This was supposed to be a quick write-up of last Thursday at Choices, and *somehow* it’s a tad longer. Imagine that. Grab your favorite beverage and sit for a few moments to read a snippet of what it means to hang out at this amazing refuge of Love called Choices, keeping these in mind:
Life is (always) on the move. Life is messy. Life leaves us tripping over our laces. Hence, life needs love. ~Donna
Thursday, I was running late. I knew I was scheduled to be alone. Arriving at 12:05, (and yes, feeling guilty, because we open at noon) because I typically arrive a half hour to an hour early to get situated, heat, lights, music, snacks, prayer for focus, etc.
As soon as I pull into the parking lot, rebelliously via the “Exit Only” path, my eyes quickly scan from left to right: there are six people waiting! Two are sitting on a concrete parking space block, two are in their car, and another two are already on the walking path to the front door. I recognize a couple as a regular guests, who struggle with the concept of appointments, (crisis living will do that) and we always fit them in as best as possible; another looks like a mama and her daughter, which I immediately assess as a likely walk-in pregnancy test. And the two on the concrete block look altered, i.e., high. In the same timeframe, Becky, our thrift store manager arrives to pick up donated items for transport to the store in Dunsmuir.
Oh, baby. Here we go. Yet another example of a hoped for quiet day…suddenly needing triage.
Turning lights on, furiously clicking ‘play’ to get Pandora soothing hearts and souls, grabbing pre-cut oranges from the day before, and scanning the front desk chocolate bowl as needful elements of welcome that say, “We’re so glad you’re here!” –without breaking my stride as I glide intentionally through the office.
Unlocking the front door, and four are filing in: yes, as I expected, emergency needs for one couple, and yes, a pregnancy test for a young woman. The two on the concrete block? They apparently need to catch a ride to Yreka.
Mama and daughter are ushered into a private room – it’s a dignity/confidentiality thing for pregnancy test guests. They’re easygoing and talkative, if a bit nervous, and I invite the daughter to complete the intake form. As always, I let her know there are fairly personal questions on the form, and she’s only expected to fill out what she’s comfortable with – the questions are there for those who might need some care in those areas. (Partner violence, and/or sexual, emotional, verbal trauma and shame.)
Heading back to hear that our visiting couple without an appointment need diapers, wipes and formula – and mama is (happily) pregnant again. A quick ‘emotional wellness’ check-in tells me she’s in a good place today, (quick unspoken prayer of gratefulness) and I let her know she’s welcome to grab diapers and wipes, and I’ll see about available formula.
Meanwhile, back in the pregnant test room, I let our first-time guest know that we use a self-testing model, which means, we’re providing her test, and she’s performing the test and determining the result, because we’re not medical. We’re here to answer questions, and provide a safe space to initially process a potential life-changing event. As per my regular protocol, I let her know, using the information sheet, that she’s looking for a pink line next to the ‘C’ (Control) area, because that tells her the test is working – and ANY indication of color in the area next to the ’T’ indicates a positive test, i.e., pregnant: faint, barely-there-pink is as positive as dark pink. Pretty sure she’s on her fourth piece of chocolate as I’m talking.
The office line rings, and knowing there’s no receptionist today, I apologetically answer it – it’s Becky, letting me know that when she was leaving, she noticed the guy who’d been sitting on the concrete block was now rifling through a car. Quickly stepping out of the room, I ask the guests if they know the guy outside. Yes, they do. But they just gave him/them a ride, and he’s not supposed to be in their car. Suddenly, I’m wondering if I’m going to need to utilize the panic alarms we have in every room.
Alas, no. Situation is under control after a stern reprimand from the car’s owner.
Mama in need of emergency supplies has them, and is now relaxing a with a snack of pumpkin or banana bread (not sure which because both were available).
Back to the pregnancy test room, where daughter has returned from the restroom with her specimen cup – with substantially more than the three drops needed to indicate a pregnancy. Pretty sure she could have run 100+ tests. But, she’s new to this scary process. I tell her the story of a former Choices location that had carpeting in the pregnancy test room, and as I pulled the cart toward our client, it hit a carpet bump. Yes. That happened.
One couple leaves, another comes in. More emergency need. Two more regular guests; plus a guest we haven’t seen in several years. Formula. Yes, we also get that ‘breast is best’, but we know that for a multitude of reasons, we can’t judge, shame or guilt mamas. We want babies fed – not hungry.
Whew. Until the next guest-in-need walks in ten minutes later, looking for a place to hang out, snack of string cheese and oranges for her toddler, conversation in-between chasing her busy, adorable little guy…and picking up diapers and a few grocery items until she heads out to catch a bus. She’s used every available space on the stroller to shove these supplies.
No focused parenting discussions on this day, like so many other days with mamas and/or daddies self-selecting topics of interest like infant bonding, first year milestones, eye contact, food for growth, toddler tantrums, or adolescent transitions.
Over and over and over again. (Yes, I’ve now got The Head & The Heart’s Down In The Valley cycling in my head.) And now you know. Maybe more than you knew before. People often tell us they don’t exactly know what happens here at Choices. Now you know a little more. At least for one half of one day.
The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing–the love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.
(The Magnificent Defeat, Frederick Buechner)
You knew we had to include a plea for volunteers, right? If you’re someone who notices people in need of care as you navigate your personal world, you are able to sit with difference, similar to non-discrimination statements, such as …does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, or military status, in serving pregnancy and parenting community needs, and you have two to four hours each week to volunteer as a receptionist, or learn more about what it means to hang out with, and advocate for others in need of welcome, love and more, let us know! Let’s chat to see if it could be a good fit for a season or so for you to join us. Comment, call 530-926-6726, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or stop by during open hours, typically Monday – Thursday noon to 4pm.
My accountant (who pays the bills, and reminds me of the dwindling savings) would appreciate me reminding you that giving *in any amount* is simple (and needed): https://us2e.com/choices/org.html and follow the link to the secure donation page. Texting ‘Choices + gift amount’ to 91011 on your mobile phone works too! (Also: if you experience any frustration with the online or mobile giving please, please, and please again, let us know. We can’t fix what we don’t know is a hassle or broken.)
Thanks so much for hanging in here this long. Questions, thoughts, and even challenges are always welcome, so long as they’re kind. We’re just humans hanging out trying to make a difference in the lives of those in the midst of sexuality, pregnancy and/or parenting challenges.