The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on September 9, 2010.
She’s quiet, low-key, and soft-spoken. That didn’t surprise me. Quite often, the ones who speak the most eloquently and powerfully are also the ones with the softest voices.
Her name is Tabitha, and she was a guest at our Toastmasters club about a month ago. I was giving a speech that day, and she told me after the meeting how inspired she was by what I had said. As she told me a little more about herself and about the dreams she had, I was the one who was becoming more and more inspired by her.
Tabitha is from Uganda, although she’s lived in the United States for a number of years. For a long time now, she’s wanted to do something to help a special group of people back in Uganda – the children. Specifically, street children who have had a life even tougher than most, who have made some mistakes, and who are paying a much higher price for those mistakes than the circumstances warrant.
They are victims of a situation in which, quite literally, the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. They are teenagers who have been arrested for minor infractions and who have been thrown in prison, where they stay locked up for years. They are beaten and raped, and when they are finally released from prison they have nowhere to go. They are shunned by society, and they are outcasts in their communities. They don’t have enough money even for bus fare to go back to their homes. So they remain on the streets, with no hope and no future.
Tabitha knows many of these kids personally. She writes to them, and they call her Mom. She has photos of some of them, and their smiles and their stories break her heart.
“They’re good kids,” she told me, and said that for a long time now she’s wanted to do something to help them. She just didn’t know what to do, or how to go about it.
After another week or two of attending our Toastmasters meetings as a guest, Tabitha became a member of the club and signed up for her first few speeches. As soon as she started to talk, the room fell completely silent. When she was done, I was choking back tears, as were most – if not all – of the people in the room. We were mesmerized by what she had to say, and by how simply yet powerfully she said it. I was sorry when she finished her speech, because I wanted her to keep talking. Although she spoke for only about three minutes, in that time she helped us to understand what these children were like, what kind of life they had, and what kind of future they could expect. It was a future filled with promise that would never be realized, and of dreams that would never come true.
I’ve talked with Tabitha several times since then, outside of our club setting. I was amazed when she told me what it was that she found so inspiring about the speech I gave on that day that she first visited our club. It was humbling and empowering at the same time.
I started my speech by saying, “I don’t know. And – nothing.” These were the answers to questions I had been asked when I first started to embark on a career in professional speaking and was trying to figure out what I had of value to offer to audiences. I’ve changed my answers since then, but in my talking about this during my speech, Tabitha realized that these were also the answers she had been giving herself when she was trying to figure out what she could do to help the children in prison in Uganda. She decided now that those answers weren’t good enough, that they’re the kind of answers that give us excuses not to do what we know in our hearts we must do.
Since then, Tabitha has gotten in touch with officials in Uganda, and she has learned that many of these children can benefit simply from having someone intercede on their behalf. She has also found out what she needs to do in order to build a home that these children can go to when they get out of prison so that they can get a fresh start and some basic necessities, and so they can start working toward a better future. And she has decided that she is going to build that house, and be that person, and do this work that she knows God is telling her to do.
I’m going to try to catch myself whenever I start to say, “I don’t know.” About anything. I’ll take it as a sign that I need to look deeper inside myself to make sure that “I don’t know” doesn’t mean I’m avoiding something, or that there’s something I need to do, learn, or pray for in order to accomplish whatever I’m meant to do in the next phase of my life.
And then I will look and listen for different answers. They may come from my heart. They may come from God. They may come from other sources, including from people that I wouldn’t have expected to be part of the response I’m looking for. But I will listen intently so I don’t miss whatever it is I’m being told. Especially if it comes from someone quiet, low-key and soft-spoken. Like Tabitha.
© Betty Liedtke, 2010