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Lessons From Mary

About 25 years ago I met Mary who was looking for a place to work.  When Mary requested work, she came with a very long history…not a good history either.  When I met Mary, I was apprehensive because of everything that I had read and been trained on.  I remember when I met her that she had a smile and laugh that was infectious, yet it also became apparent that she did not let that smile or laugh out around just anyone.  I wondered immediately what had brought her to be so guarded.

Over the next few months, I realized Mary did her best to get people to not want to work with her, yet there was something perplexing about the way she went about it.  It seemed that it was some sort of test or her way of evaluating if you were going to hang in there.  Several more months went by and I found myself responding more and more to situations related to Mary at work.  Because I found myself responding, it gave Mary and me a lot of time together and I began to build a better relationship with her.  I began taking Mary to grab a Coke or lunch/dinner from time to time.  We talked, joked around and had fun together which strengthened our relationship.  I won’t sugar coat it though, there were times when the tough conversations needed to occur.  These conversations often led to her stating that she wanted me fired or that she did not want to have anything to do with me.  I did not take it personal and I always made it a point to come back without rehashing the past, yet continuing to be willing to have some of the tough conversations that were needed.  Over time our relationship deepened, leading to enough trust with the Team that Mary could go with me into a county that she had been banned from due to legal issues.  Mary began going on major holidays with me and my family , which I truly feel like was an enormous thing for Mary.  She grew to understand that she had an extended family that cared about her and that she could look forward to celebrating with on holidays.  The next milestone happened over a three year period, thanks to my stubbornness and lack of truly listening.  Mary approached me several times over a three year period asking to be adopted by me, essentially change her last name to my last name.  I kept either dismissing what she said or told her that I am not sure we could do that each time.  On the third year, Mary asked if she could talk to me at lunch and I said yes.  She said, “I really really need to talk to you.”  I went to lunch with Mary and she said, “Momma, I really need for you to listen to me.  I want to change my name to your name, I don’t know anyone who has my name and you are my family.”  I finally had my “ah ha” moment and understood exactly how much it meant to her.  I said, “We will get with your team and see what we need to go through to make it happen. “  Mary’s team told her she would have to save up $250 to pay for the paperwork for the name change and attorney fee.  Mary had never saved up more than $20 at a time so I think everyone thought it would stall there.  Well in fact, Mary saved that money up faster than she ever had and we were soon on the court docket to go before a judge.  Several Team members, Earl, Mary and I went to the courthouse and some testified in front of a judge regarding why this name change was important.  Mary spoke freely to him about not knowing anyone with her last name and that I was her family.  Once he signed the paperwork, we went across the street and celebrated at the Bios office.  This was life changing for all of us and Mary now knew we were definitely the family that she was tied to forever.

Now here we are in March of 2019 and if you want to know where the journey has landed us, well here you go!  Mary spends one night a month with family, plus major holidays.  She is helping welcome new employees in orientation at Bios and talking about her story when she can.  Mary also trains some new employees in her program to ensure they get started off right.  She  enjoys getting to know a lot of new employees, even if they won’t be working with her all of the time.  For me, one of the highlights has been seeing Mary come full circle so to speak.  She was invited by Oklahoma People First to attend a rally in Texas and tell her story to advocate for Texas to shut down institutions.  Seeing Mary on the steps of the Texas Capitol in Austin speaking in front of a group sent a flood of memories through me.  So many small steps, so many times people had doubts about what Mary could do and so many times we were both at a frustrating place of working through something tough.  Words simply are not enough to describe how awesome it was seeing her on those steps, in front of all of those people,  having come so far that she is now helping so many others.  I must admit I had to regroup as the tears were streaming down my face.  When she came down those steps, Earl and I hugged her and told her how proud we were of her and what she did to help other people by speaking.  A lot of things and people have made a difference in Mary’s life, however, the biggest thing you need to know about Mary is how much she changed our lives for the better by choosing us to be her family.

Ralph Waldo Emerson — ‘It is one of the beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.’


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