It was the Sunday of my installation at church. I was so nervous. I was being installed as a ministerial intern! Me? This broken girl, how in the world did I ever think God could use me? My palms were sweating and I wished as I had so many times for God to show me His plan. And then in she walked. The door opened and Shannon was there. She looked more nervous then I felt. I jumped up and I asked her if I could give her a hug? She didn’t even answer, she just wrapped me up in a hug and I could feel her shaking. “I came,” she whispered into my hair. “I am so glad” I told her, we can sit and be scared together.
Now she comes to church sometimes, and others she does not. When she does not come she always tells me when she sees me next, that she was just too scared that day to be around people. I always tell her that I understand and that so does God. At Christmas, she came and she brought me a gift. I will never forget the card. It read simply; thank you for loving me. I have not felt loved in a long time.
What if I had not kept trying? What if I did not have these tattoos? What if I had allowed her silence to keep me away? I sat in church that day of my installation and asked God to show me His plan, and then He did, in that card from Shannon. I have not felt loved. How many people walk through life feeling unloved and unlovable? How small of a thing to allow someone to be seen. What a gift that I am being given to show people the dignity of being loved as they are.
I love my time with her now. I love when she comes and sits in church with me. Or when I get the opportunity to carry my lunch tray over and sit with her. She shares her life with me; the stories come rolling out in her soft, gentle voice. She tells me about her hopes and dreams. She tells me about her family and her apartment that she loves. She tells me when she is struggling and when things are going well. And always now she meets my eye.
Shannon has three sisters. All three sisters have mental illness; Schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder, and borderline personality. She loves her sisters and she worries about how they will continue to make it. She carries a lot on her shoulders. I have finally heard her laughter, and it is the sound of pure joy. She has confided in me that she loves to sing, and she dreams about feeling “well” enough to sing in the praise band at church; A simple, beautiful goal.
People are made up of so many pieces. Their stories are vast and wide and they are bigger than the label of “mentally ill”. That is not the beginning or the end of the story, it is merely a part. And every human has the innate desire to feel loved; and to be loved where they are, as they are. We are all so afraid of falling short; of not being enough. We all have that voice inside of us that tells us we are unlovable; some peoples are merely louder than others.
Karen Cassidy is a mother of three amazing adult children. She is a ministerial intern for the Salvation Army, and will (hopefully) be attending their Seminary in August. She is currently living in Ishpeming, Mi. She is passionate about people and believes every person has a story just waiting to be told.