In conversation with staff, volunteers, and residents at Shepherd’s House Ministries I heard a common theme: Self Evaluations are key. They are foundational in the healing that is seen among the residents and even among the staff.
So What are Self Evaluations?
As part of the six phase program, residents of the Men’s Center and the Women and Children’s Center take part in Self Evaluations every morning together as a group. A few residents are scheduled to evaluate and share about a recent decision they have made or issue they are facing, and then the floor is open for others to ask questions and provide support.
By carefully nurturing an atmosphere of safety, compassion and respect, Shepherd’s House Ministries staff and residents are safe to take off the masks that so often cover the underlying pain from the struggles they are facing in life. These pains are a major factor in the destructive behaviors that individuals develop throughout life when they have no community to turn to.
By reaching beneath the surface, and challenging each other to be honest and transparent, residents build a tight community bond. In this setting, with the guidance of trained staff, the heart of issues are addressed - with grace and understanding. And that is what makes Shepherd’s House Ministries more than a homeless shelter.
An Outsider’s Experience
I sat among a group of about 25 men. I fidgeted - very aware of my outsider presence, until I was introduced by a staff member which was followed by a warm and loud welcome applause.
A young man walked to the front holding a piece of paper. New to the program, his evaluation was guided by a set of questions that he read aloud to us, rushing through his answers with nervousness.
He answered the last question, and stood quietly. Around me multiple hands went into the air.
With compassion, other residents asked hard questions - pushing deeper, asking him to become vulnerable. Somewhat guarded, he shared more of his story, and the other men soaked up his words with understanding.
Growing up in a homeless family, constantly moving, parents divorcing while he was young, and a history of vandalism and struggling with drugs, his journey did not sound unique.
Until there were questions like this:
“What new habits do you want to have?” and “What do you do when you feel anxious?”
His expression changed as he talked about the things that made him feel free.
“I’ve always been athletic” he smiles, and lists all the sports he enjoys playing. “I’ve picked up jogging here, because it is harder to find a group to play basketball.”
He also shared his love for reading. He is enjoying the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van Der Kolk, M.D. which explains how trauma dramatically effects the physical body. He explains to the group how the breathing exercises have been a huge help as he adjusts to slowing down.
He wants to become a better writer, and is excited that he recently got his fishing license.
I sat and absorbed the intimate safety that the room held - amazed by the genuine caring in each voice.
The meeting continued: tearful testimonies, a resident-lead prayer in the midst of a breakdown, laughter spread easily, and gratefulness spilled over.
I could see that the process of discovering one’s self apart from addiction and unhealthy routines was taking place. The separation from the lies of unworthiness and shame, and finding the truth of self acceptance and love - it was happening subtly among this group of men.
Real People, Authentic Community
It occurred to me that these people are so much more than the pain they have experienced and the decisions they have made. I came to realize that these men have so much to bring to the table - so much more than I expected at first glance. With dreams, opinions, skills, and most definitely a sense of humor.
I found my barrier dropping, and the fear of being caught with pity in my expression melted away. These are real people, just like me. I felt myself resonate with the struggles of anxiety and loneliness. I understood the need to get outside and be active to manage stress. I have my own baggage with family and relationships. The difference is that I have had people who continued to show up for me and remind me of who I was, despite the hurting or, at times, ugly behaviors.
So that is what Shepherd’s House Ministries has done. They have built this authentic community where these amazing men and women can depend on their peers and mentors. They have someone to turn to. They have someone who understands and looks past their masks. They have people who remind them of who they are. They have others who depend on them and expect honesty and accountability.
Self-Evaluations aid in the process of slowing down and thinking carefully about the decisions that we make, in order to learn about what lies beneath our behaviors. It is about sharing your heart and realizing that you are loved and cared for. Over time it becomes a life pattern, and is foundational in creating lasting life change.