Inspired by Opening Day at Aqueduct (not that I was there)

Dad never liked Aqueduct much; Belmont was his favorite local-ish track, and we spent two weeks every year house sitting in West Long Branch, NJ, which gave us lots of time at Monmouth.

My father was of the generation of men who would go to the track in suits. His rule was that he would start with his betting money in his right pants pocket, and put his winnings into his left pants pocket. When his right pocket was empty, he went home. He always had jackets with several pockets, and his nickname was Johnny Pockets.

If he’d “had a good day,” as he would say with a wink, he would stop off at one or another local store on his way home, and buy my mother a little something–a piece of lingerie, a small box of candy–and hide it in one of his pockets. Then when he got home, Mom would meet him at the door and he’d hold up his arms. She’d pick a pocket, and whatever in it was hers. If she didn’t get the goodie, Dad would tuck it under her pillow while she was cooking dinner.

One night after Dad had had a very good day, Mom picked the right–or wrong–pocket and pulled out a thick wad of cash–$500, Dad’s winnings for the day and a nice haul in the early 1950s. She was horrified and tried to give it back, and Dad waved her off (she told me) saying, “The rules are the rules! You won!”

In the summers of my high school years, Dad and I would take the two-hour walk to the Monmouth track to just talk about everything under the sun, and the horses. It was incredible father-daughter time. He taught me never to rip up a ticket before the race result was final; that “stoopers” bent over examining discarded tickets were declasse; never to dip into my winnings to keep playing.

By the time I graduated from high school, I’d netted my first semester of college tuition. And I had terrific memories for it too.

When Dad died, because the route between the funeral home and the church was made up of one-way streets, the funeral procession had to go past his OTB–which was closed at that hour of the morning. His older sister Johanna (84 at the time) muttered, “What is this, a fly-by?” and his younger sister Peggy said, “Joanie, they’re closed in mourning.”

Anyway. Yes. New York racetrack life.

On saying, “No”

If you search the Web for “addicted to busyness,” you will find a raft of articles, blog posts, quizzes, and the like, trumpeting the dangers of nonstop doing. There is so much to do, so much to encounter–around every corner, in every link waiting to be clicked, in every email to be opened.

Stop.

Say, “I am flattered, but I can’t” to the next committee invitation. Plead a prior commitment when invited to yet another cocktail party or dinner. (You do have a prior commitment; it’s to your own self-care.)

I have four priorities in life: family, girlfriend, my job, and specific volunteer tasks. I am not taking anything else on, because what I have is sufficient.

I take buses as a method of slowing down. A yoga class or a meditation group is, for me, just another deadline I don’t want in my life. I turn off my electronics, look out the window, and watch the sun set over the Hudson River. I contemplate every person, every event for which I am particularly grateful in that space of time.¬† I get home, have dinner, and am ready for a restful evening.

My perfect job: Why you should support Her Justice

HerJustice_logo_tag_rgb_300x71px(Reminder/disclaimer: This is all the personal brain dump of me, Mary. It doesn’t officially represent Her Justice, any other organization, or any other carbon-based life form in this or any other universe.)

 

I really wasn’t looking for a job for myself in the spring of 2009. There was nothing wrong with the financial services data quality position I had. I had great coworkers, good managers, interesting work, and a very fine compensation package. Yet…it didn’t grab my soul.

Then I stumbled across a job posting on Idealist.org for a “Legal Services Manager” with Excel, SQL, Spanish, and experience in a volunteer-based organization.

Well, now. That sounded a lot like me.

A cover letter/resume email, some interviews, and a few weeks later, I walked in the door of Her Justice as an employee. A couple of years later, I was asked to become the IT manager, and happily accepted.

There is never a day when I am not happy to go to work.

I am free of many of the common plagues of technology staff and managers. Of course, there is a lot of work, and some long hours and weekends. That is the nature of an IT job.

My coworker-users are smart, good-humored, and willing to learn. The senior managers encourage constant communication among all staff. My manager’s also incredibly supportive of my investigations into technology that might improve our legal staff’s ability to train and mentor volunteers, and counsel clients. I have support from a great outside technology consulting firm. I genuinely like the people I work with.

One of my less-technical responsibilities is to extract data for reports to our funders. The numbers tell just a part of our story. I look at ways to put our clients’ legal needs in context–the neighborhoods they live in, the linguistic, ethnic and economic isolation that can aggravate a woman’s situation, and so on.

That’s the point–it’s all about the clients.

Our clients are low-income women who live in New York City. Often they are survivors of domestic violence, but that is not a requirement to get help from us. Most have children. All are working very hard to get free of ugly situations. The amount of multi-tasking it must take to gather all the documents, notes, photos, and other evidence for a matter, perhaps hiding them from an abuser, while having to deal with social services agencies for food and financial assistance, and also clothing and feeding small children and getting them to a caregiver or on the subway to an office in downtown Manhattan…hurts my head.

