Life Lessons with Monica: Making A Difference

I had never given much thought to the way I had grown up until recently. As a parent I see how much I endeavor to make sure my children want for very little and need nothing. Finances aren’t always the best for our family, but we always have food in the kitchen, clothes and shoes to wear, and a roof over our head. Things like toys and games are always found somewhere, and at times seemingly everywhere, in our home. With four children this is something to be expected, at least that is the mindset you run into in the American working class. I learned as a child, what it looked like to be privileged, and I truly was not privileged by societal income standards. We never had excessive money, but we always had what we needed, there were always presents under the tree on Christmas morning, and we had each other.

So why would I feel, as a child, that I was privileged?

In my small hometown of Starkweather, North Dakota, nearly everyone grew up active in either the Lutheran church or the Catholic church. My family belonged to the Lutheran church. In the late 1990s, we had recently gotten a new pastor to take over our congregation. He was young, motivated, and focused on building a youth program. He also arranged to have a pastor from Africa come to our small town to be a guest speaker.

The town was abuzz. This was someone who had lived a completely different life, in a seemingly completely different world. He survived horrors we could not know, and he was there to speak to us. Musa holds a special place in my heart for he taught me an important lesson about myself: I have always had a strong sense of intuition and a deep, giving nature. It was not something I developed over the course of my maturation in life and the teachings of the adults in my life. Of course, these things helped to solidify my manners and respect, but this is one time I can safely say, I was a different kind of child. I was the kind of child that held no stranger danger and scared my parents with how easily I would hug complete strangers. I was also the kind of child that worried about what other people felt, and what I could do to bring happiness to those who did not feel it.

I have taken the archetype tests. I fall firmly in the caregiver archetype. Though I have developed other aspects of myself in order to bring more balance to myself and my life, at my core I am the caregiver. When talking about the roles children play, I was the “fixer,” always taking it upon my own shoulders to make sure others were happy, strife was settled, and everyone knew I loved them. This caused a few issues. First, it made me self-sacrificial in my actions. Second, if I could sense any kind of discord, lacking understanding, I would tend toward being “clingy,” because I always wanted to hug people and show them love. Being called clingy because of this created insecurity and hesitancy.

Sunday morning church, one summer day (I believe it was summer, I know there wasn’t snow, and in North Dakota, that generally indicates only one season), Musa gave two sermons: a children’s sermon and one meant for the teenagers and adults. In the children’s sermon, Musa spoke to us about growing up in Africa. He spoke about stuffed animals, asking how many of us owned one, and then telling us a secret, “I never had a stuffed animal growing up. To this day, I still wish I had my own stuffed animal.”

I think he was trying to make us giggle. Here is a grown man, a leader of the church, and he wanted a stuffed animal?! It seemed silly and his tone was playful, yet there was something in his eyes, and his energy that my youthful empathic abilities cued in to almost immediately. All the other children were giggling, so I was quick to follow suit, but internally I was experiencing a sick sense of shame building. In my attic at my house, there were garbage bags filled with cast-off stuffed animals and dolls that I had outgrown, yet couldn’t bring myself to get rid of.

I have all those stuffed animals, and I don’t ever play with them, and Musa has never been able to play with one. Was all I was thinking as I walked glumly back to my family’s pew. My mind was whirring until the end of church. When we finished the service I could barely contain myself. Bouncing up and down on my toes, I was anxious to get down the aisle, shake the pastor’s hands, and bolt. Perhaps he sensed my urgency as anxiety, or perhaps it was simply because he too was an empath sensing my energy being off-kilter, but as I made to put my hand out to shake Musa’s, unable to meet his eyes, he enveloped me in a hug. Not a small, awkward hug one would expect from a stranger, this was warm, comforting, and soothing.

My shame dissolved inside the hug, and I was ready to run away for a different reason. After releasing me, he smiled and said, “God bless you.” Shyly I said, “And also with you,” making him chuckle to himself. I know now it is because he was simply saying it, but I responded how every Lutheran church goer instinctually does. After he turned his focus to my mom who was behind me, I disappeared. I was an active child. Running around the church or running out to go play was normal, so my family didn’t think much of it.

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