19
Apr
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

How does someone embrace life when a ghost lurks within, pointing out the history of failure and disappointments. How does someone who gets a glimpse of life’s potential overcome an active inner monster, trampling over the ruins of broken relationships? A man who has lived on the street for years has recently been housed and we had a conversation this morning. Although he was pleased to be housed and recognised what a significant step he’d taken, he told me that his anxiety was off the scale. It took a while for me to understand what caused the anxiety in what should have been a happy step forward. Slowly it became obvious that the addition of a roof over his head meant the loss of his community. This change seemed to occur just the right time when he’s had some success of not using drugs. He found himself longing for the community of the street, while at the same time dreading the community that normalises drug use. His need for companionship and social support seemed to invite the circumstances where he would lapse again into drug use. “Your greatest weapon” I told him, “is to call things by their real name. Anyone who is willing to see your life collapse on a fast track towards your death, is not a "friend". We talked for a while about what a friend is and is not. He expressed gratitude for all the support he’d found at Wayside and I was comforted to know he has people here who care for him.

Staff and volunteers often tell me of encounters with people that make our spirits soar. One story this week was of a man who had only just nursed his wife to her death. She was a Wayside supporter and on her deathbed, she told her husband that she wanted him to buy some blankets so that the winter would be a bit easier for the people we support. The dear man duly presented himself to our front desk this week, blankets in his arms and tears in his eyes.

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12
Apr
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

Friends, volunteers and staff sometimes bring people to my office because, “they need to talk to Graham.” Some awkward meetings have taken place at times when it has become clear that the meeting was less than a voluntary act. This week as I walked into my office I found a young woman, who looked as surprised to meet me as I was to meet her. This professional young woman was crying, unable to make eye contact and probably wishing she was anywhere but my office. It’s weird to encounter someone resisting what isn’t asserted. She didn’t have much to say except, “I don’t know who I am anymore”. With eyes that darted around the room, to the floor, then around the room again, she told me that she’d recently lost her job and a partner. A relationship that had begun with all the intensity of a wild movie had dissipated to a point where the young woman felt invisible in her own home. “Why do people forget to love?” was a question that almost vomited up from the depths of her soul. Eventually we looked at each other. What a face! What a mystery, that this face had been entrusted to another who had stopped looking or perhaps more correctly, stopped seeing. I didn’t fix anything, nor did I claim to know how to. The woman cried and talked a lot and I expect that really eased her burden. However when our faces met, I knew we were truly present to one another. She was not an interesting case for me nor was she a problem to be solved. She was herself, awesome, and beside me. I doubt that we’ll meet again but I will never forget her name and I simply appreciated the gift of her presence. I know she left my room a different woman because when she left, I was a different man. We were gloriously useless to each other and yet each added something priceless.

One of our more famous street dwellers stood up from her bed when she saw me walking past yesterday, she embraced me in a moment of tender silence. I said, “You are a good...[read more]
05
Apr
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

Unreserved joy and support has flooded in all directions since we announced that Pastor Jon Owen would be my successor as CEO and Pastor of the Wayside Chapel. Months ago I had a conversation with David Gonski who is often referred to as, “The Chairman of Everything”. He asked me who my successor might be and at that point, I had no indicator about where our Board’s exhaustive process might terminate. He said, “Don’t appoint a manager. Appoint someone who is inspirational.” I indicated that his response surprised me, as he knew how large Wayside had become. He followed up by saying, “You can teach an inspirational person to manage, or you can hire the right skills to help them, but you can’t teach a manager to be inspirational.” My spirit soars because our Board chose an inspirational person to lead Wayside into the future.

Thank you for the hundreds of messages of thanks and congratulations. It is such an honour to be stopped on the street by so many who just want to wish me well. The only compliment that’s hard to hear is something like, “Well, you really built an empire.” I have no defence to this statement as clearly we’ve grown dramatically, but we’ve only grown because in this age where some people are busy building walls, our mission of creating a community with no “us and them”, captures people and speaks to a deep longing for a better world. If I leave behind executives or managers who are set on growing their empires, I’ll nurse a sense of deep regret, for we who have been captured by the awesome become the greatest of all human contradictions when we think we have a franchise.

Keep reading here.
29
Mar
2018
Dear Inner Circle,

Engaged in discussion with a young fellow this week, the world shattered. We’d met a few times and he’d shared at depth his history of abuse at the hands of his father. Until now, his discussions only referenced his mother as a glowing, almost saintly hero. This week, while describing the circumstances of his background, he told a couple of stories that stunned me, but registered no emotion in the telling. His mother had clearly abused him in ways so unthinkable that I dare not tell of them here. All I said in response was, “Gosh! I thought your father was the monster!” and his whole world shattered. Tears and wailing were all he could manage. It seems that in order to distance himself from his father, he’d constructed a saint-like mother. As soon as he saw his mother as an abuser, or less than heroic, he could not bear to look anymore. I felt like I’d made him an orphan with just one short statement. At that point, I believe I saw a chick breaking out of an egg. It was awkward, it was painful, it was bursting out of relative comfort into a fearful yet promising, unknown.

