I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!
Leanne: To Be Heard
December 15, 2017
I met with Leanne on a brisk Thursday morning. We sat on the couch while she stirred granola into her bowl of yogurt, and Leanne began to tell me her beautiful story. It was not the events of her life that I found extraordinary, but the peace she exuded and the grace she showed in the telling.
Leanne is a junior in college. She had a pleasant, comfortable childhood, though there was always unrest in her family due to her father’s alcoholism and temper. These and other issues escalated over time, and her parents were divorced just last year.
Growing up, Leanne felt the failings of her father. “I didn’t feel like I had a dad, really,” Leanne told me. Her father had been very devoted to his work and was very emotionally absent from Leanne’s childhood. When he was present, he carried an impatient and angry disposition that constantly weighed on Leanne’s shoulders. For example, she told me, “I remember being young and being anxious to go out to eat because I didn't know how the waiter would act, and what that would then cause my dad to be like.”
Not only was her father’s hot temper of concern, but he had other habits that negatively impacted Leanne’s family. He struggled with alcohol and, Leanne later found out, a severe pornography addiction. These became significantly worse after her father became dangerously ill with pneumonia and was put into a medically-induced coma for a month. When he woke up from the coma, the family expected him to turn a corner for the better in light of his miraculous survival. Instead, his drinking and other bad habits intensified. His marriage suffered. “At that point we were all pretty unhappy,” Leanne remembers.
Eventually, things became so difficult that Leanne’s mother considered leaving. Leanne and her siblings were all in agreement that it might be beneficial to leave for a while, with the intention of giving their father some space to work on himself so that he could then work on his relationships in the family. But just about that time, Leanne’s father started to improve, so they all decided to hold out a little longer and see what would happen.
The improvement did not last. The pornography addiction became severe. Leanne doesn’t know the details, but one day her mother caught her father watching something horrible, and she could not “live in the same house with someone like that” any longer.
Leanne had been away on a ski trip, and when she returned, her mom had already begun to move things. She instructed Leanne to pack a bag for at least a week. They were leaving.
At this time Leanne was a senior in high school. Her father attempted to improve relationships after they had left home, but these efforts were unhelpful and ineffective because he put no effort toward his own improvement.
He received a DUI that year. After Leanne left for college it was also discovered that he was on dating websites, including unsavory ones, despite being in marriage counselling with Leanne’s mother. He soon served her with papers of separation and they were divorced in the summer between Leanne’s freshman and sophomore years of college.
Unfortunately, their difficulties did not end with the divorce. For a time, Leanne’s father dated a woman who would ruthlessly harass Leanne’s mother on social media, causing intense grief. Even now Leanne’s father continues to treat her mom with great disrespect. Her mother hopes to move farther away to gain some healthy physical distance from all of the trouble he causes.
In spite of all this, Leanne has one of the most gracious outlooks on her life I have ever heard. She says the hardest lesson she has learned through all of it has been forgiveness. For a long time she harbored a lot of anger toward her father. The Lord has been continually teaching her to let go of her anger and give up her rightful sense of injustice and lay these at the foot of the cross.
“I learned a lot about forgiveness and what that really looks like,” Leanne told me, explaining how difficult it can be when a person is not sorry and continues to hurt you over and over again. Yet it is simple in her mind: “This is what we do to the Lord every day,” she said softly, “and most of the time we're not sorry and we don't even realize we're doing it, and He chooses to forgive us in that.”
Leanne is replenished by God’s new mercies every morning. She trusts His faithfulness to redeem the relationships in her life. “Sometimes in the moment I don't always feel it,” she admitted, but “you cry out and then you're heard, and he gives you that little bit that you need to keep going and he gives you the hope that these relationships aren't …at their end, and the Lord isn't done.”
Leanne learned tremendous trust in the Lord and forgiveness through her difficult life. She also gained, through all of this, an empathetic heart for those who are hurting. She believes God used these events to cultivate in her a “deeper appreciation for kindness and just being loving towards people and making sure that they feel heard and valued… I know what it feels like to feel unheard and feel unloved by someone who's supposed to love you unconditionally.”
Leanne became an RA in college because she wanted opportunities to love others in this way. Her own RAs helped her greatly as a freshman, and now she is able to be a part of a supportive Residence Life team. It has become one of the most fulfilling things in her life to be a part of an RA team, loved and supported by them all as they love and support their residents.
Much of this blog has been dedicated to remind people that not everyone has the same background, and that we ought not to make assumptions about peoples’ pasts. This story brings the principle into the present; we also ought to be mindful of and sensitive to what could be going on in people’s lives right now. Leanne found it difficult that many of her friends simply didn’t know how to react when she would explain her situation. Their reactions were often something like, “that's horrible, I can't relate to that, I don't know how to help you.”
Leanne recognizes that many people feel uncomfortable hearing about the pain in other people’s lives, and they may feel inadequate to help at all. But she pleads that even if they can’t relate at all, people can always be a support. “A lot of times we just need to feel heard,” she explains, “and we just need you to weep with us if we're in the middle of it.”
Leanne offered wonderful advice for those caring for hurting people. She encouraged us not to ignore the issues people are dealing with. “But on the flipside,” she says, “don't go into it feeling overzealous and like you have all the answers. …One, be willing to step into that situation, and two, be willing to learn the nuances of it before you offer your well-intentioned help. Because a lot of times that’s not what they need. A lot of times they just need to be heard.”
Leanne does not regret the events of her life. She wouldn’t change it. “That is where I found the Lord the most, in the middle of all the darkness” she told me. I was so deeply blessed by the grace and wisdom Leanne showed in telling her story, and I was greatly honored to hear it. I, and I hope my readers, have learned much from her.
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!