Living With “The Face”

I was talking with some friends of mine who have what we humorously called, “The Face”. “The Face” is how we described that intangible thing about a person that evidently invites people, sometimes friends, and sometimes people you don’t even know, to open up and begin telling you their stuff.  Sometimes their very personal stuff.  Sometimes at really awkward times.

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This photo captures a young me, learning something about the art of listening with a delightful German student.

There was the time when I was in the express line at Wal-mart – and the cashier began telling me about her upcoming second marriage and how she felt about it, how the first one didn’t work out, how her mother wasn’t being supportive… and I seem to recall something about tattoos.  Did I mention I was in the express line? Which is not exactly the place where long-term relationships form. One friend, a former airline attendant, told us about her many stories of, what she called, “Jump seat therapy,” where passengers sitting next to her on take-off or landing spilled their guts…and then walked off the plane.  She would tell them, “Buh-bye,” in standard flight attendant speak, and think, “Wow. I know waaaaaay too much about you.”

We also shared stories of how, in our circle of friends, we would end up in the deep end of the conversational pool, often without even trying, sometimes when we didn’t mean or want to.  And how sometimes, we sort of felt used, even by people we loved, even as we loved the practice of being authentic with each other.

In light of all this, I have realized how my love for people and really great conversation (Which is the basis of all of this.) has, at times, had the somewhat ironic effect of turning me into an even greater introvert. (As if I needed a push.)  The reason?  If it seems most every conversation holds the potential to turn into a gut-wrenching, tearful sob fest, well…some days it is just easier to stay home. (And, side note, I’m finding that this tendency can make people begin to avoid me – which, because I love people, is something I would like to avoid.) We then chuckled a bit, relieved there were others like us out there, and wondered what it was that regularly led people to pour their hearts out to us.  Recently, I think I named part of the reason.

One of the greatest gifts we can give another person is the gift of being present with them.  Of our undivided attention.   When we tell someone else, with our eyes, our body language, our facial expressions, the stories we choose to share, with a well-worded and timed question…that says “I see you.  I hear what you are saying, even beneath the actual words you are using.  I am interested in you.  In this moment, you are more important to me than my phone, than watching what is going on behind you, than me thinking about what I’m going to say to you next.  I am here with you. And I am listening.”  (My friends and I called it “The Face, but we probably should call it “The Heart” because that is a more accurate description of what it actually is.) Some have a natural curiosity and affection for people…and it shows up in their face and heart. Bumping up against it can be a powerful experience for some.  As I’ve met people with this gift, their presence, interest in, and affection for me often surfaces deep emotion in me too.

When we are seen, heard, loved…hearts open up.  No wonder deeply personal stuff sometimes comes spilling out…even if it wasn’t the plan for either of us. When I pay attention to how people normally interact with each other, I realize that this type of dedicated and focused interaction can be kind of rare.  I find this sad, because I think God created us to communicate this way much more often than we do.

And so the next question my friends and I discussed was, if you’ve got “The Face,”…how do you survive?  Because, as much as we love people and interacting with them,  it isn’t always appropriate, or safe for every conversation to descend to the depths of one’s soul.  Besides being potentially inconvenient or awkward, (or sometimes even dangerous) it can be exhausting.  And we realized that people who are good listeners, who have something to give, sometimes attract unhealthy people who may use them for their relational gifts.

Therefore, here are some thoughts on how to walk the line between being a good listener, an interested conversationalist and decent human being who loves and enjoys people –  and staying healthy and safe while doing it.

1. Choice: We should always have choice in where our conversations go.  If you feel like you don’t, it is probably a conversation you should end, or a conversational partner you might want to avoid.  Some people are relational black holes…and their gravity will suck the life out of you if you aren’t careful.

2. Mutuality: Conversations should be two-way streets, with both parties giving and receiving, talking and listening.  If they aren’t, it isn’t a conversation, but a monologue.  (Or a counseling session, which is a completely different thing.) Except in those periodic circumstances when it is appropriate for the conversation to be about one person and their needs, if you find your dialogue descending into monologue, you probably want to find a way to end it.