I sometimes get to see the evaluations the clients send in. The comments are written in careful script, squeezed into a few lines. Over and over again, in Spanish and English, clients express thanks not just for the legal services they’ve received from volunteer attorneys, but for the dignified, respectful relationships the volunteers and Her Justice staff have fostered with them.

I wonder what effects the visits to our office, have on the daughters of clients. One of our staff attorneys told me a story about accompanying a client and her little girl to an immigration interview. “The girl carried my briefcase, wore my jacket….and at the end, she asked, ‘Can I be a lawyer someday and help people too?'” Who knows how many of the little girls who have sat in the Her Justice office may someday make it through law school?

The volunteer attorneys, too, send in evaluations. They praise the quality of the training and the manuals authored by our legal staff, and they value their courtroom experience highly. (If well-educated attorneys at the top firms in NYC sometimes find the system aggravating and chaotic, what shot at justice could an unrepresented, possibly under-educated, stressed, low-income woman possibly have by herself?) Her Justice staff attorneys, in turn, prize the mentoring relationships they develop with the law firm associates and partners.

Her Justice is always looking for ways to more effectively help clients. Forensic accounting firms and other non-legal corporations are volunteering and providing incredible new help to women, as well. What they are contributing is fascinating and wonderful.

This is all why I love my job.

I’m not stuck in a data center or server silo. I get to hear what my legal services coworkers do. I get to meet clients in the reception area or hall, and get to wave at cute children as they pass my office on the way to or from a play area. I get to continually evaluate and improve all our technology to best use the donor dollar and support and grow our mission.

Who wouldn’t be happy to get up and go to work?

Please support Her Justice. If you are in NYC, consider forming a team to take part in our annual Story by Story stair climb on October 23, 2014.

Thoughts for Easter egg hunt attendees–a personal rant

My parish has an Easter egg hunt every year. It started as an event for the children of the parish and immediate neighborhood, but word of it has spread via parent-oriented websites. This year, we are scrambling (!) to boil in excess of 1200 eggs for the event. We love to extend hospitality, and deliberately neither charge admission nor sell tickets, but it does get a little crazy-making.

If you are taking your child(ren) to a church-based Easter egg hunt, please think about what the event is supposed to signify, and what goes into creating it.

  • This is supposed to be a fun event, not “Lord of the Flies Meets the Easter Bunny.” Yes, in many respects the whole egg symbolism thing is a re-branding of a pre-Christian tradition. That doesn’t mean “love your neighbor as yourself” doesn’t apply. Do not let your children shove, push, and take eggs from other tots.
  • The eggs did not buy, boil, and dye themselves. Volunteers spent hours in their own kitchens or in a community kitchen, and spent their own money, on these eggs. That is why there is a limited supply. There are not infinite eggs for infinitely acquisitive children.
  • The people putting this together have had other things on their minds in addition to this event. In many cases, the church people have been at church on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday as well as on Sunday morning. Lay people who are lucky enough to have full time jobs have been at those too–putting in enough hours so they can actually attend church on the holiest days of the year. By Sunday morning, they’re tired.
  • If someone says something Christian to you, don’t steam about “proselytizing.” Look, if this egg hunt is at a church, what did you expect? On church property, at a church-sponsored event, people are going to say things like, “Christ is risen.” There are secular egg hunts out there–you just chose to be at one that is not secular.
  • Eating the eggs may not be a good idea. They have been boiled days in advance, and were probably hidden very early in the morning. Unless it’s really cold outside, those eggs have been a little too warm for comfort.
  • If it’s a free event, cool your jets on complaints. If you have a chance to speak with one of the volunteers, “Thank you,” is much easier to hear than, “Why didn’t you people [insert complaint]?” If you have ideas about how to make the event better, sign up to volunteer next year.

The Unsung Heroes: Donors of Unrestricted Gifts

(Remember: This is an un-official, un-endorsed, un-pasteurized, un-anything post not officially representative of any organization, individual, or any carbon-based lifeform except for myself.)

As of 10:30 this morning, March 13, seven people are dead and more are still missing in the wake of a gas explosion/building collapse in Manhattan’s East Harlem neighborhood. The Red Cross has been responding for just over 24 hours at this point, and the volunteers and staff are rotating on and off 12-hour shifts. The dedication of every Red Crosser, on and off the scene, is terrific.

I’d like to send a shout-out to the heroes of this response who aren’t on the scene and probably never will be: the people and organizations who have donated money to the Red Cross without specifying that it be used for a specific disaster.

At 9 a.m. yesterday morning, no one knew that there were going to be dozens of people in need of food, clothing and shelter in a couple of hours. Thanks to thousands of donors who had previously sent money without saying, “I want this to be used only for X disaster,” the Red Cross could send a truck with shelter equipment (cots, blankets, etc) for 100+ people from their upstate warehouse, down to the city right away. Meals could be solicited as purchases or donations from commercial kitchens that have strict food safety standards. Clothing, comfort items, and other immediate necessities were already on hand to be given out immediately to survivors.

