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Comfort in a Sweater

As I sat and listened to the news I had been dreading, I was aware of the softness of the cozy sweater…

Two and a half years ago I had the honor of speaking at “Coffee Talk”, a women’s gathering for Cornerstone Church in San Francisco. I shared from my momma heart about the trauma and tragedy that punctuates the lives of so many precious young people we serve. I spoke about how hard it is to get into the lifeboat when you are in the deep sea unable to touch bottom, treading water for as long as you can remember and fighting the strong tow pulling you under. This visual of everyday life for so many is tragic and overwhelming.

Two days later I was in my office working on a grant proposal when I heard a loud commotion at the front door. I heard a woman shout, “I was at Coffee Talk on Saturday and I want to talk to Dawn!” My first thought was to shut my door and hide. What in the world did I say that would prompt this?

That’s how Karen came into our lives. Karen and her daughter have become part of the Sunset Youth Services family. She often shows up with children’s books for our little library or second hand items she saw somewhere and “knew so and so would love.” She has created beautiful flower arrangements for the center, our gala and weddings of center families. She sees a need and works to fill it if she can.

Part of the magic of SYS is there is no line between service providers and clients. This has often confused other organizations and Social Workers, but to us, it feels the most authentic in terms of supporting and helping find stable footing for vulnerable people. Having no line also creates opportunities for everyone to bring what they have to the table to share with others. The goal is to build on each one’s strengths and not have anyone feel like they have nothing to offer.

I didn’t grow up with a sister, in fact, I only had one sibling and he was definitely not like a sister. I saw friends with sisters sharing clothes, fighting over hot rollers and having that one person you tell your secrets to, who completely understands. This was always intriguing to me.

Twice each year I teach Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) for parents of teens. It is a twelve-week parenting intensive intervention. I started one in January and Karen is taking it, for the third time. We often say that the value of being in the room with other parents of teens to remind one another of the positive strategies should be an ongoing experience. One week when Karen came in to class I hugged her and commented on the soft, amazingness of her sweater. We talked about how comforting clothing can be when days are hard and emotional. She told me she got it secondhand, that it was in fact cashmere and that one day she’d let me borrow it. I didn’t think much of it after that.

A few weeks later Karen came into class and pulled the sweater from her bag. She handed it to me and said, “it’s freshly washed and you can have it for awhile.” I can honestly say I was surprised and caught completely off guard. What do I do? Do I offer something in return? Do I politely refuse the offer? I said, “Thank you.”

At the time I had no real idea what that sweater was really going to mean to me. The next week I wore it. When I put it on I thought about Karen. I thought of her life, her family, her struggles, her hard work toward becoming a healed and whole person. I felt connected to her in a new way that day. I was aware of the cozy sweater all day. A couple of people hugged me and commented on how soft the sweater was. When I told them the story everyone had the same reaction, a sense of wonder and awe at the small act of loaning something to someone else for comfort for a time. What is that? Why is it so powerful?

In this society where we are expected to get things, have stuff and look out for ourselves, why is this second-hand sweater the article of clothing I want to wear? The soft, cozy fabric plays a role, the comfy fit – not too big, not too small is also a factor, but most central to me is the message of the sweater – I have a sister in the struggle. We are born with an innate need to belong, to be attached, we are not created for isolation. Each week the message being given over and over at Sunset Youth Services to young people and families is “You are not alone in the struggle.” Why would I be surprised at the power that message has for me? But I was.

Last week was a particularly difficult and emotionally draining week for us at Sunset Youth Services. One day Maria left my office crying over one of our young mommies who is struggling and she was immediately hugged by four teens. The teens that we spend our days loving and patching back together–yes, those teens. When they saw her tearful face they dropped what they were doing and ran to Maria’s aid. Cozy, comfort in the time of need.

So, I purposely chose that olive green cashmere sweater to wear to the doctor with my mom. Knowing we might be hearing things we didn’t want to hear and needing the extra comfort of it touching my arm and knowing I’m not alone.

How many of us could use a soft sweater in our day? The thoughtful act of taking something you love, washing it and loaning it to a friend is a beautiful message of love. Years ago Ron said someday he’d like to write a book entitled, “The Things I Learned From The People I Serve.” I am constantly learning and this truth has become most evident – sometimes we get to give the sweater and sometimes we need to receive the sweater and say, “Thank you.”

Thank you Karen for the simple act of love and grace you showed me by wrapping me in a cozy sweater–and I know it’s just a loan!




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