Dear Caring Ones: Happy Social Work Month

It’s the first day of March which means Social Work Month 2017 has kicked off. If you are a social worker, thank you for all you are and all you do. Thank you for being part of a profession that has and will continue to spark positive change on micro and macro levels. If you know a social worker, now would be a perfect opportunity to show your gratitude and support for the work they do…work that is often minimilized and misunderstood.

I’ll never forget my excitement when I first learned about the field of Social Work. The mission, core values & principles, and ethics are everything I would design had I been able to build a profession from the ground up. As I began pursuing my BSW, my excitement grew, and by the time I completed my MSW, I was a full-blown passionate social worker! How awesome that I could do what I love and love what I do!! Between internships, completing my BSW & MSW, and the first stent of my career, I spent about 10 years in the public child welfare field. Some may call it ironic that I ultimately had to leave my professional calling of serving children and families in 2014, in order to SAVE my own. I call it God.

My last gig in the public child welfare world was in Arlington County. It was this season 6 years ago that I came back to my desk and found a portion of a beautiful letter written by Dr. Jaiya John. It was a particularly intense and emotional time in the life of the girls’ case. We had recently broken the news to all three girls that Chelsea and Savanna were not coming home to us from their residential placements. I had stepped away from my desk to take a call from Amy, the girls’ attorney, and now, dear friend. She was calling to give me a legal update and talk about how everyone was doing. I remember everything about that phone call, including where I was standing, what I was wearing, and all the thoughts and feelings that came rushing up from deep within.  Up until that point, I had done a pretty darn good job of maintaining my composure (all things considered). That day, though, it was as if the flood gates had been opened. I was feeling abandoned, betrayed, horrified, guilty, ashamed, outraged, and very broken, yet miraculously beautiful.

Although in many ways we were surrendering and some even went so far as to describe us as “giving up”, I was still hopeful, committed, determined, and had a firm grip on my faith. A faith that promised me that our family of 5 would, one day, rise from the ashes. That together, we would pursue and experience healing and restoration beyond our wildest imaginations. That no matter what and no matter where, this Phoenix Family would find ourselves BURNING BRIGHTLE…

After hanging up with Amy, I had to leave work because I had officially reached EMPTY for the day. So, I quickly and quietly went to my desk to grab my things and pack up. This is when I found a portion of the letter below face down on my chair. I snuck out of the office and read it as soon as I got to my car. Oh, the wisdom, comfort, and strength that overcame me as I read Jaiya’s words was God-sent. Although I later learned that the print out was from one of my colleagues in honor of Social Work Month, I truly believed it was my confirmation that I was doing the right thing for and by my girls.

Since that afternoon in 2011, this letter has evolved into a very deeply personal message.  Initially one that I would share with a select few every so often.  Over the past couple of years, though, I am feeling moved to share it over and over again…

I love full-circle moments and this Social Work Month is one of them for me as I re-embark on my professional journey. Although I wouldn’t trade being home with the girls and all of the healing and growth that has taken place, being out of the field has left me with a significant void. I am so excited to get back on the frontlines, while being able to work for an agency and in a position that values home and work life balance!

While the letter below  was written from the perspective of a child, I believe the powerful metaphoric message applies to all social workers: case managers, clinicians, supervisors, program administrators, managers, community organizers, and policy makers. As well as the populations they serve and empower.  Now, more than ever, our children, families, communities, organizations, democracy, and public policies need each of us to do what our profession does best.

If you are feeling beat down and worn out from all that has gone on these past few months, I hope Jaiya’s letter binds up your wounds, infiltrates your fatigue, and nourishes your mind, body, and soul. Because we need you now more than ever, Dear Caring One.

Dear One Who Cares Enough to Serve My Life:

I am a child for now. One day I will be the cascading consequence of your touch. Last night in my room, I found myself releasing a watershed’s gathering of tears. I fell asleep as a river. When I woke I realized what that river was: a flow of gratitude. For you.

Dear Caring One . . . If ever you find yourself as a river filled with too much . . . just too much . . . I hope you will take out my words, and swallow them into your heart, so you will know that who you are is always Greater than what sometimes feels like just too much. I want you to know I am a river that passed once by you, and when I arrived, you did not turn away. You did not turn away.

The first time you sat with me, you chose to look from your soul into mine. I could see you seeing me. I could feel you feeling me. In that moment I had found an island on which to rest my weariness in this wide and unforgiving sea. You let me glimpse just a little evidence of your own life struggles in the honest quiver of your face. In spirit I felt you take my hand and join me in this deserted place they call The Young Who Is in NeedI wonder when they will realize that when my heart is cut it is the entire human soul that bleeds.

