Who Knew?

Who knew? I just sat down to scoop powdered milk into plastic bags along with oatmeal and brown sugar as a group of us assembled a thousand “breakfasts in a baggie” during Community Service Sunday at church. Pat sat to my left scooping oatmeal then passing the baggie along to me. Plenty of time for conversation as we enjoyed the pleasant routine of this worthy yet mildly mindless task.  Over the years we’ve often chatted about her daughter Shannon. She was anxious to let me know that after some wandering time in the wilderness Shannon was doing better. I expressed my delight and told her about the impact Shannon had had on my life about ten years ago.

As an up front disclaimer, let me just say that I made it a point not see anyone under eighteen during my career as a marriage and family therapist. So when our youth pastor asked me to do an arts-integrated Bible study with the high school girls I was somewhat anxious but game. Shannon was among the six to eight girls that showed up the first evening. Dressed from head to toe in black, boots and chains, dyed black hair, and black make-up, Shannon was my first full-blown, up-close encounter with a Goth. Thinking to myself I am soooo cooked, I was scared to death!

Nevertheless, I put on my big girl pants and introduced a creative writing piece to the girls on our prejudices, pet peeves, and preferences as a way of gathering, greeting and getting to know one another. I passed out paper and pens inviting them to begin. They kept chatting among themselves.  Now I knew I was cooked. In desperation I picked up a pen and began to write. So did they! Twenty minutes of quiet and focused writing followed. Then we took turns sharing what we’d each written. Here are some parts of what Shannon wrote:

  • You’ll never catch me wearing something that I don’t love in every way, or those short shorts and super low shirts,
  • I hate homework and tests, but I do try my best on them anyway,
  • And I hate the smell of whatever it is that my dad cooks in the morning,             then a shift occurs….
  • I can’t stand people who are racist, rude, or mean,
  • And I really growl at the people who make fun of another for any reason,
  • And I fall apart when I am judged by people who don’t know me,
  • I love tattoos as an expression of art or beliefs, but probably not on me,
  • I try not to judge people because I don’t like to be judged by them, so I give everyone at least 3 chances…

Among her preferences….she dreamed of going to medical school after college and becoming a psychiatrist.

That night I fell in love with Shannon. Through the gift of her writing I was able to see beyond an exterior that I had no idea how to relate to into a heart of compassion concerned about the marginalized outsiders she identified with and counted as friends. Shannon has been a major influence in my life. I have learned to love people without knowing their stories, or prejudging them based on appearances. She gave me the gift of comfortably working with others who “seem” really different, but aren’t… at heart.

Who knew? For certain her mom didn’t know any of this story. As the tempo of our bag filling slowed down as I shared Shannon’s story, she softly said, “It warms a mother’s heart to hear this.”

Yes, Shannon is doing better. Pat wanted me to know that Shannon is graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a double major in psychology and sociology. Probably during the up-coming graduation ceremony Shannon and her classmates will be encouraged to impact the world with their gifts. She already has. Who knew? Really, who knows the impact we have on one another? I hope she knows soon.

Has an unexpected person influenced your life in a significant way? If so, what was unexpected about his/her influence? How was your life changed because of that influence? If that person doesn’t know how he/she influenced you, is that something you can share?

Looking forward to hearing about those who’ve made a difference in you lives.

PS – the image above is the cover of Shannon’s Creative Faith Journal


3 comments to Who Knew?

  • Deanna Bowling

    I went to a funeral 5 or more years ago for a man named David. If I hadn’t known him, and especially if I had been much younger than I was at the time at the time of his funeral, I would never have seen myself of even possibly considering going to that funeral.

    At that really a memorial service more than a funeral, no less than 5 men of the cloth spoke on David’s behalf. You see, David hadn’t always been an alcoholic and homeless. As a matter of face, my roommate and I have a picture of him here at the house that taken of him when he was a much younger, and healthier, big brother to a couple of guys who remembered him that day in very loving ways.

    Then life got tough. David was diagnosed as being schizophrenic and was self medicating with alcoholic beverages. David as hard as he tried to get better, eventually died of complications of alcoholism.

    I had been raised by two alcoholics who didn’t until way too late as far as I as my circumstances were concerned, stopped drinking and being so difficult to be around. I needed to learn in my what late 50’s/early 60’s that just because someone is feeding their addictive personality doesn’t mean that they are a bad person over all. David helped me learn that, and I will always remember him for doing so.

  • You got me crying. I knew a David, too, like Deanna. I didn’t expect someone I knew such a short amount of time – about two months – could make such an impact. He and I were part of 40 students studying abroad in Uganda in the spring of 2009. He wanted to be a missionary. David was desperate to love better. All of that love came from a great heart. But a strong reaction to the malaria pills Laramin (Mefloquin) also led him to depression. He went home early because of it. Our director told us David was able to see more, that the veil had been ripped for him.

    One day after a grueling field trip to learn about ministries and needs in prisons and slums, he was depressed. He told me “I look with my eyes but I haven’t seen with my heart.” Another day – Valentine’s Day – a few of us were gathered and reading the Bible. He couldn’t understand how God could love him, he kept saying how he didn’t think he loved rightly, or enough. We tried to encourage him otherwise. David loved more than anyone else on that trip.

    Going home helped, but the depression stayed. On May 14, 2011, he passed away, and went home for good. I’ve been talking with his family, about how his organs were able to save 6 lives. About memories. About loving. I’ve learned how to love better, and how to see better, because of David. We have to see those who are hurting. We have to help. I can’t share with David what he did for me. I wish I had before.
    But I’ve shared it with his family and my friends. And now with you.

    Lynne, thanks for helping me remember him. I hope to hear more news about Shannon in the years to come.

  • Recently I was asked to go to Haiti to do an art project with the children and teens at Teen Challenge in Port-au-Prince. They all influenced me. What struck me the most was that they want to know and be known. Through the art work many shared their stories. One boy I will call John, lost both his parent to aids, he subsequently became the head of the house of 6 siblings. He took to the street and became a gang member as a political party would pay kids to blow up cars and burn down houses of their opponents. He began doing drugs and rolling joints using the pages of an old bible. He brought his little brother in to the gang and he was kniffed to death on the street. John has always felt responsible for his brothers death. He started to read Psalms 1:14 and it had an impct on him…He later read the book of Job and finally John 1:50. He was taken in to Teen Challenge Haiti. He said he loved to draw but what he loved the most was the Word of God. He now wants to be a Pastor. God can use anyone willing to be led. I enjoy emailing with this young man as we write in French and talk about art and life. You never forget people like John. Thank you Lynn for sharing, I really enjoy your blogs. Delesprie

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