Looking Through the Spectacles of the Past

I wrote this note on Facebook at the age of 20, right after my mom had passed. I wasn’t much for blogging then, but I had to let the emotions escape somewhere. This is a tribute to my loving parents in the midst of my grief.

One of my favorite anecdotes of all time is this story of a contest to find the world’s most caring child. A little boy crossed the street to his 80 year old neighbor’s front yard. His wife of 60 years had just recently passed away and he was alone. Upon seeing the old man cry, the little boy climbed into his lap and just sat there. When the little boy’s mother later asked him what he had done, the boy simply replied, “I helped him cry.”

This story reminds me of what it really is to experience true compassion. To experience it; not to just see it, but to feel it.

By all technicalities, I am proudly one of a family of 17 children. Actually, I’m not sure whether that’s a technical or a literal thing. But I do know that I was blessed with a large… very large family.

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My mother and father were married young with the idea that they could change the world!…one child at a time! They were hard-working and loving people who knew nothing yet of all the lives they would touch… so many lives. Their story I’m sure was one full of heartache, love, anger, tragedy, wonder, and compassion. To tell you the truth, I wish I knew. I know that people will always have their regrets; their “coulda been’s” and “shoulda been’s” hidden deep inside their pockets. And one of my biggest regrets is not having spent enough time talking to my parents about the things that really matter in life. I gathered a few details and really sought to know more about them. I took in as much as I could during my mother’s last few months, and it’s sad to say, but I don’t think I had ever appreciated her more than in those last few fleeting moments I spent with her. Moments that couldn’t have lasted long enough. According to her (and if my memory serves me correctly) this was the brief synopsis of her story… of their story.

“We were married young. I was a daddy’s girl, and it broke my daddy’s heart, but I left to get married to Herold and daddy didn’t approve.”

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They had ups and downs like any relationship. They moved from Arkansas where they were both born and raised (true hillbillies to say the least) and packed up their few belongings to move to Illinois. Dad worked a lot of odd jobs. He told me once that he had worked at a doughnut factory and he was even the janitor at the high school I attended, but that was a great deal before I was born. They had three kids of their own: Chuck, Cathy, and Sheila. “It was what I wanted; to be a wife and a mom.” I’m convinced that nothing else could have made her any happier. You should have seen the look that crossed her face when she told me about wanting to be a mom… She was glowing inside out … the first time I had seen her smile in all of her pain.

Pain… it plays a large role in how I came to be where I was all those years. To make it a bit clearer, I must start off by saying, I hope I never know the pain of losing a child. In Harristown Cemetery, 3 blocks from where my house once was, there is a small headstone that reads “baby girl Clem”. I’ve visited it many times, and every time it gets harder. My parents didn’t even get to pick out a name… she was stillborn. My parents were heartbroken. Somewhere along the lines of life, God got a firm grip on my father. I’m not sure if it was before this event or after, but I’m sure this was no less of a ground breaker for him. He became a pastor of a Baptist church in a little town about 15 minutes from my hometown. Any of you Harristown natives know it as Niantic. I don’t know how long my parents were there, but I’m more than certain they were obeying the call of their maker every step of the way.

 

Within this same time period, they petitioned to become foster parents in the state of Illinois. I once stumbled upon an article tucked away in a drawer of our home where a reporter had exclaimed that an estimated 200 children had passed through the Clem house in foster care. I realize how hard that must have been; to get so attached to people and then the next day, they’re gone. I experienced that as one of those children who came to the Clem house as a foster child, and stayed. And the many children that passed through, in and out of our lives… I felt it. We all did. Many came and went, but some stayed. My parents adopted 10 children in what I call the 3 generational stacks.

The first three children were my parent’s biological children, Chuck, Cathy, and Sheila. Second generation adoptees: Leanna, Mike, John, and Terry. Third generation adoptees: Brian, Chris, Jonathon, Phillip, Rachelle, and myself. That’s a total of 13, however, I made it known that I was the proud member of a family of 17! Candy S., Brian M., Betty P., and Josie. These wonderful people will always be nothing less than brother and sister to me. Mom and dad took them in as their own, and even though the state and it’s many complications with the these family members didn’t allow for adoption, to me, they, like the rest of us, are mom and dad’s children.

