Did you Bring Your Heart Today? Are you now asking yourself, “what is ‘Bringing Your Heart’ about?” I thought I’d take a little time to unpack it for you. Bring Your Heart is my new podcast and discussion space where I, and I hope “we,” explore the cost and benefits of bringing our hearts into interactions with others, especially those that are in a season of suffering. To start off, maybe a little bit of background on me and why we’re having this conversation.
One of my main roles in the community is one of a Trauma Specialist and Director for a program that is specifically designed to support those who have made the decision to walk alongside children from hard places. “Kids from hard places” is a phrase that was coined by the Karen Purvis Institute for Child Development to define kiddos who have experienced trauma, abuse, neglect and other types of risk effects that have caused them to have brains that are wired a certain way. Because of the things they’ve experienced, they often will struggle to be able to participate fully in everything that life can offer. For anyone who has spent time with kiddos that come from those places, they usually understand that: (a) the needs are very great, (b) that there is a need to really ensure that environments and opportunities are designed without barriers, that they are accessible and that they are understanding the need for compassion.
How I got to this place has to do with my own experiences, specifically in being a mom to two kiddos from hard places; two kids who came to our home about eight years ago. Both of my kiddos had and have Complex Developmental Trauma, which means that their brains are wired differently than a child who grew up in more of a benevolent experience, so their ability to cope has been compromised and that their understanding of what is safe and what resources are available to them is very different. We didn’t know that going in so we’ve learned a lot! My children are my best teachers.
My hope is that as I’m sharing with you my experiences and the things that I’ve learned that we can continue to increase community capacity to walk alongside each other. I believe that if we can raise understanding and awareness and equip people to engage with their hearts and with everything that they have in the midst of what we would call trauma-informed practices, that we could really make an impact in the lives of not just those who are around us, but those around us who are suffering the most. What would it look like if we could raise the general mental health of the community? Wouldn’t that equip us to better serve those who have had the most difficult experiences?
I wanted to share how the phrase “Bringing Your Heart” came about. It’s this really great story that I’ve only told a few people, but now I want to share it with you. It starts in 2015, which was a particularly difficult year for me. It was the year when our family had faced some of our greatest tragedies. My eldest daughter had been injured and it had exacerbated and impacted her ability to function in community and relationship, so she needed a higher level of care than we were able to provide in the home at that time. It was a time of great grief and loss for us. We were really living in a liminal space; in this in-between space where we weren’t sure what was going to come next or exactly how to respond. This was new territory for us. In June of 2015, I had been called to jury duty. We’d only been a few months into this overwhelming and difficult space and I remember telling the judge, “I’m not in a place that I can do this, this is what’s happening. We were paying extra money a month for care and here’s where I’m at mentally and I just I don’t have the mental health for this right now.”
So the judge let me postpone my service for a few months. Of course, I was glad about that because things were very difficult. When I came back to serve a few months later in September of that year, nothing had really changed on my daughter’s case; things were still very difficult. My daughter was geographically far from us. She had suffered some bad brain injuries that made it hard for us to connect with her. Keep in mind that this is on top of the trauma that she had experienced in the foster care system and all of the events that had led up to her removal and placement in care; bottom line – we were really struggling.
That September day, I remember that the whole the time I was waiting in the waiting room to be selected for a jury, I had been praying “please do not let me be selected. I have so much going on. I am feeling like I’m in a place that I just am not having the presence of mind to be able to do this. I feel really fragile.” I wasn’t called that morning and eventually, we were released for lunch. During the lunch break, I walked down to a mall that’s underground in downtown LA and as I was walking, I heard a voice say, “did you bring your heart today?” I turned and I looked up and on this open patio area that was a little bit above the sidewalk and saw this man peering over the ledge. I stopped. I stopped right there on the sidewalk and paused and looked up and said, “yes, I did.” And I thought, “yes, I actually did bring my heart today; I am feeling all the feels.”
So this man said, “could you buy me lunch?” I paused and then said, “yeah, I can buy you lunch. How about you meet me down here at the end.” We walked down until we got to the part where the upper level was connected to the sidewalk. We meet and I introduced myself and he introduced himself as Tony* and I said, “what would you like for lunch? I’m going downstairs.” He said, “oh, I, I need to go with you because I have specific health concerns. Someone’s gonna watch my stuff and I need to go with you.” I took stock of the man standing in front of me. Tony was about five feet six inches, African-American, and probably in his late fifties or early sixties. Hard to tell when people have been living on the streets; sometimes they age a little during that process. As I was weighing the relative safety of that particular request he looked at me and said, in complete earnest, “I’m not a weirdo. I’m not going to hurt you.” I looked into his eyes and saw that there was no malintent. There was lucidity and clarity. And pain. I said, “sure, why don’t we go down to the food court?”
We started to walk together and while walking, Tony said, “thank you so much for stopping, did you see all these people that were in front of you that just ignored me and didn’t listen to me?” I heard the significance of his statement and the weight of it. I realized that there was a great opportunity here for him to see and understand and know that he was seen and had dignity. At that moment, I was determined to make sure that was what our encounter embodied for him because he’d already expressed to me this experience of not being seen in the midst of his trauma of living on the streets.
