About Me

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Douglas, Alaska, United States
I have lived in Alaska since 1978, having come to Juneau as a Jesuit Volunteer. I fell in love with Alaska and now live on Douglas Island with my husband and two dogs.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Dorothy , Teresa and Frank



From 2015 - 2017 I had the good fortune (and later, the misfortune) to work at a downtown agency that serves individuals who experience homelessness. 

During that time, I met many men and women who lived on the street. My favorite, who I came to love, was Frank.

Frank, when he was sober, was charming, funny and intelligent. When he was drunk, he was obstreperous, disagreeable and stubborn.

I had many dealings with Frank during the two years that I worked at the agency. My least favorite was the time he walked in drunk and threw up on me.

At any rate, suffice to say that on his worst days, Frank was difficult to like, never mind love. But despite the bad days, I did love him. I loved that he could have surprisingly eloquent discussions about his life (when he was sober). I loved that he once kissed my hand when I put it out to shake his. I loved that he told me that I made a difference in his life after he kissed that hand. I loved that, one time in Foodland, he dragged me over to the frozen food aisle to introduce me to his mother, who was visiting from Hoonah. I didn’t do much for him, except listen to him, greet him on the street and tell him I’d pray for him. Many times he’d stagger in drunk and demand to be seen without an appointment, and I’d have to ask him to leave. He stand there swaying and tell me: “You’re no better than they are”, (“They” being Bartlett Hospital, SEARHC, or the Glory Hole, or whoever he was currently fighting with that day).

I worried about Frank, especially two winters ago, when the temperatures were in the ‘10s and the winds were blowing 70 mph. The city had instituted a “no camping” ordinance, which meant that the street people could not seek shelter in doorways without being cited and moved along.

Several agencies and individuals begged the city not to adopt this ordinance, and when they did, begged them to set up a warming shelter, which they (eventually) did.

Frank’s was the face I saw when I testified at the City Assembly meetings. I was sure he would not survive that winter. But miraculously, he did.

An organization called Housing First built a housing development that shelters chronic inebriates. Frank finally got housing in one of the apartments there. A few months after he found housing, I ran into him and asked how he liked his new place. He said in a wondering tone: “I have a closet! I got my clothes out of storage and I have a place to put my stuff!” He was delighted. I was so happy for him. I still occasionally saw him on the street. Sometimes he was drunk, but even so, he looked much happier.

Frank died in his own bed, in his warm room, some time in the night of July 9.

He was 56 years old. Here’s a link to an article about his death. http://juneauempire.com/local/news/2018-07-10/man-dies-housing-first

At my desk at the clinic, I taped up pictures of Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, to remind me of why I worked there, and to remind myself that Frank, and all of the homeless folks we served, were Christ, in His most distressing disguise, and that offering a kind word even while being yelled at by an unruly drunk person was doing a small thing with great love.

If you would like to remember Frank, and honor his memory, please give a donation to the Juneau Community Foundation for Housing First. http://juneaucf.org/index.php/special-projects-juneau-housing-first/

Please pray for Frank, and for his family. 


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Lesson Learned

Image result for lesson learned tough stuff gif


I had an unfortunate email encounter this past week.  It all started with a face-to-face conversation over a week ago in which my feelings were hurt.  Then the other person said something via email that made me mad, and I responded via email and then the other person responded to my response and it escalated.

Now, I am not a person who backs down easily, especially if I think I am right.  When I am pushed, I shove.  However, in this instance, I shoved a bit too hard and ended up creating hard feelings on the other person's part.  They were all: "Fine!" and I was all: "Ha! I won!".  Then when I was aggreivedly relating my tale of woe to someone who is much younger and wiser then myself, I was told in no uncertain terms that I had probably hurt the feelings of the other person.  "But, they hurt MY feelings!" I retorted indignantly.  And then I stopped and thought.  And thought, and then I got a little weepy when I realized that I had probably made the other person feel as bad, or worse, than they had made me feel.