At some point in his life, my father met a man by the name of Wallace Malone. I don’t know the entire story, but dad seemed to be quite impressed by this man. And rightly so. What a great man! I grew up in his church, under the watchful eyes of he and my parents. My family was a Free Will Baptist family, and it’s all I’ve ever known. I grew up as a retired preacher’s kid and my mother was a Sunday school teacher at the Decatur First Free Will Baptist church for many years.

I often think about those estimated 200 that came in and out of the Clem household and I must say, I wondered what became of them. The day of my father’s funeral, Valentine’s day of 2005, there were hundreds of people I’ve never met before in my life at the visitation. Many talked about things they remembered like having to get up EVERY Sunday to go to church, or praying before every meal. It really made me wonder how many of those grown strangers had lived with my parents. The lives they touched… it was all genuine. They gave their hearts, and their lives in devotion.

As I sat back and remembered what my mother had said in the story of her and dad’s life together, I was amazed at how little I knew. But then it’s often that way, is it not? When my dad passed away in February of 2005, I wasn’t close to my mother at all. I was a true daddy’s girl.

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Rebuilding my relationship with my mom was one of the most humbling things I’ve ever had to do. She was hurting more than I could ever imagine. She spent the next 4 years without dad, and with little compassion from us kids. Now that I think about it, I was probably the nastiest to her then because I thought I was “misunderstood” and alone. My mind takes me back to a day at home, sitting on the couch next to her and helping her re-bandage herself 20 minutes before she had to leave for dialysis. I wanted to cry. My friend Derek came home with me for Thanksgiving break this past school year, and he told me how hard it was to sit and watch her cry out in pain and agony and know that there was nothing he could do. I’m glad now that her pain is gone, but I miss her deeply.

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I am 20 years old and “independent” by government status. I ask God often why it had to happen this way. But growing up, I always knew this day would come. I knew they were older when I was adopted and that it would bring tragedy to my life sooner than most. But somehow, I didn’t care. I guess you’re never really fully prepared to lose someone you love. The Free Will Baptist Bible College, to me, was that little boy in the story sitting in the old man’s lap. They took me in and wrapped their arms around me, and that big hug hasn’t stopped. I always knew the Bible college would be a big part of my life, but not this big. When asked why I was choosing the Bible college about 4 years ago, I replied that I knew it was where I was supposed to be. I didn’t know why, I just knew. It was also my mother’s dream for me to graduate from the Bible college. I hope to never disappoint her. I can say my life has been anything BUT dull. My parents loved us all with all of their being and passed on their story. That story of heartache, love, anger, tragedy, wonder, and compassion. I hope my story is as eventful. I know that some say dwelling in the past is not the thing to do, but that you have to move on and live your life to your fullest potential. Well, I think that if you’ve got a past to look back to that you can be proud of… one that makes you laugh and cry and ache and hope, that it’s okay to remember. To relive. It’s kind of like taking an old approach to a new situation. You know, a word from the wise type of thing. My parents lived a life worth looking back on and celebrating. Their “spectacles” had two sets of wisdom peering out from behind them ; smiling out to all those they encountered. Why not take a look through them again?

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Making room for more.

My momma and I used to dance around the kitchen to an old Billy Gilman CD any time we had to deep-clean for the day. I was in strong “like” with Billy, you see, because he was a singer! His CD had some strange songs on it, I’ll admit, but it had a few songs that could bring a person to tears. Before I share the story about talking to, and meeting my biological mother for the first time, I would like to share the lyrics to one of Billy’s songs from that very CD…

“Oklahoma”

Suitcase packed with all his things
Car pulls up, the doorbell rings
He don’t wanna go
He thought he’d found his home
But the circumstances he can’t change
Waves goodbye as they pull away
From the life he’s known
For the last seven months or so

She said we found the man who looks like you
Who cried and said he never knew
About the boy in pictures that we showed him
A rambler in his younger days
He knew he made a few mistakes
But he swore he would have been there
Had he known it
Son we think we found your dad in Oklahoma