As we headed downstairs I offered a few options for lunch. The place he selected was the Chinese food place and when we walked in and I saw a sign that said: “cash only.” I turned to Tony and said, “friend, I only have $6.27 in my wallet. That’s the only cash that I have. So we’re going to be really limited on what I can get you, but you can have everything I have.”
He said, “well, that’s okay. They have a really good combo that’s like $4.99 or $5.99,” and I said, “great, let’s go and let’s do that.” As we were standing in line, I could see that he was really hungry as he studied the food through the glass. As we’re standing there, he said, “Oh, do you think I could get a soda? That would taste so good.” I said, “I really only have $6.27. You’re welcome to all of it. But that’s all I have. I don’t think we have enough. Maybe they will give you some water.” A few customers ahead of us, there was a tall man in a firefighter uniform and he reached around Tony’s back to hand me $3 to pay for a drink. I nodded my thanks and he gave me a smile and nod as if to say, “of course.” So I told Tony that there was going to be enough for him to have a drink after all. His eyes got big and he was amazed. He asked, “where did it come from?” While I knew that they the firefighter had no desire to be recognized, I didn’t know what to say, so I pointed to him and said, “That guy over there. He was really kind and made sure that you have something to drink.” Tony’s face broke out in a big smile.
We got to the end of the line and we got his big soda and food. I gave him the rest of the change and before he left I said, “oh, wait!” I opened up my arms and stepped toward him. He paused for half a beat and then he put his container of food down on the countertop. He walked into my arms and gave me a hug, allowing me to hold him for a moment. His voice got really tight and low as if choked with tears. He quietly said, “this is the best day.” I asked him if he needed anything else. He said, “no, that’s all I need, I have everything that I need. Thank you.” And he took his food and went upstairs and ate.
As I reflect on this exchange I think that probably the intimacy of that embrace was overwhelming. Admittedly, from the outside, it does seem a little awkward to have this little white lady say, “come here, let me give you a hug.” But that whole experience helped me to take a look at our default of constantly scanning for our own safety. When people are asking for help, they are saying, “I need something, I’m hurt. I don’t have enough. Help me out.” For a great number of us, our automatic thought is, “am I safe? Is this safe for me to engage?” And then we might think “well, why can’t you take care of that yourself?” Those defaults come from lots of different places. Maybe from social expectations that have been mentored to our braines or our social leanings that impact the manner in which we engage in challenges for ourselves and others. And maybe even some of the things that we’ve been taught theologically where we really lean into personal choice versus community responsibility, making it an either/or situation.
So what was it that had stopped me in my tracks, anyway? Normally I think that if somebody had just yelled over to me, “can you buy me lunch?” it might not have delayed me as much. I’ll be totally honest and transparent that it was the question of “did you bring your heart?” Because at that moment that wasn’t just a guy who’s standing on a plaza in downtown Los Angeles; it was Jesus. That was Jesus saying, “are you actually going to engage as a human being with other human beings here? Are you going to allow yourself to be open that I’m doing things here? I have things for you to learn in ways that you can be engaged and are you willing to accept the cost? Not just financially, but like the cost to your idea of safety, the cost to your idea of comfort, the cost to your emotional time.“ How could I possibly turn away from Jesus asking me that question?
And even though I was in the middle of a season of suffering myself, that didn’t mean that I was exempt. There is no sugarcoating the level of hurt and heartbreak in our family, the sorrow of not being together, and the soul-crushing things that we were going through (and continue to go through). So to be presented with the opportunity to turn and see someone else’s suffering and need while we ourselves felt so isolated in the midst of this trauma with our daughter? That’s opening yourself up to another cost when I already felt so spent. But I can tell you this: while there’s no other benefit other than I knew that I was responding in the way that I was supposed to, there was great joy in entering into this exchange with Tony. As I was experiencing his heart being touched, to know that he was seeing that he had dignity and his needs were important, that he was precious, that he was able to give and receive care through healthy touch; that was everything that was important at that moment. For him to know the truth of who he really was in that encounter through my unplanned choice to be open to the opportunity to extend peace and affirm his dignity and humanity when as he said, so many people had passed him by; that was life-changing for me.
So that’s where I started with this idea of Bringing Your Heart. I want to explore the process of telling the truth about all the things that scare us away from actually engaging with all of who we are in this life of living with and loving our neighbor. I want to ask, “what are the things that we are trying to protect or hold close to ourselves or that we don’t trust or believe that we will have what we need to do, the things that we need to do?” Entering the discussion that boldly inquires;
what are the things that are keeping us from engaging and where does the fear come from that tells us that if we are all in – in a practice of compassion – that we won’t have enough for the other things in our lives?
Where does that lie come from? When we get so isolated like that, what’s happening with our communities that we aren’t able to support those who are on the front lines? We all have some personal responsibility toward each other and even if a person is not in a season of doing direct support – being “all in” within a specific support context – they still have a responsibility to support those who are.
How to we get to these places where we can listen for that voice that says, “did you bring your heart today?” I invite you to go on this journey with me. Let’s continue to unpack:
- What trauma looks like in our lives and the lives of others around us.
- How it affects our ability to connect with each other,
- Ways that we have screwed this up,
- Where we can improve and do better.
Please join me in this process and ask yourself that question, “Did you bring your heart?”
*Name changed to protect privacy