Thursday, March 5, 2009

My training with Choices has been accelerated, to put it simply. Folks ask about my involvement and I almost feel embarrassed in my attempt to explain what I do and why and how. Almost a year ago I joined Christy and Daniel, a Crisis counselor and a local youth pastor, as part of a team to teach abstinence in the public schools. It was Papa’s suggestion; I had to warm up to the idea. By summer I’d applied as a volunteer at the clinic and been scheduled to come in on Tuesday for training. My training consisted of a quick introduction to the phone system, scheduling and reception procedures. In the previous sentence, we’ll define quick as five minutes. And that was that. Before I knew it I was not only handling reception work, but also designing promo literature, doing some fundraising and assisting the administration. Then a Bible study client dropped in my lap when Christy went on bed rest for her baby at Christmas time. It was about that time that the Lord started bringing more volunteers in and Sherry suddenly realized I’d fallen through the cracks. I joined a group for initial and mentor training and then began training others for office work. Ordinarily, the ladies come in and shadow a mentor in the non-crisis counseling for several weeks and then launch out with Earn While You Learn on their own. I was familiar with the curriculum after making scores of copies, but I’d still never managed to shadow a session when Becky turned to Sherry at a prayer meeting and said, “I was going to schedule Abigail for some Earn While You Learn clients. Is that okay?” Sherry’s face was blank as she replied, “We’ll talk about that later.”

By this time I was also handling finances, after a quick training session with our secretary, Maggie, who started the clinic with Sherry seventeen years ago and is about to move to Idaho. In the previous sentence, quick is defined as half an hour.

The rest of the afternoon I worried, fretted and racked my mind to figure out what I was lacking, why Sherry wouldn’t be comfortable with me being a mentor. Before I left that night she caught me and I sensed an explanation was on the way. “As you know, several of the ladies are retiring and several are taking extended vacations. In February we’ll be down to one Crisis counselor. I need Crisis counselors. I’m working on a date for some training for you and a couple of the mentors so that we can hopefully get you ladies onto the pregnancy tests as soon as possible. I know that’s where your heart really is and since you’re so much younger, you’ll be able to relate well to many of our younger clients.” I probably didn't hear anything else she said. So that’s how I happened to skip the typical year or so of mentoring and waltzed through five weeks of intensive Crisis Peer Counseling training. I couldn’t believe how perfectly everything we were learning fit into what the Lord had been teaching me for the last year or two: the difference between goals and desires, learning to obey and leave the results to God, learning to gently confront and listening, truly listening to a person’s heart behind their words.

Tonight it all came together as I waded through my first sets of intake forms, pregnancy tests and Earn While You Learn applications. How ironic that, as the youngest Crisis counselor at Choices, supposedly especially able to relate to the younger clients, my first client should be a woman with a daughter my age. Sometimes irony can be the very finger of God.

During the past five weeks of training, while the seasoned counselors were gone in a dozen directions, we had very few calls. But as Sherry left for a trip to Georgia, she dashed me off an e-mail saying, “You have clients this week.” I'd have been nervously nauseated if I'd known what she really meant. Clients: I was booked solid. As were the rest of the new counselors. Now I feel intensely guilty for having booked the ladies with a client every hour. I walked dreamily from one appointment to the next, hardly able to clear my mind in between. From the lady who was forty-one, knew the Lord and was ecstatic about being pregnant to the young teen who thought there might be Someone “up there” but had never heard of Jesus and declared she was painfully shy (though she talked a million miles an hour to me) to the young lady who already had a little girl and was certain she was pregnant again, but who couldn’t contain her wonder as I led her through a pictoral description of the baby’s growth inside her womb, I loved every minute of every session.

They were all easy situations, I know, but I marvel at the wonder of it: walking into a small, dimly lit room with a woman I’ve never met before and loving her, for whatever crazy reason. Knowing that the Lord knows every detail of her life. Hearing the story of someone God created and desires to know Him fully even as He fully knows them. Seeing the nervous hands twiddling or the eyes that dare to look up and make eye-contact for the first time and watching the fear drain from her as she relaxes and opens up. What forever amazes me is the response to confrontation. “I see you were using condoms…did you know about the holes in condoms?” Her interest is peaked as she sees that I must be telling her the truth—since she’s pregnant. And the door is open for me to bring up another issue, “Did you know about some of the studies about living together?” No anger, rejection or scoffing. That’s what amazes me. Whether or not she’ll take to heart and put into practice my recommendations, she receives them as though they have value. An hour ago I was a complete stranger. Then I listened to her. Now she’s ready to listen to me. It’s the remarkable truths that Sherry told us: loving equals listening which equals respect and treating someone with respect earns their respect in return. That’s why I see in hundreds of exit forms that come through our filing system, “I was scared when I came here, but now I feel much better.”

Sometimes I wonder what in the world I am doing at Choices. Sometimes I wonder if it's the right thing. I don't always agree with every aspect of how the clinic is run. I doubt my abilities. Which is just fine, since any good is accomplished through the Lord. I doubt my wisdom. Which certainly needs to be doubted. I doubt my choices, my decisions, my convictions. In truth, I doubt everything but my salvation. The Lord mercifully squared me away on that one several years back through proving His complete responsibility for my salvation. And, in truth, it's through my salvation that I have any hope of accomplishing anything of worth--only because Jesus bought me at the price of His own blood and will continue to perfect me and work through me. That's the only thing of which I feel confidently certain. It's the only true wisdom I have to share with anyone.

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