A million thoughts raced through his mind
What’s his name, what’s he like and will he be
Anything like the man in his dreams
She could see the questions in his eyes
Whispered “don’t be scared my child
I’ll let you know, what we know”

About the man we found, he looks like you
And cried and said he never knew
About the boy in pictures that we showed him
A rambler in his younger days He knew he’d made a few mistakes
But he swore he would’ve been there Had he known it
You always said that this was something that you wanted
Son it’s time to meet your Dad in Oklahoma

One last turn he held his breath
‘Til they reached the fifth house on the left
And all at once the tears came rolling in
And as they pulled into the drive
A man was waiting there outside
Who wiped the worry from his eyes Smiled and took his hand

And he said I’m the man who looks like you
Who cried because I never knew
About that boy in pictures that they showed me
A rambler in my younger days I knew I made a few mistakes
But I swear I would have been there had I known it
Never again will you ever be alone
Son welcome to your home in Oklahoma

I think this is the only song I have ever heard that attempts to talk about the emotional roller coaster on which so many foster children have to ride. Now there are some significant differences between the boy in the song and myself. He was meeting his biological parent for the first time in order to start a life with him. WOW! I can’t imagine living in a place for only 7 months and feeling like you may have finally found a home. Mustering just enough hope only for someone to tell you to pack up once more. Although, I saw many children who had to go through that in our foster home. The system pushing them from one house to the next. No stability, no familiarity… no basis to ever form any kind of trust. I was fortunate enough to be adopted by the only foster family I ever lived with. If you get the chance, or just happen to think about it, lift up these kids to the Lord. Even if that is the only thing you get out of this post, that is more than enough.

My biological mother did not fight for me. How could I know that if my adoptive mother would never talk to me about it? The case worker told me. On paper. As I looked through my case files, I read her words and was transported to another time…

“Kristina Roark was taken into protective custody on 09/29/89. Guardianship of Kristina granted to DCFS on 12/12/89… The child has remained in foster care continuously since her initial placement. After strenuous efforts to reunite Kristina with her natural family met with no progress, a petition was filed to Terminate the Parental Rights to Kristina… On June 1, 1992, the court found the natural parents to be unfit…”

One paragraph, and it’s already a lot to take in. “Protective custody”? “Unfit”? What does that even MEAN?! So, in preparation for this story, I wanted to grab all the facts that I could. I actually called my biological mother and then my grandmother today. It was good to hear their voices again, now that I know what I know. Here are the few facts I picked up in answer to my questions:

1. There WAS a man who beat me and burned me. This part was true. My biological mother had a boyfriend who apparently did not like kids. He had a criminal record and intimidated her with physical and verbal abuse. She was afraid of him. She told me it was cold outside, so she didn’t want to take me out and risk ridicule from others. She was only gone for 5 minutes, but when she returned, I looked pretty bad. They took me to the hospital, washed me and patched me up, and then my grandmother took me home. She said that she wasn’t going to risk the boyfriend coming back and doing that to her grandbaby again. When I talked to her today, I made sure to thank her for her boldness in taking me from my mother. What if he had come back? What if he wasn’t so gracious a second time? God is so sovereign in His protection!

2. “Unfit”. With no father figure in the picture, and my biological mother’s necessary separation due to endangerment, it made sense that the situation was deemed unfit. My grandmother was also taking care of my half brother, Kevin, and 2 of my aunt’s children. When the hospital notified DCFS of my condition, they came to my grandmother’s house to assess the situation. Two days later, they came to take us away.

All of this information was SO overwhelming, but I was glad to know. The first time I ever spoke to my biological mother, it was uncomfortable. My adoptive mother had just passed away. I don’t even know why I wanted to speak to her so badly. But I did. She asked if we could meet, so we did. We walked around the mall and stopped in to eat at Subway. She was so sweet. She even came to hear me sing at church the following Sunday (even though she hadn’t set foot in a church since she was little). She was so proud that she videotaped the service, so that she could “keep it forever.” She had a great sense of humor and was a woman of few words. These were all things that I gathered before our conversation today. When I spoke to her today and found out the true details, I felt so bad knowing how much guilt she was carrying when we first met. But I made sure she knew that my life was full and happy. If anything, I was grateful. Grateful that she had the courage to let me go.

