Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Listening between the lines

They'd been showing up at our house to play almost every day, these two kids. Close to Michael's and Simon's ages. Polite, but reserved. New to town.

We don't mind when the boys have friends over. As long as you follow our house rules, you're welcome here any time. These two kids, I'll call them Jack and Jill, knew the rules and were happy to abide. All too happy, it seemed.

At first, they made comments like, "Wow, your house is huge," and, "Why do you have so much food?" I love my house, but "huge" is never a word I would use to describe it. And all that food? Just a couple stacks of cereal boxes and canned goods I'd stocked up on. Nothing extravagant, by any means. But listening between the lines I heard, "I'm hungry," and I gave Jack and Jill some milk and apple slices with cheese.

Then I heard comments like "He sleeps a lot" and "I don't know" when I asked if their dad was at work. And I heard them refer to him by name instead of "Dad" and wondered who this man really was who was sleeping at their house while their mother took swing shifts at the gas station. Probably not their dad, after all. And I listened between the lines and heard, "He's a drunk" and "We avoid him." I'll refer to him as Loser.

Jack and Jill continued to show up at all hours of the day and night. Were always hungry. Always happy just to be on our property. As they became more comfortable they began to say other things, like "Mom says we're moving again soon."

"Who is?" I asked. "All of you?"

"Yes."

"Even Loser?"

"No, we're not telling him."

And I listened between the lines.

That night, I laid awake thinking and praying. Were Jack and Jill in danger? Were they moving to a better place? Should I have said something to them about coming to me if they needed help? About calling the police if they REALLY needed help?

The next day, they showed up again and said "Our mom couldn't go to work today because she fractured her arm last night." But I heard, "Loser found out about our plans to leave and lost his temper." I swear, that's what I heard. But did I listen correctly? Was I reading too much into it?

Better safe than sorry. We called the cops about our suspicions and gave them as much information as we could, but it wasn't much. We didn't know where their house was, only the general area. Didn't even know their mother's first name. All we could do was ask the police to keep an eye out.

Again, I laid awake. If the police snooped around their house asking questions, would Loser think the kids said something he told them not to say and get angry? Had we made things worse for them in the name of trying to help? Should we call CPS? Were we overreacting?

The kids disappeared for five days. We waited for them to knock on the door, drove by where we thought their house was. No sign of them. Maybe the big move had happened and they were long gone. Or maybe....no, I didn't want to think about that. I prayed.

Then they showed up. "We came to say goodbye. We're leaving tomorrow. It sure smells good in here, what are you making?" My relief was immense. I fed them dinner and gave them hugs and slipped a piece of paper with our phone number on it into Jill's hand.

"Call me if you ever need anything," I said. "We'll miss you."

And that night while I laid awake, I cried. I should've done more. Fed them more. What kind of chance do those kids have? Who's going to look out for them in their new town? How did I never know growing up that I was so lucky just to have two parents who loved me?

And I came to realize it's a difficult and serious thing to listen between the lines. Because sometimes it's easier not to hear, not to know. Not to get involved. Not to have to worry. I mean, who has the time and energy and courage it takes to listen between the lines?

I hope I do. Do you? Do you really listen to the people you cross paths with? Do you ever listen between the lines and hear things like "I'm lonely" or "I'm scared" or "Something's wrong"? Let's take a chance this week and open up our hearts (and our ears) to the people around us. Because, like Jack and Jill, I believe God put them in our lives for a reason.