3. Learn to turn it off: I am learning that, just because I am interested, just because I know the right “next” question to continue a train of thought into deeper places, just because I may hear the emotional subtext sitting underneath someone’s actual words, it doesn’t meant I have to go there with them.  I don’t have to ask the next question.  In fact, it can be a very freeing and healthy thing to learn to turn my conversational radar off and just be in a moment with someone – without looking for or trying to control where it might go.  This, however means I must continue to learn #4.

4. Learn the joys of small talk: I am not a natural small talker.  Most of the time, I would prefer not talk at all, as opposed to talking about nothing.  (Over the years, Sunday mornings at church has ruined me in this area – we go there to meet with Jesus and each other in authenticity…and we waste the time talking college football, the weather and the last movie we saw…I digress, and mini-rant over.) I continue to learn that small talk can be a beautiful thing for all involved, and is in no way an indication of being a shallow person.  It may just mean I am a “person.”  And here is a big lesson…hours of pleasant and healthy small talk are actually very valuable.  They plant the seeds of safety, of affection, of learning about one’s life and relational style, so that if or when a deeper conversation comes around, we are both ready for it.

5. Think about the greater love: There are people in my life whom I love deeply, and to whom I want to give the first of my relational and emotional energy.  If I know my resources are limited, then it is irresponsible for me to give away to others, what belongs to those in my closest circles.  Sometimes I need to avoid or shut down certain conversations if I know it will drain away energy I will need for someone or something else.

6. Find your “life-giving cocktail” and drink it regularly.  If one wants to have meaningful conversations, one must first have something worthwhile to say. (Unfortunately, this is an often overlooked practice in our conversations.) What is it that breathes life into you, that generates substance, character, depth, ideas, curiosity and love for others? For me, over the years I have found the practices (or cocktail) of solitude (which is different from isolation), intentional reading, and exercise do this for me.  Afterwards, I want to be with people more.  (And people seem to want to be with me more too.) When I am healthier, there is more of me to offer.  I suspect each person has a different “life-giving cocktail.” My point is not for anyone to copy mine, but to find their own.  And drink it regularly.

As I write these things, I find myself a bit torn.  At times, the idea of strategically thinking through this part of my life can seem kind of cold and calculating.  However, I want to be the best me I can be and I want to be a blessing to others in my relational circles.  And, as I age, I realize have less energy, less margin, and less time left on the earth with which to work.  In light of all this, I must learn to be a wise steward and manager of all God has given me…including my “face”.

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It Can Be Just So Terrifically Awesome! (Conversations About Cancer pt. 3)

(Part 3 in my series on what it is like to talk with people about pain and the awkward (pt 1 – click here), awful (pt. 2 – click here) and awesome results.)

I still remember talking with a recent acquaintance who knew Jeff had just been diagnosed with cancer. She innocently asked a question about his health and prognosis to which there wasn’t a positive answer. It was an awkward moment. And she handled it perfectly. She looked right at me, giving me her fullest attention, slowed her speech so she was very clear, and said from her heart, “I’m so very sorry.” Nothing more. She was slightly uncomfortable, but comfortable at the same time. And I was comforted – by her sincerity. By her honesty. She saw me. Heard me. Even though we didn’t know each other very well, she didn’t let the awkwardness keep her from acknowledging the gravity of what I had shared.

Good conversations, especially those between older and younger women should be immortalized.

Good conversations, especially those between older and younger women should be immortalized.

There was the friend I invited over to my home for dinner and we went into my office so we could talk. We’ve known her for years and she loves our family. It was the first time I was able to tell her our news.  She wept bitterly and gave full expression to her sadness for us. And I felt so deeply loved by her tears and the lack of shame in letting them go.

There was the friend in another part of the world I spoke to on the first day we heard Jeff’s initial diagnosis. The unexpectedness of our news squeezed a surprised and soft “Wow” out of her as she processed what it was I had just said. And, after a few moments, emotion washed through her voice as she simply and quietly said, “I am so sorry for you two.” As I sat there in shock, she then asked the right questions and allowed me to tap into her wisdom. She listened and counseled and did what older women are supposed to do in those moments. She led. And it was so great not to have to lead when it took all I had in that moment to just sit upright and keep breathing.

