I just got a text message from “Mint”, 19. She is at a Christmas outreach that a group from The Well is doing for women that work the street in another neighborhood. Mint wanted me to know that she is happy as a clam.
Mint is on her second round at The Well. She spent several months when she was 17, left for nearly a year, then decided to come back, saying she really wanted to change.
For most of the year, Mint was rarely happy. When I learned her story, that included some abandonment and rough street stuff I won’t share here, I was not at all surprised. She generally wore a blank expression that could either look sad or hard. I often ask women if they’re happy and if so, how much. Most days Mint reported either none, or just a little.
What I’ve learned to look for, and usually do find in these cases, is a gentle, tender heart dying to connect, but bound up in years of self-protection. Sadly, of course, to the untrained eye it’s a wall, which causes an impasse as others throw up their own defenses. “What’s something you would like other people to understand about you?” I asked Mint one day. She looked at me intently. “I want them to know that when I look like this it’s not because I’m proud.”
I thoroughly enjoy working with teens and young adults like this, because I know it’s simply a matter or persistence and waiting. So when Mint would try to ignore my attempts at friendliness, or sometimes give her best icy look, I just kept going. “Do you believe I love you?” I finally asked. “No,” she shot back, before allowing a faint smile.
Mint’s shell has been clearly cracking, but in no way because I made anything happen. When we make people feel safe, they are able to respond to God’s touch. The sanctuary that is The Well community allowed Mint’s tender heart to peak out, and her excitement today shows it.
“Why are you happy?” I texted her back.
“Because I see smiles.”
“You’re smiling back, right?”
“Oh yes. I’m smiling without having to make myself. I’m smiling like I’m truly happy.”