Sharing your story can be one of the most powerful tools to cross the divide that seems too vast to navigate. It builds a bridge that crosses the divide and encourages reconciliation. I believe it is the building block of any good relationship. Be intentional. Listen. Treat people with love and respect. I love to hear other people’s stories. I need that in my life. When we share our stories and find commonality we lay that cornerstone for true connection.
So how does my story build a bridge? I think by being vulnerable and sharing you help others. Someone who needs to know they are not alone, someone who needs to know you can overcome. It will resonate with some and not with others. The people it strikes a chord with may have a similar story, or they may have empathy or are just curious about who I am now. I think the Divine Master puts it before the people who need it and those that don’t scroll on by, and that’s ok. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, you can’t take yourself too seriously.
So here’s a glimpse of my story, I hope it resonates with someone out there.
My younger years were pretty tough, by the time I graduated high school, I had moved 16 times. I lived in a town with no diversity from the time I was 7 until I was 17, I am the illegitimate daughter of a divorcee. I was born in the 1960s before divorce was as common. Coupled with my family issues, my childhood was unstable at best. At times I was considered too good for my raisin’ and other times I was white trash who came from the trailer park. I had a sprinkling of middle class, depending on who I was living with at the time, but those experiences were short-lived. I didn’t have a lot of stability.
Moving all the time as a kid prepared me for life with a military man. My husband served 15 years in the Army. Military life exposed me to a diverse community. The inclusion in the neighborhoods I lived in was beautiful. When spouses deploy, you band together to help each other. Struggle tends to bring people together.
When my husband separated from the Army, we moved to Knoxville. It is now the place I have lived the longest in my entire life. I have been here 21 years. I love it here. When we first moved here I intentionally looked for a community that was diverse. I struggled. I was disheartened. It is said that 11am Sunday is the most segregated time in America. I believe that.
When we moved to our little country house in east Knox County, we visited a black church just down the road, they were so open and welcoming. They showed us so much love. We were “fostered” by a family that now almost 20 years later, still loves me. They have been with me through the good, the bad, and the heartbreaking. There are only a chosen few from my own family that have done that.
Sitting across the kitchen table every Sunday with our newly found “foster family” we shared our stories, who we are, we talked about life, religion, fears, hopes, and dreams. We found we weren’t so different at all.
I found out that poor white food is the same as soul food. I think soul food is a great description of the relationship-building that happens around a kitchen table. It fills your soul in so many ways. Sharing a meal creates a bond. One of the greatest gifts I ever received was when Mama Lee gave me her recipe for mac and cheese. That’s an honor ya’ll. It’s family.
Daddy Lee before he passed away would take my skinny, very white late husband to other churches and introduce him as his son. Both he and my late husband got such a kick out of it. As someone who didn’t have a good family life, this space became sacred. It filled a need that we didn’t even know we had. At Thanksgiving, Easter, Christmas, weddings, and sadly funerals we were always included. They know our story, we know theirs. We built a bridge together in our community. It is a beautiful thing. Even today, I try to spend some quality Sunday time with this family that loves me, even though I am not their blood.
I struggle with the modern church right now, too often I see them building barriers rather than building bridges and it hurts my heart. The church isn’t the only place you can build a bridge. During COVID I think community-built bridges became overgrown and underused and need a little revitalizing. We all need to work on our bridge-building skills.
A study by Michigan State University found that living in isolation can be dangerous for individual health and maintaining diverse relationships is just as important, if not more, than having a large number of relationships. Specifically, we found that individuals with more diverse relationships had a lower risk of mortality and experienced less cognitive and physical decline. Socially isolated adults have a 29 percent higher risk of death compared to those not living alone.
So think about the people you know, do they all look just like you? Do you know people of other ethnicities, other cultures? Do you know people in varying age ranges? Do you know their story? Have you asked? Be observant, ask questions and apologize when you don’t understand something. Be respectful and loving. Be inviting, have lunch with someone new and just get to know them, be genuine, be intentional, and spend some time really listening. You will be amazed at how much you have in common.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other just as God in Christ also has forgiven you, (Ephesians 4:31-32)