There were the crazy friends who, during one of Jeff’s stays in ICU, when things were so uncertain, drove a long way to be with me. They brought me food. Good food too. They let me talk all I wanted, made me laugh like only they can, engaged me in a real conversation…and then prayed over me as we all cried.  It was the ugly kind of cry too, with sobs and snot and running make up – the kind you only want to do in front of those who really love you.  And I felt very understood, cared for and loved.

Sometimes we do the carrying. Sometimes we are carried. And it is beautiful.

Sometimes we do the carrying. Sometimes we are carried. And it is beautiful.

There was the text message that asked just the right question at just the right time that saved me from going down a dark path. I wrote about it here. And I felt gratitude that someone dared to not let me go off on my own when I needed to stay connected.

There was the friend who doesn’t really hug very much who let me bury my head on her shoulder and sob. I know she was praying for me in my helplessness. And I felt the specialness of her gift to me, of her coming out of her comfort zone because I needed her. She put my needs ahead of her own. She even made me drink some water because she recognized I wasn’t doing well and couldn’t take care of myself. I don’t really remember how I felt in that moment because my nervous system was fried with fear and grief and unknown. But I wasn’t alone in it because my friend was there with me.

There was the older woman friend of mine who came and sat with me in the hospital, just to be present so I wasn’t alone in a moment when I really didn’t need to be alone. I didn’t have to talk if I didn’t want to, but I could if I felt like it. Even when I wasn’t sure what sort of emotional response I might have and that made me very nervous about another being with me, it felt very safe. And good.

There were the phone calls from friends I hadn’t seen in years, but had to talk with me. There were the emails and texts from around the globe from people who know and love both Jeff and I. There were the personal visits from those who had to really work to get to where we were but came anyway. In all this I felt…so grateful that friends didn’t let time or distance or fear or awkwardness keep them away.

It turns out, many many many of the conversations I have had about Jeff’s cancer have been awesome. Not in a “ha ha, hey, let’s throw a party” kind of way…but in a deep “we are here with you” kind of way. I haven’t had to be alone, either in my heart or in my outer world. These awesome conversations have been about more than just the exchange of words – but the exchange of love, relationship and presence. More than encouraging, but soul-defining. A blessing. A gift I get to keep the rest of my life. Who knew? That in the face of so much pain, there would, at the same time, be so much joy? Treasures hiding under the muck.

From these friends I’ve learned so much about communication and connection. About love. About how to listen. About what it feels like when another approaches my pain – and how to do the approaching… especially in those fragile, tender moments when a heart is breaking.

No wonder God wants us connected to each other, in authentic community and relationship. To not hide, to open ourselves to one another in all its messiness and hang out there – by the roadside together until the hurting one can get up and walk again. Offering grace. Taking turns taking care of each other – because each of us will be the hurting one at some point.

And I feel so grateful to those who know how to communicate, how to be human, how to be compassionate…how to stay with someone in pain and not run in fear or from the awkwardness. My interactions with them haven’t always been neat and clean and pretty, but they’ve always been real.

And the best part? Those friends always brought Jesus with them. And that is always an awesome experience.

Pr. 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Pr. 25:11 A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.

It Can Be Just So Terribly Awful (Conversations About Cancer pt. 2)

(Part 2 in my series on what it is like to talk with people about pain and the awkward (pt 1 – click here), awful  (today) and awesome (up next) results.)

It was one of the many, many times I’ve been sitting in a hospital waiting room while Jeff was in a major surgery, and I was talking with one of the many, many people who have visited me during these times and tried to bring comfort. And while I was grateful for the effort, it went horribly, horribly off the rails.

As he sat down, he began talking. And talking. And talking. (Let me preface this by saying I’m a pretty good listener. A decent conversationalist, able and willing to do healthy give and take. This story isn’t about me wanting to monopolize a conversation but about what was appropriate considering the situation.) At first, given our context, I couldn’t believe he didn’t really ask me how I was doing or feeling, beyond just the obligatory greeting. So the first time he took a breath I decided to try and volunteer some of my story. If you know me or have ever read this blog in the past, then you know I am kind of honest about heart and spiritual stuff. I didn’t go all Job on him, lamenting from the darkest places of my soul, but I was describing something of my fear and weariness and grief – as I thought was appropriate for a hospital waiting room. I assumed he would be interested and able at least to let me say what I needed to say and at least, tell me, “I’m so sorry.”