So I sent another email to the person and asked if they could meet me for coffee yesterday because I felt bad about they way things had played out, which we did, and we talked and when I told the person that my feelings were hurt by the original conversation, they told me that they didn't mean what I thought they meant and what they meant was something else entirely.  And they told me what their intentions were, which I had assumed were the opposite of what they were, and then I got a little more weepy, and we came to an agreement and now all is well (I hope).  I especially hope that all is well because it was a fairly public disagreement in which there were innocent bystanders that were hit by the shrapnel of my harsh judgments and not-so-righteous indignation, some of whom responded by saying that they loved us both and how heartbreaking the whole thing was.

So, the lesson here is this: Even if you think your point of view is the correct one, that doesn't give you the right to be uncharitable.  And always assume good will on the other person's part, even if they appear to be demonstrating bad will, selfishness, etc.  And, stop for at least 48 hours and think about the effect your words are going to have one another person, a relationship, or a community.  And for the love of God and all that is holy, don't enter in to a debate via email, where it is impossible to interpret tone and intention.

In other words, don't be a jerk.

Lesson learned.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A New Beginning

Tomorrow will be my last day at the Front Street Clinic. I have worked there since June 1, 2015.

My time there has been rewarding, frustrating, chaotic, and incredibly fulfilling. Up until January, when a new supervisor  started there. Our styles of communication were different. I need to have things spelled out and explained, she thought she could just give an order and have it obeyed without question. I prefer to discuss and collaborate, she thought I was difficult to work with, argumentative and rude. When she started, she changed the way we did things, which meant I had a very steep learning curve, and it took me awhile to get the hang of the new procedures. She thought I was being deliberately resistant to change.

Never once did she ask what I thought, or praise me or give me constructive criticism.

It all came to a head two weeks ago today, when I was called on the carpet and, with HR on the phone, was given a thirteen (THIRTEEN!) point Plan Of Improvement, to be implemented within 30 days, or face Further Disciplinary Action, up to and including termination.  I was not given an opportunity to respond at the meeting, but was told I could respond in writing. So, I went home that evening and responded (boy, did I!)

The next day, I had lunch with Charles and told him I didn't think I could take thirty days of "Improvement", being watched like a hawk for a month, only to be given a new list at the end of it. I told him I wanted to quit, but felt I needed to find a new job first. He said: "You don't have to stay there for a minute longer." So, after lunch, I went back to the office and submitted my resignation, effective tomorrow, August 9.

I immediately felt a great weight lift off of my shoulders and knew that I had done the right thing.  I am sad to leave the patients and the folks who experience homelessness who come to the clinic for socks and hygiene items.  I have come to love and respect many of the men and women who I have had the privilege to serve at the clinic.

So, this is a new beginning, a new chapter in the Book of Paula.

Those of you who know me personally might be outraged at what happened to me. But instead of being outraged or angry on my behalf, I'm asking you to consider making a donation to the clinic. They will still need socks, reading glasses, toothbrushes, and travel size shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and soap to give to the folks. If you are in Juneau, consider stopping by to drop off a package of Costco socks, or if you travel for work, save the shampoo, conditioner and soap and give them to the clinic.

That would be the best way to show your concern and support.




Saturday, June 17, 2017

Spiritual Warfare

I had a breakthrough the other day in our counseling session (yes, Charles and I go to counseling to get relationship "tuneups" when we need them).

My particular problem stems from being sexually abused as a child, which has affected our relationship.  So, we decided that we needed to get some advice, which has really helped a lot.

I sometimes wonder if I would have been diagnosed with anxiety and depression if I hadn't been abused, because there is definitely a family tendency, but that brings up the whole nature/nurture question.  I think the answer is that I have these illnesses both because of my DNA and because of the trauma that I experienced.

So, while we talked to our counselor, I realized that when I have intrusive thoughts or flashbacks to the abuse, I basically tell myself: "STOP!".  I have the ability to either distract myself with mindfulness techniques or to be overcome and powerless.  I have noticed that I am becoming better at putting the thoughts and flashbacks aside.

I told our counselor that it is kind of like holding up a mental crucifix and telling the demons to begone.  She was fascinated by this idea and we discussed spiritual warfare, and the saints who have been assailed both spiritually and physically by the devil.  We talked about how, when holy men and women were especially holy, the devil gave them even more trials to endure.  She said that as I am becoming stronger, the flashbacks and thoughts are becoming more intrusive and that my power to overcome them is increasing.  She had no doubt that soon, my fear, self doubt, anxiety and depression will decrease, as my power to resist them increases.