You told me secret stories of your scars, and fears, and doubts, and how your own tender blossom was violated before you ever released your bloom. You watched over me with Love, even as society watched over you, suspicious of us both. Each time they wanted to brand me with stigmatic lies and cast me to the dungeon of social banishment, your voice cried out: This life will not be left to scavengers. Its sun will surely shine!

I began to know what hope feels like, as you showed me how your life’s fate was hitched to mine. Over and over in panic I drew my weapon of distrust against your advances. Instead of gunning me down in return by giving up on me, you smiled and said: Holster your fear, and come inside the shelter of your possibilities. I did. You stood at the door, on guard while I lay down to catch a rare and needed sleep.

When I woke, you were there, with bowls full of fresh hot faith in me, and lightness and laughter poured in cups of tea. You ate with me. Which is to say: You wrapped your human soul around my human struggle and let me feel your heat. You were going to care enough for me to do whatever it took. I know that look. I’ve seen it in the eyes of parents well enough to protect their young, and halt the world at the line of indiscretion against their offspring.

I keep springing off from earth on forays of fantasy, looking for an escape from my reality. You keep risking merciless outer space, with no fancy ship or special suit, to bring me back to the planet of my destiny. You help me to see that what I thought was my reality is my illusion, and that I can arrange the stones of my circumstance into a staircase ascending into the life I dream.

Do you know how great you are? You stand your ground every time I scream. I walk heavy . . . you lift me up in laughter. When laws and rules say: No, we can’t do that to help that one, you crush that No under your heel and by will of force give No no choice but to turn into a Yes. You change laws and rules by the power of your devotion. You change this world. For caring is revolution’s greatest sword and you wield that gleaming power. You are the sixty strokes of endurance that help pass my fateful hour.

When I fear sunset, you lift the disbelieving sun for just a while longer. When I falter, you alter my course with kind correction and firm resolve. When I thirst, you pour more water. In my darkness, here comes your candlelight. You teach me by the way you touch me how to kindly touch our humankind.

I carry a porous bag leaking my relationships. You walk behind with your brave basin catching all the drops. I have never heard you slur my mom or curse my pops. I have never sensed you insinuate that I come from bad people, or that good people will save my life. Your lesson is always about the goodness inside what looks like badness, and that I, like the earth, and being of the earth, carry all that I need to heal myself, reveal myself, kneel myself down before my Greatness and let life’s cleansing breath carry all my woundedness away.

On this day, Dear Caring One, I hope my words infiltrate your fatigue. That my words live inside you, a Love virus you can never eradicate. This world and its values cannot measure you. Only the lives you touch can do that. Cruelness and coldness can never create new life. Only your Light can do that. The Peace you so deserve is pronounced compassion. This Peace sits waiting in old oak barrels only your Love can tap.

Dear Caring One, lift my words to your lips and drink this truth into your heart: You are the Greatest Gift this young life has ever known. If I am royalty, your service is my throne.

In Gratitude Forever,
A child for now . . . one day the full grown life your Loving honed.

Copyright © 2011 Jaiya John


About Kristin Phoenix

daughter turned teacher turned social worker turned wife turned foster parent turned mom When people who don’t know our family story find out that we fostered and adopted the girls, we generally get one of two reactions…”I would have never known. They look just like you!” or “Oh, how beautiful.” Both of these things are 100% true – on the surface. The picture perfect, shiny, pretty surface. But, just below the surface is a whole lot of mess and brokenness. Our girls endured things that I never even read about in my textbooks. Our family endured things that go completely against the 3 philosophies of safety, permanency, and well-being that the child welfare system is in place to protect. When we have the chance to share a little bit more, the response always goes something like “but…how?!…and why?!” I believe in dreaming big. Part of my dream is a child welfare and healthcare system that would have prevented unnecessary trauma for my girls, my family, and our community. The other part is one of redemption and recovery for everyone involved in our story – which is everyone. I now believe part of why our family endured what we did is so that people would hear our story and ask the hard questions of how and why. With sexual abuse, trauma, foster care, and adoption, we never truly know until we find ourselves in a position of not knowing. Because of the nature of our case, I often found myself in a position of not being able to really answer the hows and whys. I reached a point where staying silent was the only option. Now that our adoptions are finalized, it is time for me to break the silence. This blog is me daring to run after my dreams – even when I find myself out of breath (which is mostly every. single. day.) It is stories of how the collective we have lived up to the Phoenix name and are rising from the ashes to burn bright! I also currently write and edit for Social Justice Solutions
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