The St. Francis Braid team meets with”T”, a youth in foster care, every week for fun, exploration and friendship. We want to support T however we can, by offering a listening ear, a consistent presence and a safe space. We hope to remind him of his inner strength and beauty. He always reminds us of the power of love to heal and strengthen.
One of the BRAID team members, Wendy Dwyer, preached to the congregation on March 26 about her experiences with T. Here is the full text:
Good morning. I am grateful to you all for opening your hearts to learn more about the Braid Mission established in our diocese in 2014 and I am thankful to have been invited by our minister Beth Sherman to speak with you on this subject, this 4th Sunday of Lent. I will be talking with you today about the discovery of this experience and to share with you my humble thoughts about this journey.
We heard from the Reverend Rebecca Edwards who is a co-founder, along with the Reverend Chris Chase, of the Braid Mission right here from the pulpit last April17th, 2016. Rebecca was seeing if there was a discernment of a fledgling team here at St. Francis that might be in partnership with the Braid Mission. So the Earth has travelled once all the way around the sun since then!
Our team of four was formed and trained over the summer. Betsy Zobell, Paul Pearson and I are the team mentors and Rev Bob Kostler is our team facilitator. Bob serves as our bridge to the guardian of “T.”
At the end of October, on the 29th, we met our foster child! We refer to him as “T” the first letter of his name, to protect his identity and as a nickname. We are not to share pictures, his location or family history, but we can be there as a constant presence and with him explore new life experiences. Our main goal is to be a consistent, dependable and loving presence in his life. Two of the three of us meet with him every Saturday. Additionally, T on a regular basis sees revolving representatives from Child Protective Services, counselors, and mentors from his school. We hope that we are a safe harbor and give him the chance to “be a kid” in San Francisco!
For this Braid service, we promised a year long commitment. Personally, I approached this commitment tentatively, but now I cannot imagine “T” not in my life! In fact on the days that I am not one of the two team members with him, I am asking the team how everything transpired, comparing notes, and conferring on ways to make our approach and time with him even more worthwhile and lively.
As Heather Cooper, a beloved parishioner of St Francis now living in Lincoln, California once said, “The church cannot provide all of the answers all of the time, but it is always THERE!” Our team cannot solve all of T’s problems all of the time, but we can promise to be there for him. He knows that he is really important to us. Our purpose is not to change him but to care for him. Maybe through our presence and authentic friendship, if T can feel loved and cherished for a couple of hours on a Saturday, he may be able to discern love and feel valued at other times throughout his week. Maybe when he misses his Mom, it can be of comfort that we will be knocking on his door on Saturdays.
And so our purpose is to form such a connection and develop abiding trust with him…..and to see “T” into his 40s (and I hope I live that long!).
T is 9 years old chronologically, but his soul is older than that. He is very jaded, wounded and somewhat even street smart. He can, however, turn on a dime and be very childlike and vulnerable and innocent of the ways of the world.
This Braid Mission is specifically designed for older elementary and middle school aged foster children, age 9 through teenage. This is a most vulnerable age, and one can already hear doors shutting and opportunities passed by. I try to shield myself personally from the depressing reality of statistics concerning foster youth, with the frequent eventuality of homelessness and other significant issues. Only 3% of foster children continue their education through college. I also try not to think that our team could change and T’s circumstances change where he is no longer living in the county of San Francisco. Other Braid mentor teams have been faced with this transition, but they try to keep contact together.
Our team has been meeting weekly since October. It doesn’t really matter what our plan or destination may be, the point is just to be together. We have taken “T” to the shores of the Pacific Ocean for his first time, and to the movies on his January 4th birthday. We trekked through Glen Canyon and Strawberry Hill at Stow Lake and enjoyed the beauty of the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate park. We also visited an aquarium store near his home during a thunderstorm.
Mount Davidson was our destination last Saturday.
Mount Davidson! THAT was a day that I have thought back to many times over the week. When we arrived at T’s home to drive him to the Mt Davidson trailhead, he was reluctant to come with us. He seemed quite exhausted and overwhelmed. Still, we were able to convince him to just try it out and come with us, if just for a little while.
To begin with, “T” was quiet and reserved in the ride across The City. When we arrived at the Myra Way trailhead, he looked up at the rather imposing dirt and rocky climb…..and just sat down and cried.
Real diamond shaped tears just dripped down his sweet face. Paul and I looked at each other over his head in stunned silence. We immediately laid down our bags and told him we were there just …”to be.” No expectations. No needs. Just “to be.”
After a time, “T” was able to gather himself, even before I was able to gather myself. He jumped up and started climbing up the Mt Davidson trail. He called back to us to chase him to the top! Resilience must be his middle name. On the way up, we did encounter the proverbial “fork in the road,” but what to do?! As Yogi Berra said: ” When you see the fork in the road, just take it!”
Finally, “T” leading the way, we crested the top, (my legs believed it had been the longer way.).
We were able to view San Francisco from 928 feet in all its glory and on such a clear day! “T” had never seen this perspective of the City of his birthplace before. We excitedly pointed out landmarks, including his neighborhood, right and left! The entire panorama was at our feet. The Mount Davidson Cross is so awe inspiring, and itself as a symbol gave the three of us pause and instilled a moment of deep reverence. The greatest gift that day was that “T” himself showed so much enthusiasm and interest, and gave forth such a pure sense of wonder of his world.
