  And yes, I did corner her one day and ask her how she does it because I wanted to learn.  She will tell you the same thing she told me, that this is her spiritual gift.  And anyone who has interacted with her will not deny that it is.

I am so very grateful for the way that God brings people into our lives “to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Heb 12:4)  Hannah is certainly that for me!

This scrapbook page Hannah made me in the 8th grade when she was graduating from my class.

 

Trauma Brain & My Hero

Weeks ago I had some hospital Truama come back to my mind and body.  Trauma is an interesting thing as our minds know something happened in a way that it shouldn’t have, and so our mind and body want to keep replaying it.  I remember this so clearly right after coming out of the hospital when Enoch had died.  Although I was sitting in my room looking around and seeing I was in my bedroom, all of my body and mind felt like I was back in the hospital giving birth to him.  I remember saying to Tim “I don’t want to leave him,” and in my mind I felt like I was leaving my son at the hospital.  This happened over and over for weeks and months, sometimes more aggressive than others.  Praise God for a good trauma counselor who helped my mind file that terrible story properly so I didn’t keep replaying it.

I hadn’t experience this hospital scene for a while.  About a month ago it started again, and I’m still not sure why it came back in my mind.  For about a week every time I closed my eyes I was in the hospital, and I was desperate to get out.  I asked my counselor for an emergency appointment to help me.  She was amazingly fantastic and gave up some lunch hours to get me in.  After some really intense appointments, my mind was back to normal.  I had successfully gotten out of the hospital.

Then yesterday I needed to take a trip to City Hospital.  I haven’t been back there since Enoch was born.  That’s been intentional.  I didn’t want to trigger any of those awful memories.  But yesterday was the day Brea had surgery, and I was not going to let City Hospital stop me from seeing and caring for her.  She of course would have understood, but I needed to go!  I did well.  I went in a different door on a different side of the building.  I was very aware of my surroundings, reminding myself that this was different.  I was in and out no problem.  Until I wasn’t.

As I left I was feeling like I had won.  I had time to stop for coffee, was going to make my next meeting, and my mind was only minimally spacey from going back there.  As I was leaving, I paid for my parking ticket at the pay station by the elevator and proceeded to my car, only to realize I didn’t have the right ticket to get out.  I had the reciept, but not the correct ticket.  No problem I’ll hit the call button and tell them to let me out, but then the call button didn’t work.  I backed up and went to the next exit and that call button didn’t work either  There is no one there to help me.  So I head back into the hospital to see if I could get out of the hospital.  This is where I start doing less well.  I’ll spare you the details, but I had to keep walking in, four times to be exact, and nobody was letting me out.  I couldn’t get another ticket, I couldn’t pay for a lost ticket, I was trying every trick in the book to get out of the hospital, and I literally couldn’t.

As you can imagine, at this point I’m freaking out.  My body and mind feel trapped like I did almost two years ago in this same place.  And although that time I had to give brith to a dead baby and this time I do not, my body doesn’t know that.  This is what you call a trigger, and I was TRIGGERED!   After almost an hour of back and forth I was simply sitting off to the side waiting for a security guard to come let me out, and then one of my all-time favorite people happen to be driving out of the parking deck, Hannah Nitz!  I love seeing Hannah on a good day, but there are no words for how I felt seeing her in that moment.  She realized I wasn’t doing well and then hopped out of her car and hugged me until I was able to compose myself well enough to tell her how I was trapped in the hospital and couldn’t get out.  She got it.  She knew my trauma and my story and so graciously gave me her ticket and offered to wait for the security guard.   FINALLY, I was free!  (Don’t worry we figured out a way to trick the system to break her out too).

Not only did she help me escape, but she then bought me a cup of coffee brought it to the car so I could pull myself together a bit.  AND we both had a meeting at the same place in the afternoon, so she used Uber Eats to order me lunch, delivering it in the middle of my meeting.

Hannah was my hero that day! I’m confident God sent her to me… that day and all my life days!

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After she was my hero so many times that day, I made her just hold me like any “real hero” would!

Tragedy strikes & people are jerks

I love my students. The students at First Glance are never “clients,” pitty cases, projects or anything of the sort. These students are “my kids.” I love them! I love them all! I love them sincerely and passionately, and if anyone has heard me talk, you know that it’s true. My friends tease me that most of the time. I function emotionally as a five, pretty much all the time. BUT, the exception ALWAYS comes out when it involves First Glance, when it comes to my students. I SEE their potential. I see it all the time! I see it when nobody else can. I see it when they can’t. Each of them are amazing in their own right, and I see it and love them.