Before my phone conversations today, I couldn’t understand why I was removed from my biological family. I couldn’t figure out which of the many accounts, including hers, was the truth. Now that I know, I look forward to getting to know her even better. My adoptive family will always be MY family. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for more love. Any maybe that’s something that kid in Gilman’s song had to consider. Making room for the unknown in his life. And now, it’s my turn.

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Blissfully unaware

Let me take you back a few years. Twenty-four to be exact.

babay!10 months old

“To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe)” – Charles Dickens, David Copperfield.

I don’t know much about how I came to be. I’ve heard four significantly different accounts throughout my life, and all the while I’ve been trying to smash them together like nonconformist pieces to a puzzle. Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of NCIS, Criminal Minds, and Law and Order SVU (my three favorite shows), but I feel as if some big pieces are missing. For so long, under the protection of the only family I had ever known, I was blissfully unaware. But like so many adopted children, I struggled with wanting to know more about my past. It wasn’t that my adoptive family wasn’t enough. Really, I can’t explain why I was so curious. My mother also inquired as to why I was so concerned about my birth parents even at the age of 8. I just HAD to know. So now, I will play detective for a moment as I unravel the few details I know of.

My foster sister (20 years my senior) had graduated from high school and was still living at home to prepare for her wedding. One day, a social worker brought in a 5 month-old baby…

“You were beaten black and blue with cigarette burns all over your body. You didn’t look anything like a baby should. You were so swollen. Your body was covered in shades of black, yellow, and purple. I tried to help mom take care of you, but you cried every time we had to wash you or put new clothes on you. Your mother’s boyfriend and his friends did that to you while they were on drugs. We were surprised that you grew to be a healthy baby. We honestly thought that you would grow up to be mentally retarded.”

WHOAH! Not the picture you want to embrace, right? Which is exactly what I told myself. I went down every avenue in my mind to come up with some sort of logical explanation. Who would do drugs or possess drugs with a baby in the house? Certainly not a new mother. There had to be something more to this! Wasn’t I precious enough to be loved on instead of being used as an ashtray? I refused to believe it had happened that way, so I asked my biological aunt (my mother’s only sister who I found on Facebook) if she could give me her side of the story…

“I used to drop by and help my sister take care of you all the time. You were such a happy and healthy baby. Right before you were taken away by Social Services, your mother was living with a boyfriend. I came by one day to see you and and you were in your crib crying. Your mother said that you had been crying all day, but that they couldn’t figure out why. I went to pick you up to try and calm you down when I noticed a large bruise on your face. I asked my sister how you had gotten it, and she said she didn’t know; that you must’ve hit your head on the crib or something. I wanted to play it safe, so your grandmother and I took you to see a doctor. The next thing I knew, the doctor was accusing your mother of child abuse. I knew that my sister would NEVER hurt you and I made that clear to them. The doctor said that when he examined you, he observed that the bruise on your face was that of a large hand print. He said, ‘This baby has been struck across the face.’ I knew it HAD to have been my sister’s boyfriend, and that there was no way she could’ve known. I thought that maybe he couldn’t figure out how to get you to stop crying, so he hit you. I just knew that your mother would never do that to you. They placed you in protective custody and that was the last time I saw you… you’re mother never got to see you again.”

Still not a happy story, I know. But it sure sounds better than a mother lighting up her baby! And a hand print sounds far more bearable than cigarette burns and bodily beatings. However, now I had conflicting stories. And BOTH should have been eye-witness accounts as far as my physical appearance was concerned. My foster sister had no good reason to embellish her story, did she? Her description was so vivid and grotesque. And while my biological aunt’s description was easier to stomach, it was more possible that her story would be subjective and in blind favor of her sister. I struggled with the unknown. For weeks and months it gnawed at my stomach. I HAD to know.

