Thursday, December 22, 2005


It's amazing how we, as humans, have this innate desire to connect with each other-- to be accepted by, reach out to, and be reached by others. We're social creatures, really, not just in the sense of meeting a sociologically evolved need for protection, but in the fuller sense of having our own humanity and experiences validated by contact between, friendships with, and respect from other people.

Today, on my lunch break, I spent a bit of time speaking with a woman from my church for my next podcast (which should be out in a day or two). I met her through her little girl, I*. I* is a beautiful 5 year old girl with long eyelashes and gorgeous latte-brown skin, and she's in the Wednesday night kindergarten girls' class I taught at church until just last week. She's smart, sharp, and thoughtful, and was one of the two girls in that class that could always read the memory verse (my daughter is the other). Each week, I'd ask for prayer requests before our prayer time, and each week she would say, in her precious little voice, "please pray for my daddy." So, each week, we would pray for I*'s daddy, along with grandmas and grandpas, pets that had died, and boo-boos that needed healing.

I*'s mom volunteers each Wednesday night in the infant nursery at church, and I've always seen her as a quiet and shy kind of person. She's always alone taking care of her 3 children (ages 5 and younger), and blushes a bit when I tell her how wonderful I* is to have in my class. A few weeks back, at Wednesday night dinner before classes, I mentioned to her that I* always asks us to pray for her daddy. Her mom, K*, smiled and said that I* is always so thoughtful, and then told me why I* requests prayer for her daddy. It turns out that he has been in jail for the past two years without a trial, although he has a trial date set for May. Although K* believes firmly in his innocence, he stands accused of a serious crime, and there are no guarantees that he will be coming home any time soon. K* is now 25 years old, and went from dedicated wife and mother to single mom in the 20 minutes it took for her husband to be arrested.

I spent two weeks deciding if, when, and how to let her know I'd love to give her the opportunity to share her story on my podcast, before just going up and asking last week. I was so nervous, not that she would say no, but that she would think I'm an idiot or a jerk for even asking. Instead, she almost started to cry: "People almost always seem to forget that there's a family left behind... We get lost... I would love the opportunity to share my situation with others...." So, we set a date-- today at lunchtime.

I was nervous going to her home-- I'm not a professional at this, and would I know the right questions to ask? Would I put my foot in my mouth? I have a good bit of counseling training from seminary and over 2 years' experience at pastoral counseling from my time as a chaplain, but this was going to be different. I'm not there to counsel; I'm there to listen, to be a friend, and to give a voice to someone who has spent far too much of her life, to use her words, lost... ignored.

I pulled in to the drive and went past a long row of beat up singlewide trailers before finding hers. After her husband was jailed, K* had to quit her job, and relocated to a mobile home that had been given to her, on a lot with extremely low rent. In spite of the humble housing, it was warm and home-y, with nice candles burning, a tree decorated in the corner, and several small boxes wrapped neatly under the tree. I sat down onto the slightly lumpy, old, brown couch, and started to set up my recording stuff (I bought two new lapel microphones to try to get better sound quality on the outings this time). I was wondering how to begin the conversation, when K* spoke up.

"I can use our first names only, can't I?"

"Sure. You can say as little or as much as you want. This is your story, and I'll let you tell it the way you want."

"What if I start to cry-- is that okay?"

"Hey, I wore waterproof mascara today, just in case I cry with you. If you need to stop at any time, let me know and I'll shut off the recorder. And I can always go back in later and edit out anything you tell me you'd rather not have in."

"Talking about what got me through this, I'm going to talk a lot about God. Is that okay?"

"Of course. I don't censor content-- this is your story to tell."

There was a bit of a silence while K* thought for a while. When she spoke again, my heart dropped.

"I gave a baby up for adoption when I was 16. Can I talk about that before you leave? Will you put that in your podcast?"

It was then that it hit me-- hard-- how much we, as humans, crave being heard... being understood. I guess that's a big part of the premise behind my starting the kind of podcast I have. So many people out there-- people we just pass right by every day without ever giving a second thought, people we see as quiet and reserved, people who walk through our lives each week and we never even get close enough to realize that they're just barely putting one foot in front of the other, hoping that somehow, they'll make it through-- with a story to tell. I've been there. It's lonely. And sometimes, getting to tell someone the contents of our heart isn't an obligation or a chore; it's an opportunity for outpouring that is welcomed into a life in which you feel nobody wants to listen.

I assured K* that although I may not fit it into this episode of the podcast, I definitely would welcome her story, perhaps for a future podcast incorporating several different perspectives about adoption. Several times over the course of the interview, K* asked me to turn off the recorder, and shared even more about her life that strengthened my conviction that she is an overcomer of great character. After recording, she joined me for lunch, and we had some of the best conversation I've had in a while.

I'm sure there will be plenty of people with amazing stories of heartache and/or triumph that will not want to talk with me about it at all, much less for public broadcast. But if I'm right, and I suspect that I am, many of us are suffering from the way our society has tended to rip us apart from meaningful social networks (unless we deliberately preserve and create networks for social connectivity). And if, from the quiet and unspoken suffering of our isolation, we could reach out to others, be heard, speak out, and change perceptions, I think many of us would jump at the chance.


I'm about to leave my office, and head home for the night. I'll be driving home to a relatively small apartment, with three children who fight too much and a husband who wishes he could give us all more. We have the same crappy fake Christmas tree we've had for the past 3 years, and half of the beautiful matching Christmas ornaments I bought last year have been broken. There are more presents under our tree than in recent years, thanks to a generous holiday bonus I got at work. When I get home, my husband will go out for a few hours to study for his upcoming teacher certification exams, and I'll try to keep the kids from killing each other until bedtime, all the while trying to catch up on the cleaning that doesn't get done during the day. After the kids are in bed, I'll start to edit the audio from today into a podcast, and hearing it will remind me of some of the less-than-enviable things we're now going through as a family. I'll cry a little, and edit some more, and pretty soon my husband will come back home. At some bizarre hour, I'll crawl into bed next to my soul mate, and as I'm laying there having trouble falling asleep, like I've done every night for the past month, it will dawn on me that I am so completely blessed to have my children and my husband, a home that meets all our needs, a job where all the employees are treated well and spoiled rotten, and a life about which I really can't complain.

Look around you, people, and then give thanks. For every thing we can each find wrong with our lives, there are so many things that are right. Thank God.

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