St. Therese, St. Bernadette, St. Anthony of the Desert, and more recently, St. Teresa of Calcutta all waged spiritual warfare.  I don't put myself in their company by any stretch of the imagination, but I know that the evil one thrives on depression and anxiety, and on all the physical and spiritual ills that afflict us.  Every time an individual suffers experiences despair and hopelessness, every time someone is hurting and fearful, the forces of evil rejoice.

So, I say: "Begone, Satan!"  Nothing so dramatic as demons being driven into a herd of pigs who fling themselves over a cliff, or a scene from "The Exorcist", but just a daily reminder to stay strong, and to be mindful of the grace of God and His power to overcome all evil.

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!




Monday, May 22, 2017

God Gave Noah The Rainbow Sign: No More Water, But The Fire Next Time







"I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.






When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and every living creature- every mortal being - that the waters shall never again be a flood to destroy every living creature- every mortal being that is on earth.


God told Noah: this is the sign of the covenant  I have established between me and every mortal being that is on earth."  Genesis 9:12-17



Thursday, May 4, 2017

May the Fourth Be With You (and with your Spirit)


UNISEX CUT

So this morning, I decided that I should wear my formline light saber t-shirt from Trickster Company, since it is Star Wars Day (May the Fourth be with you).

I mentioned to Charles that I was wearing this t-shirt especially for today, and he asked: "Why today?"

I explained that May 4 is Star Wars Day, and he replied that when he thinks of May 4, he is reminded of the May 4 student uprising in China in 1919.

That's what I get for marrying a guy who did undergraduate work in modern Asian history.

Hands off, girls.  He's all mine.





Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Fire




Yesterday, when Charles and I stopped at the store to pick up dinner supplies, we passed a young boy, about 11 or 12 years old, and his mom asking for donations for AquaLaps, the annual fundraiser for the Glacier Swim Club. Charles asked him what strokes he does and he replied that he does all of them. "Including butterfly?" Charles asked, and he replied "Yes, sir". Then he talked about how he loved to swim.  He was so polite and eager, and his mom was so obviously proud and supportive of him. As we left the store, I said: "Good luck!" and Charles said: "See you at the Olympics!"

When we drove over the bridge we pulled over as a Douglas Fire Department truck came speeding by at full speed, siren blaring and lights flashing.

When we got home, we found out that the playground at Twin Lakes was engulfed in flames, and when we woke up this morning we found out that two thirteen year old boys had been arrested for arson.

Who knows what the lives of those boys has been like? Has abuse and neglect played a part in this episode? Is bad parenting/modeling/lack of attention or support what made them act out and destroy a local treasure? Or were they just goofing around and made a big mistake? 

I have a friend who, as a boy, while playing along with his twin brother in his parents' barn that also housed his father's workshop, managed to burn the barn to the ground. He got in a lot of trouble, and probably was punished in some fashion.  Of course, the barn wasn't worth millions of dollars and it didn't break the town's heart when it was destroyed.  Coincidentally, this friend grew up to be a bishop.

I have read a lot of comments about the boys who started the Twin Lakes fire, calling for them to be hanged, demanding that their names be published, demanding that their parents be identified and forced to pay for the damage.

The boys are lodged at the local juvenile detention facility, where they will await trial. 

My hope for them is that they will be given the help they need to grow up to be good citizens, that their punishment will not make their lives worse, but better, that the anger and hurt our town is feeling will not fester and turn to hate and revenge and vigilante justice.

I pray for their families, for their parents and aunts and uncles and siblings and cousins, because this is a small town, and word will eventually get out, and when it does, hopefully they will not be shunned and despised but comforted and supported.

I pray for the grieving children of our town who just lost a beautiful place to play, especially with summer just around the corner.

I pray for all of us, all of us, who have experienced on a tiny scale what people in other countries experience every day: horror, fire, destruction, suspicion, fear, violence and hatred.

What is is that can make a boy like the young swimmer so obviously successful, and can make these other, slightly older boys arsonists? Is it the presence or absence of a supportive, proud parent? Was it a bid for attention, a cry for help or just a bonehead mistake that will change their lives forever?

I wish that we could have a do over. 

I wish. I hope. I pray.