Two avenues left. The birth parents.

I had a large envelope with my adoption case files neatly intact. I examined each page carefully to find the names of my parents. My mother’s name was easy enough; my father, not so much. I quickly put my given last name in the search engine box for the Macon County Court Records, and pulled a marriage and divorce case. Strangely enough, they were only married for 2 months. And like any other college student, I knew how dangerous, yet valuable social media could be. I typed in the man on the marriage record’s name and found his page on Facebook. He had a boy who was a year older than me named Kevin (which was the name of a half-brother I continued to have family visits with under the supervision of DCFS). I KID YOU NOT, this man had a blurb in his “About” section in which he talked about his little girl who the mother had lost custody of. I immediately sent him a message and asked if he had a photo of said little girl. Within minutes, he posted one of the professional photos that my foster family had been sending my mother for years, out of kindness. With a strange sort of relief, I fell back in my chair and quietly sobbed.

We arranged to meet so that I could learn more about him and that side of my family. (I took my boyfriend that I had at the time with me just in case.) We met at a public park and took a walk around the lake; just me, my half-brother, and my biological… well, not quite…

“I was there when you were born. I was the first one to hold you and I gave you your name. I had known your mom for a while, but she was pregnant with you before her and me got married. Your mom and I WAS married when she had you, so I asked if you could have my last name.”

“Did she tell you who my biological father was?”

“Naw.”

“Did she tell you why I was taken away?”

“Oh, I already knew all about that. Some boyfriend of hers was beatin’ on you when you was still a little baby! But he didn’t get away with it. Me and some other friends of mine tracked him down and beat the Sh** out of him. That fool got jail-time for what he did to you.”

YET ANOTHER DEAD END! This guy wasn’t my birth father either! Another possible piece of the story that didn’t quite fit! No one could give me a name of the boyfriend my mother was seeing at the time of my removal! No police files, no reports on the issue of one 5 month old Kristina Roark. There was only one person left to talk to that would certainly have that information. But she was the one person I was most anxious about talking to. I decided to ask my aunt for her number, knowing that she would probably have the most current one, but I struggled to push the send button.

“How many adopted children dream about this moment? The first time you talk to a birth parent. What will she be like? Sound like? What if it’s too painful for her to talk about the past. What if it’s too painful for me? I LOVE my adoptive parents. Maybe I shouldn’t do this… but I’m 22 years old. Why NOT now?”…

The first conversation I ever had with my birth mother neither confirmed nor denied anything in the above story. Check out my next blog post to understand why!

She’s been strong for far too long.

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I pondered and pondered. I allowed my inner-monologue to take center stage as I prepared to ruminate. It’s difficult for me (and for anyone else, I’m sure) to post something that makes me feel vulnerable. But that’s when I usually find the most healing has occurred.

I have only ever been to counseling on a steady basis once in my life. I had become gravely ill during my Freshman year of college and suffered a massive weight loss. I dropped down to 94 pounds and began to scare people with my sickly, yellowing skin and gaunt appearance. I was miserable and couldn’t keep any food in my system. One of my close friends decided one day, after I collapsed in pain on the student center floor, that she could stand by no longer. She drove me to the emergency room and handed me over to a crowded facility with little to no staff presence. No blood taken, no tests conducted. Just a series of questions about my eating habits (which were fine by anyone’s standards. I ate all the time, just couldn’t keep it down.) SHOULD’VE SEEN IT COMING!!! The physician filled out my chart and to my surprise, the next week I found out I was bulimic! I don’t wish to poke fun at anyone who ACTUALLY suffers from this disorder, but I was outraged that no tests were conducted to prove this nonsense! Immediately, I was shipped off to counseling as an ultimatum. “See a counselor about your eating disorder, or no summer ministry team for you.” (I understand the concern. I WAS in bad shape, and I know my health and well-being was the main focus at the time.)

So there I was. Sitting on a couch in a room with neutral colors, soft piano music playing in the background, and boxes of tissues strategically placed in every nook and cranny.

“Why am I here?”

“What the heck are we supposed to talk about? I don’t have an eating disorder!”