As a much older man spoke to me this week, we marvelled together at the lengths to which he has spent his life seeking the approval of his family. The approval never seemed to be delivered, even though it was often promised. This man is no “spring chicken” and yet he has spent most of his money and ordered much of his life in an effort to achieve his longed-for approval. He was with me this week because he’d just copped some dreadful verbal abuse from his parents and some close relatives, even though he’d just emptied his bank account for them. He felt like a donkey chasing a carrot on a stick, that moved further away with every step he took. When he stopped walking in moment of exhaustion, the family seemed to bring the carrot closer. The words they used on him were vicious this week. They suggested that they’d be better off if their son was dead –...[read more]
29
Mar
2018
Dear Inner Circle,

A young bloke from Melbourne arrived at my office fifteen years ago, asking if I could show him around the toughest places in Sydney. He made it clear that he wanted to settle in the place where he found the most need. His plan was to bring his wife and two little kids to Sydney and simply improve the lives of people by building community. He was determined to live on the same amount of money as someone who relied upon the dole to exist. On the one hand, I was inspired by this fellow and on the other, I wondered if he wasn’t a bit crazy. He was a qualified social worker and his wife had a PhD in pharmacology. They could have made lots of life choices that would be fulfilling and more comfortable.

In a previous life, I’d spent most of my time in Mount Druitt, Penrith, Blacktown and parts of Campbelltown. I showed him streets where most windows were broken, every fence was tagged and where domestic violence was often heard from the footpath. I showed him the worst and I think my motive was to talk him out of his silly project. The next time I saw him he was back with his wife and I conducted a similar tour for them both. I repeatedly tried to make the point that to choose to live in any of these streets would demand a high cost, especially on their young kids. My warnings seemed to encourage them which left me feeling wise, much older and not nearly as brave.

Keep reading here.
15
Mar
2018
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 Dear Inner Circle,




A couple in their late seventies, who had been together for fifty years, presented here about a month ago to sign up to get married. They were both quietly spoken and it was difficult to discover why they had decided to make their marriage a legal arrangement at this late stage of their lives. They didn’t need to offer an explanation to us for their action and we were happy to do all we could to make this a beautiful wedding. They arrived yesterday and our Op Shop found something lovely for the bride to wear. Some of our marketing people nipped out to the local florist and returned with a beautiful bouquet of flowers for the bride. Pastor Jon conducted this wedding on our rooftop garden. The bride walked down the aisle with a beautiful volunteer on one arm and a beautiful member of our Aboriginal community on the other. Jon invited the couple to exchange rings and the groom said, “I bought her a ring a few years ago and she lost it. I’m not buying another one!” It doesn’t sound like a romantic moment, but I suspect it will live on as a precious memory for both of them. It was easy for the couple, the witnesses and Jon to fit in our lift and as it opened on the ground floor, our staff and volunteers welcomed the couple like they were rock stars. A lovely Wayside moment.

When you watch a life implode, there is an unmistakable loss of language that bears witness to loss of identity and character. All of us who are “by the Wayside”, live in an atmosphere of limited vocabulary. I’ve heard the “F” word used to construct whole sentences; most nouns here are “F…’n” things. I’ve heard it as a proper noun. It’s often a preposition, many things are “up” around here, qualified as, “F…’d up”. I’ve heard it used even as an adverb. My concern is not merely with...
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08
Mar
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

The greatest lesson I’ve learned over these years is that love is everywhere to be found and everywhere in need of me. Just now there seems to be so many people suffering from major mental health issues. There are always people around Wayside talking to themselves or having arguments with people who are not present, but just lately I’ve noticed that the numbers have increased and the needs are overwhelming. This morning as I approached the building, I saw a vaguely familiar face that clearly recognised me and made a direct beeline for me. As we approached each other I recognised someone that I’d not seen for a while. A couple of years ago, the young bloke had a full set of teeth and today, not a single tooth in his head remained. It was a happy reunion with a broad, gummy smile. “Hey Rev, I’ve figured out all this stuff about Jesus. I know why he was popular and why they killed him.” We were off to a good start. “I’ve calculated it all mathematically, but I’m going to have to do it all again because I’d forgotten that 1982 was a leap year.” “Oh” I said as if I could see the relevance. In just a few minutes he descended into total incoherence. He excused himself because he had to find a quiet place to do some more calculations. I loved that we had a connection of sorts, even though our words carried no meaning to me at all.