The truth is, I don’t know every students as well and as personally as I would like. When 1000 teenagers in a year come through our doors, there’s no way to. This is why we have the amazing volunteer base that we have! They are spectacular, and each one get’s to know different students. Regardless of how well I know them or how long it’s been since I’ve seen them, my heart breaks when tragedy strikes. Sometimes I wonder if they know how much it impacts me or the other FG volunteers.

That happened last weekend. Saturday morning I woke up to the news that one of our students, Xavier, passed away. Here is the news article. Despite having not seen Xavier for a little over a year, he was a big part of FG several years ago.  So his sudden death wrecked me. Part of the situation that has been astounding and infuriating is that there have been people who have indicated that in some way he deserved it. Because he had robbed someone prior to dying, it was ok that he died. In fact one person wrote on our wall for his vigil, “One less thug on the street.” Ugh, the infuriation! No matter what decisions he made prior to, he was 17. He was kind and funny and every single volunteer I told of this tragedy mentioned how much they loved him, and then immediately laughed at some story they thought of about him. He was still just a kid. A kid who was loved and cared about by our community and is now gone. I had written this a few weeks ago, and it applies well.  Being in proximity allows us to see the PERSON.

I continue to be grateful for the grace God has shown me time and time again in my own brokenness and sin. I sincerely wish people would extend grace to each other and especially to my students! They are amazing teenagers, whether they know it or not!

Proximity…

Recently I have been thinking about road rage, maybe not even rage, but road annoyance. I was driving the other day and started to go into the other lane.  Right as I was checking my blind spot the girl driving the car next to me honked and then proceeded to give me the middle finger. I wasn’t mad or upset.  I did make a mistake. I didn’t see her. As I have been thinking about road annoyance, I realize how much easier it is to get mad at “that car” than “that person.” Had that same situation happened in the grocery store with carts, we would have both apologized for getting in each other’s way and moved on. When we look the person in the eyes, it’s easier to be understanding than when it’s just “that car.” I sometimes try to look in the window at the person who’s driving the car that’s making me crazy.  When I see it’s an elderly woman who can barely see over the steering wheel or a young teenager just learning to drive, I’m not nearly as angry or annoyed.

Knowing the person can make all the difference. I’ve thought of this for years as I have watched people make judgments about those distant and different from themselves. I received an email several months ago that demonstrated this well and made me want to throw my computer when I read it. I opened my email to read several paragraphs about how this couple were infertile but were strong Christians.  They mentioned that if one of our girls from First Glance’s teen moms programs wanted to give up their baby, the infertile couple would be happy to take him or her. People think that a teenage girl from an urban environment will not be as good of a mother as a 20 something year old Christian woman. It’s a stereotype that I fight against often for our girls! Our girls have the potential to be amazing moms.  Sometimes they just need taught.  They need someone to demonstrate it, but they have the ability.  In case you are wondering, I never did respond to that email.  I couldn’t without saying words I might later regret.

Unfortunately this world is broken and the amount of abuse that I hear about is astounding.  The stories that haunt my mind the most are always the ones that feel so inhuman, where I walk away from a story realizing that one person didn’t see the other person as a human. These are stories where parents keep their kids locked up, grown men tie up a scared 14 year old girl so they could rape her, and men pee on young women to show dominance. I would like to say these are all stories I’ve heard on the news, but truth be told, they are all ones that I’ve heard from women I know. It is a blatant demonstration of a person who does not view the others as human.

Additionally, I think about the inhumanity when it comes to race. When I think about what happened in Charlottesville it infuriates me. It does so because people are treating other humans as less! Nobody is less because of their skin color.  That is insane! Nobody is less because of their economic status. Nobody is less! And yet, over and over, I have seen these injustices up close and in person as the Director of First Glance. (There are many more stories than I have time to go into today).

A couple weeks ago I was at a the Global Leadership Summit and heard a man Bryan Stevens speak about race, poverty, and justice. The reason I loved the way he spoke about it is because he talked about this idea of proximity. When you get in proximity with people that seem so different than us, it brings a new understanding. It allows us to see them as people, not as the stereotype or judgment that might be in our mind. I encourage you to listen to his TED talk, although he doesn’t use the world proximity in this particular clip, it’s still the same concept.

And so I go back to the car conversation, why is it so easy to get so angry or pass judgment at “that red car,” never caring about what is happening with the person on the inside? Unfortunately we do this in real life.  We see race, status, economics, etc and never take time to get to know and understand that person.