“Is she going to expect me to cry before I can be released?”

“How long is this going to take?”

A rotten attitude, I know. And this attitude dictated my level of commitment to the counseling process…

“She’s giving me ‘homework’? Doesn’t she know I have enough of that to do already?”

“Maybe if I skip next week, no one will care. It’s not like we talk about anything important anyways.”

This experience put a BITTER taste for counseling in my mouth. However, I know that counseling can be healthy. Throughout the years I have learned to confide in those I care most about, and I’ve spoken through my hardships one at a time and it has become easier along the way to share my story, now that I have done it so many times. It has become an encouragement to me and to others who have gone through similar situations. And believe me, there were a MULTITUDE of situations! Recently, I did a one-hour counseling session to “try out” a counselor who had been recommended to me. (Like it was some kind of exercise program that guaranteed results.) I had become so comfortable with sharing my story that I opened right up and let him thumb through all of my pages. When I had finished, he stared at me, dumbfounded.

“I don’t understand how you sat there and shared that heart-wrenching story so calmly. I am heart-broken FOR you. You tell that story as if it doesn’t bother you.”

Now that, I have no explanations for. I recognize that where I was at once in life is not where I am now. There are different mistakes to be made and different problems now that I am older. Some of my monsters still lurk in the shadows, but I think the difference is that I KNOW my monsters… by name. I’m simply not afraid of them (I feel like there’s a book about Wild Things to reference here!) I don’t refuse to feel. I refuse to allow my story to bruise me over and over again. I can acknowledge that I was a victim, but I will not PLAY the victim.

My traumatic experiences have affected me for better and for worse. Most of that depended on how I reacted to said traumatic experience; how I “coped”. Some coping mechanisms seem healthier than others, I will admit. And I suppose that’s what it’s time to dig through. To learn new strategies that will empower rather than hinder. I’ve heard the phrase “She’s been strong for far too long” directed my way many a time. But believe me, there has been an equal amount of weakness in my life. And any strength you may see me muster, is not my strength, but rather my weakness glorifying God’s strength.

I plan to delve into my story in my next post if you have been intrigued by this introduction. Who knows… maybe, just maybe, you’ve been to some of these places to.

Silence, a precious metal?

“Silence is golden”…

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I was attending a musical function, or so I thought, an evening ago when I learned that NOT one musician showed up to play. Rather than waste the good company, the group of about 14 friends decided to sit in a room deemed the “No shoes room” to get comfy and catch up with each other. In case you are wondering where you can find such a room, check out Atmology on West End Ave in the downtown area. It’s a cozy little place with some quality beverages.

My best friend and I joined the party about an hour late due to my lack of time-comprehension and management. We pulled our shoes off and entered a chatty atmosphere, filled with large paisley pillows, painted wooden coffee tables, and¬† brightly-colored rugs. As we made ourselves comfortable, we embarked on conversations that included the deportation of young and reckless pop stars, conspiracy theories, white wine with taco bell, and “what preschoolers talk about.” I had little to say on all of the aforementioned topics, so I remained silent; content with my wandering thoughts and the bits and pieces of anything comical I would catch here and there.

One more person entered the room. She asked why it seemed so quiet. Well, at that point, conversation had ebbed rather than flowed. In fact, it had been doing that all night. There was no thread that interconnected each topic. Instead, a wedge of silence filled the in-between spaces. I quickly realized that “catching up” actually meant “talk about whatever comes out first, and we’ll go from there.” Talking for the sake of talking. I can see the appeal in this as it allows moments of frivolity and gaiety to occur more naturally. Who knows what laughable, fun craziness will come out of random conversations!

Here’s my favorite part. The qualm that I turned over in my mind like a telekinetic playing with a die. Why was silence avoided at all costs, to the point that it was undesirable or unbearable? Where does this difficulty of allowing silence to creep in and settle come from? As I sat listening to the topics pass by, one after another, I began to take mental notes of all the anti-silence comments in between.

“Well… that just happened.”

“Wow. It just got really quiet.”

“That conversation turned to crickets pretty quickly.”

