A few months ago, I accepted an invitation to go to a monthly dinner for graduates of my hometown high school. There were some people present that I had not seen in thirty years or more. A strange thing happened when I tried to talk to the people who were present. When I was asked if I knew a certain woman, she chimed in, “Oh, of course he does. We are Facebook friends. I had no idea who she was from that tiny profile picture. When I tried to talk about events that were happening in my life, I got stopped when individuals would say, “I know that. I read it on your latest tweet.” I found it hard to find a topic that someone did not find to be “old news.”
Although there are many good things to say about social media, there are some challenges it brings. The good side is that through Facebook, Twitter, Google and the Internet, we can know about almost anything about anyone at any time. When they got up, what they ate for breakfast, whether they had a good day or a bad one are only a few of the things we can know about our friends. Some of our “friends” we have never met, but feel so close to them that we are willing to marry them “sight unseen.” We let our fingers do the talking for us. We are beginning to text almost as much as we talk on the cell phone.
While we know more about what people are doing, we have never had a time when people feel more alone than now. Who really cares about me? What happens when you really need to be honest about your struggles? Where do you go when you need to really share your heart?
When my daughter died at 32, I desperately needed to talk to someone. Because I couldn’t find a way to express my emotions verbally, I turned to writing them down. Conversations with an Angel was initially my attempt to communicate the grieving process from a “present tense” perspective. I wanted those who were suffering to know that they were not alone. I wanted to talk about some of the things I had learned about being on the other side of the funeral. I wanted people to feel the emotions of loss without having to go through it themselves.
As I got further into the writing, I realized that my goal changed. I was not trying to write a book. I needed to retell the stories from conversations and events Jennie and I had shared over a 28 year period of time. I needed to talk about the days that changed the person that I am. I needed to converse about not only the difficult days, but also the days of joy we experienced. I needed to laugh as well as cry. I needed to let my emotions out by retelling stories that have clarified my relationship with God. I wanted to be an agent of hope.
I have learned that we need to be open and honest about what we feel when our hearts are breaking. We also need to understand what goes through the hearts of others so that we can be a healing agent. The common denominator that we all share is that we have all known pain. Whether it is the loss of a family member, physical health problems or scars from an abusive childhood, we need to find a way to openly talk about our struggles. It is a necessary step in the healing process.
Conversations with an Angel is the retelling of the story of a young woman of God named Jennifer Schuneman who victoriously faced an ovarian cancer when she was four, who became a pediatric oncology nurse who touched so many lives. She went on to courageously face terminal liver cancer. Through the conversations Jennie and I had from when she was four to the time she was thirty-two, she taught me more about life than I could ever have taught her.
Before you finish reading this book, I will promise you that you will both laugh and cry. You will feel as if you know Jennie personally. In a sense, you will get to talk with Jennie as she struggles with the issues of life that we all do. Most importantly, you will hopefully see Jennie fade away until there is nothing left but Jesus. Don’t be afraid to begin the journey of walking with one who successfully finished the race. We all have a lot to learn.