A Perfect Stranger
If you listen to NCF music, you’ve heard Asha’s voice, leading us in song. She is a gift to our community, and I am delighted that she agreed to share a recent experience of connection.
help the oppressed;
defend the orphan;
plead for the widow.
Isaiah 1:17b (CEB)
May we increasingly learn to love each other, as God has loved us, through the example of our sisters and brothers. -Renée
A couple weeks ago while working in the Urbana High School, I was introduced to a young lady. A staff member had her in his class and contacted me knowing that she needed someone to talk to. Just a week prior she had a near-death experience and was battling hopelessness following a life of hardship and traumatic events.
I didn’t exactly know how to approach the situation; I just felt a strong conviction that it was a task meant for me. I want to become a social worker and I do have a longstanding experience with counseling friends and family members through mental health/illness, adversity and dysfunctions of all kinds. I feel that God has blessed me with many purposes on Earth, but a major purpose that comes into play most often is listening. Listening deeply, objectively, lovingly, and honestly. I realized over the years that it is a trait of great value, and that everyone can hear what you say but only a few can truly listen.
So, it didn’t matter that I had never met this student, it didn’t matter that I had no outright credentials justifying my position in her life, it didn’t matter that she was 17 and I was 22, and it didn’t matter that I was employed at that school to do supportive covid testing. If she needed counsel, and I was called to be her counselor, I had no doubt in my mind that I could step up and offer what I’ve had my whole life: the ability to listen.
We met on the second floor of the school and I introduced myself. We both felt awkward, and it was clear that neither one of us truly knew our place in the situation, but this would be the first of many things we had in common. We just accepted that we were meant to meet, and that we didn’t really need an explanation. She says “where should I start?” And I say, “wherever you’d like, maybe the beginning,” and that was the start of my impact on her life, and her impact on mine.
I learned that she had come to Urbana from Chicago, and that her problems began with a mother who was focused on everything but parenting. A mother she described as her best friend and worst enemy. One who would physically and mentally abuse her until she needed something and then manipulatively pull her back using the concept of ‘family’ to keep her close.
I learned that throughout her life she was often pushed onto various family members and exposed to very dangerous and gruesome situations. She was raised by everyone, and raised by the streets. This young girl fell victim to gang violence and suffered a bullet wound to her leg at age 15. She was raised to be extremely loyal to her family, and her family was loyal to the game so many young people are forced to play on the streets of Chicago.
Deep emotional wounds surrounded her relationship with her mom, and I related to this, explaining moments in my childhood where I felt the same way. She was finally removed from the volatile environment when her Aunt gave her a train ticket and told her to leave. She didn’t want to leave her mom but she understood that this was her chance. She now lives with her grandmother and grandfather, who are somewhat neglectful but keep a roof over her head.
She is the sole caretaker of her Grandma, organizing medication and cleaning up accidents. She is also maintaining her grades at school and dealing with PTSD on multiple levels. “I don’t have friends,” she says. “My old friends just want to be negative and when I tell them I have a job interview or I got an A on this project, they tell me I’m just showing off and being stuck up.”
I took this opportunity to explain that those weren’t true friends, and that as young people we have no choice but to grow out of relationships, especially those that came to fruition through trauma and suffering. I told her that if she wants to have a brighter outlook on life, that she deserved brighter friends too. I was the same way at her age, it is clear that once you go through so many things in life, it puts your level of maturity far above the average high school kid.
She explained to me that she still believes in God and she still believes in love, which touched my heart deeply. “I am a warrior, I really don’t ever cry like this” she tells me, tears streaming down her cheeks. I simply told her warriors do cry and we took a moment to allow the beautiful vulnerability that comes with falling apart. It was a once in a lifetime experience to sit in front of such a resilient beautiful young soul, and I believe that it was God who brought us together.
There are many ways in which I can relate to her hardship and help her through balancing life and education while remaining a calm and peaceful shoulder to cry on. I realized that there was no one better suited than me to sit in front of her and experience that story. My intuition was confirmed when she said “I hope we can be friends” and I said “Girl, we’re about to be best friends.” And she smiled and we laughed as she wiped her tear stained cheeks. I gave her my phone number and now we hang out, do homework, go on walks, and unpack family dynamics and other things that weigh on her head and heart.
Neither one of us knew what we were walking into that day, but there was unprecedented acceptance, trust, and honor that we were both able to bring to the table no matter who we were. We met each other where we were, as perfect strangers, and I am so grateful God led me to her. There is value in vulnerability- walking into the unknown with strength and willingness, okay with not knowing. Next time you talk to a stranger, consider this story and plant seeds by listening closely and compassionately; you never know what beautiful connections will flourish from one conversation.