The sight of one other fellow who appeared this week, caused me to catch my breath. We’d not seen him for perhaps seven or eight years. To look at, this guy is a cross between a garden gnome and a raging bull and you can never be sure which form you’re about to encounter. When we last saw him, he was a danger to himself and everyone around him. I’d mostly encountered him while he was in a florid psychosis and his ravings, ignored by all around him were, if you listened, the most heart-breaking collection of tormented statements that could ever be heard. I came to the conclusion that years...[read more]
01
Mar
2018
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 Dear Inner Circle,

Sitting in my office late one night this week, a conversation with a young woman captured me and filled me with awe. For a short time, this woman became every story I’ve ever known about those whose life has turned from destruction, to life. Just a few years ago this woman’s life was literally one that was set on suicide. Her body bears the marks of her history and yet her face, her face… If only I had words to convey the force of life and energy that stream through this face, reaching deep into your heart and lifting you in a breath of inspiration. We’ve known each other for a couple of years. Our first meeting occurred in hell. She’d lost the will to live. Every meeting since has been a surprise and watching her embrace new challenges and increase the size of her goals and achievements, a source of joy. For some reason that I can no longer recall, I’ve given her the nickname of, “Tonic”. I’m such an old philosopher that I used the word as Aristotle did, as a musical term, suggesting, ‘one who brings harmony’. Naturally, the young woman herself, like everyone else, probably understands the term as a medical word. This week for the first time, I explained my understanding of the word. She told me that she loved the nickname I’d given her because her father always called her, “Poison”.

Another night this week, I also spoke to a young fellow who is also a story of turning to live, in spite of a long struggle with mental health issues. This fellow is making a fabulous attempt at learning English in a relatively short time. We don’t have much trouble understanding each other, but as it was quite late I offered to, “run him home.” A look of bewilderment came across him and he looked at my shoes. He was stumped at the suggestion that he and I would “run” from my office, all the way...
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22
Feb
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

Surprisingly, a middle-aged, successful man sat with me this week, confessing his stupidity. He is not a stupid man but like an astronaut who from a rocket looked back at the earth for the first time, he looked at his life with some degree of astonishment and wonder. He told me that all his life, the more he met others, the more he became bound up in himself. Every meeting was an event that happened inside him. This is a tall, good-looking, successful, rather lonely man. A while ago he was giving a lecture to one of his kids, trying to make a point about how heavy his responsibilities were and how much he’d sacrificed for his children. His daughter rather innocently asked, “Is this the path you really want, Dad?” The question tore the heavens open, not because he suddenly needed to think about alternate paths but because his daughter rose up from being a kid, to a real, living person, joining her Dad in proximity and speech. It was like he’d never met her until this moment. A member of our inner circle for a long time, the man sought me out to have a couple of discussions. Slowly he’s beginning to know that his, “I” is not located “in” him but between him whoever he meets – ‘meets’, rather than ‘manages’. This man is respected in his profession but he’s not so much at home. There may be a difficult road ahead and some bad habits to be confronted. Maybe, perhaps, possibly, new life is on the way.

Only four times a year, the Wayside staff meet as one group. Last week in our staff forum we recognised that since the State Government asked us to extend our hours to 10:30pmeach night (and fund the cost of this change) we have been surprised by the number of...[read more]
15
Feb
2018
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Dear Inner Circle,

In another time, one of our staff members once worked for a racist regime. As a little boy, he was raised a racist. Eventually he entered a military force that trained him and rewarded him for unleashing hate and devastation in the cause of the racist regime. In his elite unit, there was one group hated even more than black people and that group was the white people who aided the blacks. He was taught that these people had turned their backs on their own kind. Our staff member has come such a long way. To see the affection he has for our Aboriginal people is always breath-taking for anyone who knows his back story. Yesterday in one of his tour groups, there was a person from his old country and a leader of the despised group that aided black people. Years ago he would have been greatly rewarded for this person’s head. What a situation! At the end of the session these two people rejoiced in the life they shared and the lady asked our staff member if they could hug. That image will never leave me. Right there was our vision embodied of ‘Love Over Hate’.

The other night I was walking past the Gazebo in Potts Point on my way to the car. I saw what looked like a young man placing a curse on a plant near the entrance to the bar. He was pacing from side to side and waving his finger while a torrent of words that sounded like abuse, flowed. I went a little closer to see if I knew the fellow or if I could help in some way. Close up, it was clear that I was witnessing a domestic argument. From what he was saying it seems that the plant had been sleeping around and he’d caught it out. The funny thing was that the wind was strong enough to make the plant shake, as if in response to the man’s fury. I figured I had no evidence of the plant’s unfaithfulness or otherwise and it was better for me just to walk past.

Keep reading here.