The volunteers and staff of the Red Cross in the NY area have responded to 2100+ fires, floods, storm emergencies, and other disasters since July 1 of last year. The vast majority of them never made the news, but for the people who lost their homes and belongings, each event was shattering.

The donors who give to the Red Cross and other disaster response groups, without limiting the recipients of their help, are the silent heroes of response. Their generosity ensures that people who are poor, un-“TV-sexy,” economically and/or linguistically isolated, all get help when their lives are shattered by a local emergency.

So, to all those who have donated in whatever size, who are great-hearted enough to give freely without a pre-picked cause–thank you!

As I start my 51st year

I am thankful.

I didn’t get where I am today without help from many, many people–and I know I got born into substantial privilege. It wasn’t money privilege: we lived under the poverty level at times.

I was born white, to English-speaking citizens of the United States, who were highly literate and valued education, valued their girl child as much as their boy child, and gave me the tools I needed to be employed and housed in this society. I did nothing, nothing to earn that good fortune. Yes, I work hard, but I never forget that I wouldn’t be able to work that hard without the support I got from my (functional) family and (functional) community.

Thankfulness isn’t just for a Thursday in November. It’s for every time you wake up.

MaryO’s rules for effective complaining

My Adorable Sweetiepie¬†writes to me, “You are probably the most effective squeaky wheel to ever rub an axle the wrong way.” She’s also told me that my “high dudgeon” is a bit unnerving (well, the exact word she used was “scary.”)

I operate with three rules and one precondition when I complain about a situation:

Precondition: It has to be something that does have a realistic resolution. Otherwise, I’m just whining.

  1. I don’t exaggerate, misrepresent, embellish, or lie. I have independently verifiable proof that the situation existed and affected me.
  2. I ask for a concrete, reasonable resolution that will satisfy my needs without humiliating, embarrassing, or unnecessarily inconveniencing the creator of the situation.
  3. When the situation is resolved, I stop complaining, say “Thank you,” and acknowledge the effort that went into the resolution.

I have found that this process keeps relationships intact, and allows for good will to stay and grow.

For those of you who may not be exposed to “stewardship talks”

This is what I had to say on Sunday, September 29th, at my parish, as the first of a series of “Stewardship Moments” by parishioners:

On Friday afternoon, I had been pretty sure what I was intending to say today. But after I listened to Bishop Dietsche’s remarks at the Cathedral yesterday [Saturday], I turned to Father Gabe and said, “The bishop just blew up my stewardship talk.”

We–Father Gabe; Theresa Goldsborough, and I–were at the opening session of the diocesan Indaba process. “Indaba” refers to a continuing conversation of listening and learning, among groups of lay and clergy representatives from sets of 3 diverse parishes–in our case, a suburban New Rochelle parish, and a rural church in Orange County. This is a parochial manifestation of our stewardship campaign slogan, “Connect and commit.”

What does Indaba have to do with stewardship?

Quite a lot. We call ourselves “Anglo-Catholic;” “Catholic” means that we do not live unto ourselves as a congregation, but that we have real ties to our brother and sister Christians in the life of Jesus Christ.

The stewardship we engage in here at St. Luke’s–the commitment of our time, talent, and treasure–is visible in our infrastructure of buildings, with electricity, running water, and staff, that our pledges support. It’s visible in our outreach programs that, although funded separately, are the product of many people’s time and talent, and could not exist without our real estate and our location. Those, given as a gift from Queen Anne to Trinity in 1684, and to us in 1820, are a sheer gift. No one here did anything to acquire this land. It is our responsibility and our pleasure to preserve and use all these resources.

But our stewardship here reaches out to the good of the wider church. There is much that St. Lukers do that is not visible on Sunday morning.

Our assessment–the money we contribute to the diocese–helps keep lights on, toilets flushing, and clergy serving around the diocese. St. Luke’s parishioners and clergy serve on a variety of diocesan committees. These include the Adjustment Board, to help parishes in financial difficulty and the LGBT concerns committee. I am part of the biennial Acolyte Festival, which draws attendees from many of the poorest parishes in the diocese. Over the years, St. Luke’s has fostered vocations of priests, scholars, and other church servants. We have participated in the formation of dozens of seminarians from all over the church.

Now–this can lead to our “marinating in our own magnificence.”

We are very proud of our block, our clergy, our amazing music, and we are proud of our good works.

We live in a bit of a “glossy bubble.” We are also, as Bishop Dietsche puts it, in a silo. I would posit that we are also in internal silos within St. Luke’s–service by service; social group by social group; committee by committee.

We can fall into assumptions about St. Luke’s and St. Lukers, because we think we know everything there is to know about our own parish. Be wary of that.

The Indaba process is challenging us to listen and learn humbly from parishes across chasms of location, class, ethnicity, and worship style. I suggest that in praying over our use of time, talent, and treasure internally here at St. Luke’s, we each examine what “silos” we might have built.

Examine and pray about the possibilities of changing up your worship time, your volunteer patterns, and see what else God might have in mind for you.

_We_ “are to do go, to be rich in good works, gentleness, and ready to share.”

God bless.