“Aaaaaaaaaand awkward silence.”

“Why did everyone just stop talking?”

“Sooooo, now what?”

This was all a fleeting thought to me, considering I actually enjoy silence and prefer it over noise. But not everyone is designed that way. What are the properties of gold that might be equated to those of silence? Gold is (or once was) a precious metal. Rare, beautiful, and highly valued. Having said this, it just makes me want to add an addendum to the phrase I used at the beginning.

Silence is golden…

but not always because it is highly valued. Maybe sometimes, silence is golden simply because it is rare.

Person #1: “Silence is rare, but not HIGHLY valued, and I like that. It’s nice to have when one is by themselves, but isn’t conducive to social settings.”

Person #2: “Silence is highly valued to me BECAUSE it is rare. I wish there was more of it, or that people really knew how to take advantage of it.”

Just curious… which person are you?

Communication blunderer, or an alien to the norm?

Why do we push people away? Inability to handle certain types of conflict? Fear of becoming “known” (which may result in someone we enjoy leaving us)? This is a question I have asked myself for many years. The reason I cannot fully comprehend an answer is because I don’t push EVERYONE away.

I would submit that I initially avoid certain types of people to begin with. Believe me, I hate to think about it this way, but not facing the ugly truth in myself is potentially worse. I am an extreme introvert. Uncomfortably extreme. Whoah! Watch-out! However, I am the kind of introvert that typically gets put off by the extreme extrovert. For all of the extroverts who may happen upon this blog… I DO desire to get to know you AND your story. It’s so difficult for me to strike up a casual conversation unless it is forced (at which point it noticeably ceases to be casual, and often shallow). I used to travel and sing to recruit for my college, and as you can imagine, I had to employ some conversational skills. But where was I supposed to pull those from??? I had always been the kind of girl who stuck close to my 3 best friends and avoided outgoing people altogether. “Stare at the floor, don’t make eye contact, maybe they won’t see me.” I have always been comfortably closed off.

I’ve painted a pretty mousy picture of myself, and often this part of my personality overwhelms me. I live in that frustrating moment! That awkward, frustrating moment when someone you recognize from class walks by you on campus. And my inner monologue TAKES OVER: “I see them getting closer. All we are going to do is pass one another; that can’t be TOO difficult. They look like they are going somewhere; walking with a purpose. They made eye contact. Do I smile, say ‘hello’? Or maybe ‘How’s it going’ would sound better. I think I’m going to say ‘hey’. Yeah, that would be quick and painless. Just smile and say ‘Hey’.”

“Hey”…

[Silent pass. Quick glance-of-a smile]

“Man, that was awkward! Uuugghh, I knew I didn’t do it right! My inflection was too much. I sounded strained. They could tell I was trying too hard. Next time, I’m not going to say anything! Gosh, I feel so ridiculous right now.”

Am I the only one who over-thinks chance encounters with people I don’t talk to on a daily basis? Probably not. But I think everyone has that overly dramatic moment when they think they are the only one in the world who must be feeling the way they do.

It’s a downright shame knowing you have something to say to the world, but feeling like you don’t know how to communicate with others. One day a guest speaker came to talk to our college about… well, I’ve forgotten what his message was about now. But there was one thing that stuck with me. He implored each member of our student body to sit at a table with people they wouldn’t normally have lunch with. For a shining moment, I decided I was going to acquiesce his request. I thought maybe it would stretch me in an area in which I needed some flexibility. To shed some dim light on the situation, that table would have gotten along much better without me…

“Well, I sat here. No one has said a word to me yet. Maybe I should say something first. After all, it was ME who decided to be brave today. What’s one more extended and exposed limb? I can feel my face turning pink now that I am trying to say something… no, red… Oh, here it comes…

‘How were your classes this morning?’

‘Fine’

‘Fine’

‘Boring’

‘Alright’

Silence.

“Chatter amongst themselves. I have not a clue as to what they are talking about. Well, I guess I’m out of this conversation. I clearly do not ‘fit in’ with this table. I don’t even know why! They all seem so normal, sitting here, interacting with one another. Why can’t I do that? What is wrong with me??? Exposed limb, successfully broken.”