We also know over time with him, the particular healthy snacks he enjoys, including hummus, ….the kind with olives, watermelon flavored water, maki crackers and mangos. We also just so happened to lug up a rather large pictorial encyclopedia all about bugs so once at the top we had fun turning over rocks and logs and identifying the little creatures,… and we had also thought to bring a few magnifying glasses with us! Thus, “T” became the “Inspector Clouseau” of Mt Davidson bugs and insects last Saturday afternoon.
I also conveniently had stowed away something else in my bag that I had found at Sloat Gardens – a container of 1500 living ladybugs. He had never seen so many! We delighted and wondered at this vast tribe …this colorful humming civilization, as we placed them under a shaded plant and watched them fan out and explore their world and find their freedom along the many leaves of the hillside. As you know, the ladybug is a “spirit animal,” a symbol of luck.
We made our wish, many wishes.
“T” has remarkable coping strategies and we have learned to even accept a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” if he doesn’t want to talk. He also keeps with him a little teal-colored zipped pouch of miniature lego figures that totally involve his imagination. And, he loves the game, Rochambeau: rock , paper, scissors. He must be watching a youtube channel to know how to win. I was a little exasperated myself from mostly being on the loosing end of that game, so I decided to point and called it a stick of dynamite that would blast everything to bits. He loved that and was surprised hearing this audacious choice put forth from little old me! He is also quite an expert on “Knock Knock” jokes as he broaches a few of those with every car ride, especially the one with the repeated banana who, and finally the knock knock whose there? Orange! Orange you glad I didn’t say banana again?! But I especially liked the knock knock whose there old lady, old lady who? I didn’t know you could yodel!
If any of you know any new ones, please let me know for our repertoire!
Our team of Bob, Betsy, Paul and I have been given so much support from our community, through your prayers, consideration, and inquiries. During our conversation during Compline last Wednesday, we were grateful to have the Braid Mission highlighted while gathered around the kitchen table. After our conversation, we were asked again what more the St Francis community can offer our team, and really it is just that, …..your concern, questions, celebration of our strides and shoring us up when we are searching for just what “T” needs from us in his life.
When you talk with us about our experiences, help us bare witness to these remarkable and incredibly resilient children, and listen to our stories…THEIR stories. That means the world to us. The generous donation from the Pennies from Heaven Fall Gala that Christina Stephen chaired helps maintain field trips and excursions for the children of Braid and the monthly gatherings for all of the teams. This gift was so welcoming and well received. These monthly parties are so beneficial, memorable and rewarding in that all the children and mentors find great camaraderie from them.
I find that the presence of the Braid Mission headquarters, right in the heart of the Tenderloin, is not concealed in the darkness but that the light pours in from floor to ceiling filling entire walls of glass. If you do have any wrapped boxes of greeting cards, they would be gratefully received in that the Braid Mission has launched “Cards of Hope.” Hundreds of cards of encouragement are sent personally from this headquarters to foster youth throughout the city. Their birthdays and accomplishments are recognized this way. The foster kids themselves also write messages of love and care and thoughts are remembered in cards for other foster youth.
That is something striking to behold… Kids who are alone and unloved telling kids walking the same walk that they are loved and thought of, is so deeply ironic and touching. Lifting each other up is a true and pure joy. Such a gift. Extra cards were even made at Christmas time for the youth who would face the foster system during the holidays, as they are often removed from their homes with only a moment’s notice any day or any night 365 days a year. I have looked at wish lists for kids in foster homes. Sometimes there are toys, candy, gift cards mentioned, but they also make lists including what we think of and take for granted as “given” things…such as paper towels, tooth paste, and hygiene items.
I have also heard from members of our congregation who have been foster parents, in particular Barbara Davis now living in San Diego. Her words of wisdom and encouragement have been so invaluable to me. So let us keep the conversation and care flowing!
Our team is the only one with community, our fledgling team all comes from the same place, right here from St Francis. I have been sitting diagonally to Betsy for years, my far back right pew to her up front left side pew, but through this experience it has been an honor and privilege to get to know Betsy, Paul and Bob through this Braid mission and by developing a partnership with shared ideas and experiences to make our team with “T” really matter for him. We also compare notes on boundaries, what is working and what is not and what especially lights up “T.” The other Braid teams are exemplary, but they did not know each other previously and do not cross paths with each other as regularly as Betsy, Paul , Bob and I do. We have been brought together from the foundations of this very church. I do not see this as an extra burden of reportability and responsibility, but rather a “gift of community.” We are so fortunate to have Bob Kostler as our liaison and facilitator with “T”‘s guardian and with the other Braid Mission facilitators as his thoughts have been wise and insightful, and his contribution efficient and dependable.
From our readings today we learned from John Gates that in Samuel Chapter 16 that the “Lord looks into the heart.” From Michelle Herrera we learned that in Ephesians Chapter 5 we should “Live as Children of Light.”
Everyone has a past, but that is what it is, ….the past. “T” up to this point has been trapped on a path of darkness. Now though, …like breaking onto that trailhead at Mount Davidson, “T” is finding and seeing light on the trail…and in his life …as we all pull for him, and walk beside him.
With love, consistency, and caring, there will be a future of optimism and hope for all of the youth of our nation.