“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.“
~ Francie Nolan
Dear Friend of Next Step,
The first day of Summer this year is June 21st! Washington is full of blue skies and warm breezes. Outdoor concerts and Strawberry Festivals. Summer is beautiful here. But there is a darker side to Washington State just now. Our current Governor is stockpiling the abortion pill Misoprostol in the event access to this drug is in danger. On April 27th Governor Inslee signed a bill that makes Washington a so-called “Sanctuary State for Reproductive Care.” In times like this I can’t help but feel like the walls are closing in around us! But I’m also reminded daily that now more than ever before the battle is being fought and that those of us who defend life will prevail. The road ahead will not be an easy one (has it ever been?) but the resilience and faith we display now will ensure lives are saved and hearts are changed.
Recently my 12-year-old daughter and I listened to an audiobook together. It was called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This is a beloved American classic about a young girl’s coming-of-age at the turn of the 20th century. The story presents young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet formative years in the slums of Williamsburg. It was, in a lot of ways, a very brutal story, and there were quite a few moments when I worried it was too much for my daughter. It did not pull any punches about the realities of life at that time for those living in abject poverty. The story did, however, create several talking points for my daughter and me– and for that I am grateful.
The reason I bring this up to you folks is that certain aspects of the story put me in mind of our day-to-day work at Next Step and the women and families that seek us out. Like Francie’s parents, Katie, and Johnny, we see many young men and women, with little or no income, some with not a huge amount of education, but with children. And babies. And worries about how to get from day to day keeping their families fed, cared for, and intact. And especially those that live the struggle acutely upon finding themselves expecting.
The very first lines of the novel refer to the title, though the reader does not yet know the significance,
“There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly . . . survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.”
Francie Nolan was a sickly child. Weak and blue. And Katie was no longer producing milk because Katie is pregnant again with her second child. The neighborhood midwife offers Katie ‘some foul brown liquid’ and a choice. Katie refuses. Katie, like Francie, is the tree that struggles to reach the sky regardless of hardship. There are many families struggling to reach the sky, many children waiting to be born. Life can be harsh. But each of us is here by the grace of God. For a purpose. And Next Step’s purpose is to be one of many steppingstones for our clients so that they, and their children, can flourish, grow and be something.