We’re continuing our Summer Sampler series, revisiting some of our favorite posts from past years. This article was originally published in February of 2014. Enjoy! And please feel free to forward to a friend.
by Dr. Jean Marrapodi
Joan worked as a secretary all her life. She’d attended secretarial school right after high school and landed a job supporting executives doing the things secretaries did in those days: taking dictation, typing letters, running errands, fetching coffee, dialing the phone, and looking pretty. She was efficient and organized and got the job done, generally working after hours to do so. On Sundays, she’d attend church with her parents, but Joan was lonely, for in 1956, at 27, it was unusual for a woman not to be married.
Talented and pretty, she caught the eye of Clark, a new executive consultant in her downtown Manhattan office. Clark was an Ivy League grad, smart, charismatic, and came from a very different world than Joan. He invited her to dinner, took her to clubs, and treated her like someone special.
Not long after, Joan discovered she was pregnant. In the fifties, couples who found themselves in this predicament would “do the right thing” and get married. For Joan, this wasn’t an option, because the debonair Clark was married with two other children. Abortion wasn’t an option then, unless you went to a back alley room somewhere and paid under the table for a coat-hanger procedure. Shamed, Joan worked until the pregnancy began to show and was forced to quit her job, for in the fifties, pregnant women did not work. This baby had destroyed her career.
It was difficult to share the news with her parents. They were angry, very angry, because this brought shame on the family, and in their eyes, this baby had ruined their lives too. The anger of her conception was forgotten when the baby arrived and joy filled the home. Pictures were taken, toys and pretty dresses were purchased, and the air was filled with the scent of baby powder.
Soon after, Joan went back to work. The relationship with Clark continued, and three months later Joan was pregnant. Unable to support a baby and another child, her disappointed parents reluctantly let her move back in with them. This meant the family had to move to a neighborhood where no one knew them. After all, no one wanted the neighbors talking about bastard children. In a new location, a story could be crafted about an absentee father.
A year and a month and a day after the birth of her first child, Joan delivered a son. Her parents were adamant about their unwillingness to care for another baby and insisted she give him up for adoption. Joan placed him in with an agency, but six months later, took him back, obtaining a receipt from the organization that he was returned “in good condition” to release them from any liabilities. The wrath boiled in her parents’ home now that there were two under two to care for.
Joan found someone to look after her son, left her daughter in the care of her parents and returned to work. The relationship with Clark continued, whose wife had divorced him when she found out about the affair with Joan, which was one of many. In 1962, Joan got pregnant a third time, infuriating her parents, and adding to the mountain of shame. This time her parents insisted the baby be given up, so at 32, she was sent to a home for unwed mothers. The baby was born in April, and handed off to a placement agency. Running from their shame, the extended family moved once again, for it was nearly time for the children to start school, and none should know their awful secrets.
In 1963, divorce was nearly as shameful as illegitimacy, so to keep things proper for all who might ask, Joan changed the children’s last name, bought herself a wedding ring, and contrived a story about an absentee husband. The daughter was enrolled in kindergarten and Joan returned to work. Her parents got the children off to school, took care of the household needs and on Sundays they all went off to church. In Sunday School, the children heard Bible stories and memorized verses about a far off, disconnected God.
The anger in the household regularly flared up and was taken out on the one who caused it all: Joan’s first child. She regularly received the slaps, kicks, blows and screams of the family’s unresolved rage, walking on eggshells not to set anyone off. Surprisingly, the child was resilient and good natured, and no one outside ever knew what went on in the home. Joan never dated and never married. She never shared her story with anyone, keeping up the ruse of the story she’d invented. She had few friends, and found her value only in her job. Today, she sits alone in her dementia in her wheelchair in a nursing home, lonely and disconnected from all, largely by choice, to isolate herself over the years.
BUT GOD had a different plan for the little girl. Today she shares the good news of Jesus Christ and his transforming power. God had her grow up in a community where her friends invited her to a Christian camp where she met Jesus. She married a Bible College grad and built a Christian home. As her family was cleaning out Joan’s apartment to move her to the nursing home, they found the receipt for the returned son, and folder containing years of letters forwarded from the adoption agency from the sister who was given away. Joan never responded to those letters. The children contacted their sister, delighted to discover that she is a successful surgeon, heading up the department at a large university hospital system. She has met Joan and siblings and the sisters have a great relationship.
In ministry, what can we learn from this? Family systems are complicated. Consider the back stories as you interact with people. We only see a thin slice of their life as we interact with others. Who do you minister to?
- The lonely, isolated woman at the nursing home
- The successful single career woman
- The single mom
- The battered child
- The parents dealing with the pregnant daughter
There is hope for all in Christ, who binds up the brokenhearted and heals their wounds. He is able to change, transform, and redeem the past, letting each of us user our story for His glory. Indeed I know, for I’m Joan’s little girl.
Dr. Jean Marrapodi is a pioneering problem solver. After a six month roller coaster ride following God’s direction to “Pack up all your stuff and I’ll show you where to go” she sold her home of 23 years and relocated from Providence, RI to Quincy, MA where she lives with three cats and a persnickety pooch named Arthur. Jean is an adjunct professor at New England College of Business and recently began a new job at MassMutual that was chosen for her by one of the cats. Literally. (Look for the sequel to this article or find her Facebook profile to read about that adventure.) During the past 20 years, at one point or another, at her last church Jean led every ministry area (well, except Men’s Ministry) but is most passionate about teaching Bible. Jean has a PhD in Adult Education and a Master of Science in Instructional Design for Online Learning. She is a frequent speaker at Christian and professional conferences at the local, national and international level and on the teaching team for the by design Leadership Training for Women courses. She views herself as one in full time Christian service, with a goal of reflecting Christ in all she says and does. Find out more about her at applestar.org.