I was working as a social worker in St. Louis, Missouri. I had a lot of joy in this job working with individuals who lived with addiction or mental illness. Many of the people who were living on the street that I engaged with were resilient, and generous. I had a great rapport with many of them and found a lot of life in this job.
I found that the system was limited in what we could do for our people. At one point, I had a plan to create a Housing Forum to expose some of the barriers and limitations. My boss sat me down and told me that in no uncertain terms, “We don’t do things like that.” She told me in a loving way that our people’s entrance to some of the low-income housing could be compromised if the housing officials felt like I was criticizing them. I was frustrated and understood at that moment what a “Poverty Pimp” was. I hated the paralyzing feeling I had.
At the same time, providence was at work. I had an 18 month old baby that we had just adopted from China. I started looking for a job across the state in my hometown. The Gamaliel affiliate was looking for their first organizer in training. As part of the process I was sent to a organizer training produced by the national network.
I took a chance and went to Northbrook, IL for the training. I remember watching the trainees and the trainers and feeling like I was on a different planet. After the discussions on “POWER” and “SELF-INTEREST,” I made a decision to leave the training. I went to my room and started to pack. At some point, I called my mom. We chatted and she asked me, “What are you doing?” Me: “I’m leaving.” Her: “I thought you were at a work meeting?” I told her how this training was not what I expected, how the organizer had lied to me, and how I didn’t think I wanted this job anymore. . .
She stopped me and asked, “Are you scared?”
I remember feeling very scared, nauseous, and alone. Looking back, I was very scared. I did not know if a new mom could do a job like this. I never saw anyone in my whole life who looked like me who did anything like this. So I said, “Yes.”
Mom: “Don’t be like me, when I was young, I didn’t do anything.”
I remember crying and feeling a clear call. I told my mom, “I think I might have the flu.”
Mom: “Go make yourself throw up, but go back in and finish.”*
I visit this story a lot. I think of this moment as the minute that God, in the form of my mother, called me into the fold. I know that God was with me when I took a risk to answer that Call.
I sometimes wish I could un-hear my Call. I find myself slaying my demons of fear, of feeling small, of feeling like a fraud. . . . all the time. I know that this feeling is part of the Call.
*Post-note: I did actually throw up.