Maybe that’s the reason some of us have trouble letting others in. The fear of being vulnerable and then ostracized. We’d be ignorant to believe that it never happens. Even to kids who seem normal or ‘trendy’ on the outside. So many people at my high school believed that I had the potential to “fit in”. But I’ve always been uncomfortable with the masses.

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Here’s the rub, that’s all one side of the coin. Yes, I have difficulties when it comes to communicating with new people. Many people suffer from this. Many interesting, wonderful, talented, beautiful people. But I DO enjoy learning about people. Meet me in a coffee shop. Alone. Just the two of us. WOW!

“I am here! I have a voice! I have value! I can let you in now. I still feel vulnerable, but that’s easier to overcome here.”

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Someone once asked me, “If you feel so uncomfortable talking to unfamiliar people in large groups, how is it that you can perform in front of so many people on a stage?” I DO enjoy the stage. It is a place of familiarity and comfort to me. I’ve been singing on stage since I was 3, so it’s no surprise to me that I feel comfortable doing it.

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Performing on a stage isn’t the same as a real conversation. However, it is a communication style that suits me, and suppresses the people-fearing, inner monologue. On a stage, I am the communicator that cannot be caught off guard with what to say next. It is a one-way conversation. My inner monologue has no room on my stage. I was once told that if I always refuse to step out and sing/act/etc. that I would continue to rob people of the gift I had been given. I believe he used the phrase “Robbed of a blessing.” OUCH! That certainly was and is not my intention. The stage has given me that very opportunity: to share my heart with others and hopefully, to bless others through ministry.

 

College ministry teams…

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So I guess I don’t have trouble letting people in. I have learned that it’s not the people… it’s environment. My social skills are not broken, but they DO look different than yours.

 

I’ll let you in for a moment…

I LOVE nature, and exploring it! I also enjoy pushing myself to physical limits… testing what I can really do!

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I want to always be available to serve others.

Humanities - World Changers (Roofing)

I enjoy dancing as well.

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But most of all, I love singing…

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AND ACTING! (Even better when they are together!)

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And you might catch me dressing up just for the fun of it. I enjoy being a character!

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So let’s have a cup of coffee, just me and you, and I’ll let you in on the mysteries of me, both old and new. And in return I’ll travel your lands and sail over YOUR seas with you.

“Don’t chuck your muck in my dustbin, my dustbin’s full.”

The best friend has thwarted me with her powers of persuasion. “Writing through this experience may really help you ‘see’ what you’re experiencing, and it could help others who may someday go through the same thing.” I’m grateful for the wisdom and counsel in my life.

I would say that I, like many others before and alongside me, have an overflowing dustbin. What I mean to say is that life has been a series of mishaps, misfortunes, disappointments, and wrenching heartaches. Now here and there it has been topped with a scoop of ¬†happiness, a splash of wonder, and drenched in grace. All the “muck” or the things that I would consider to have made my life a living Hell are finally beginning to spill over the rim. Do I empty my dustpan, or simply purchase a larger one?

To gain insight may be my primary motive for expounding on this life I’ve been given, but I believe that I will gain so much more than satisfaction based on my wayward thoughts. I don’t know that this dustbin will be cleaned out completely. Muck has to go somewhere. Healing begins with taking an inward look (at least in this case). This could be the very factor I’ve been searching for. Here’s what I mean…

I have an extremely difficult time sympathizing with anyone who embarks on a tale of their tragedy. It’s like there are these apathetic filters covering my ears, and they always seem to weed out sob stories. My life has often felt like one large sob-worthy saga, but I’ve had to be strong (or so I thought). Why am I so set against digging through my emotions to feel true sympathy? It’s a frank possibility that I have been unwilling to even wave at my emotions, much less try to approach or confront them!

So here I am. Finally digging through my dustbin of muck. You know how sometimes you throw something away, but you didn’t mean to get rid of it? Or you had forgotten that you discarded it? I believe that somewhere in all this mess, I will find beauty. Small treasures. Things forgotten and remembered.