Um, I was wrong. He looked at me, not with rejection, (thank goodness) but with confusion. Like an actor must on stage when a fellow actor deviates from the script. He had no idea where to go or what to do with what I had just said.

So he began doing what many… so many have done with me in conversation when the topic of my husband’s cancer and what it has done to our lives comes up. He continued talking. And talking. And talking.

After a few tries to join the conversation, I just stopped talking to see if he would notice. He didn’t. For well over 30 minutes. At first it was sort of comical. I thought I was having an out-of-body experience, wondering where the hidden camera was. And then it just started to hurt. Because I was having to listen to him when I should have been given the gift to talk. Because I actually needed my intellectual bandwidth to manage my own stuff and he was taking it from me. Because in a moment when I was supposed to be loved, I wasn’t. And it hurt.

My guess as to what he was doing? I have several theories. First, he could have been trying run out the clock on our conversation – and by not giving me space to talk, he was avoiding having to go to an uncomfortable place spiritually or relationally. Second, he may have been working with the good intention that keeping my mind busy, off my circumstance and a few moments of distraction would be helpful. (I’ve been surprised to realize that many pastoral visits seem to operate from this mindset.) Third, he may have thought that his words were actually helping, that in that moment what I really needed was more input to help me process my pain. Fourth, he could have just been terribly un-self-aware, not paying attention to how I was receiving him and clueless about what I might have been feeling or needing.

I suspect there is another, more-common-than-one-might-think reason as to why he so epically failed in the comforting category, however. And it is a reason I have experienced often as I move through conversations with people about my husband’s cancer and what it feels like for me. I think I scared him. Oh, not me directly, but my situation. Because if God loves me and I’ve been a relatively faithful servant of his for years now, and He could let this horrible thing happen in my life…then He just might let it happen to him too. Or to someone he loves. And that can be a very scary thought.  A paradigm-shifting, theology-busting thought that many aren’t ready to handle. A God who lets (and might even cause) bad things happen to those He loves.

And so I find myself periodically confronted with people who hurt me with their words, who shut me out of the conversation about my situation (ironic) because they are afraid of where things might go. These people refuse to let me communicate honestly about how I am doing and feeling by saying things like, “Let’s just focus on the positive.” (meaning, let’s not talk about the negative possibilities) Or, “I know God will heal Jeff.” (which shuts down whole streams of conversation ) Or, “It will all work out for good.” (again meaning, let’s not talk about the negative possibilities) While I appreciate and value faith-filled positive folks, what I’m talking about are the times some are unable or unwilling to participate in conversations that don’t follow a specific script. They seem unable or unwilling to believe God might just defy their expectations in this situation and break someone’s heart. And that He would still be loving in that moment of profound pain and disappointment.

Then there are the people who want to talk about things like God’s glory and what a gift it can be to  suffer for Him. (They are almost always young folk, without any real suffering or significant life experience behind them.) They quote lots of verses or a book they’ve read – and often go into preaching mode instead of conversation mode. (Which works in the pulpit…in the hospital waiting room or coffee shop? Not so much.)  In their head-lead desire to be theologically accurate, they end up being heart-less, rejecting the very Biblical imperative of being human and compassionate. (For the record, I know God is good. I know most circumstances have the potential to bring about some good. But there are days I don’t feel very good about it all. If theology can’t meet me here, if it can’t allow God to be sovereign and me to be human at the same time, it is lacking.) They hide behind an impressive theology because they are afraid of a God they can’t understand or put in a box. And they are afraid of those who challenge their paradigm.

I am learning compassion for those I meet whom I scare – and I am learning to be patient with the multitude of words that come forth from their mouths, unchecked by their brains and uninformed by their hearts. I know they are trying to help and do what they know to do. But sometimes, I just need to get out of the way because a conversation with them in the wrong place at the wrong time, like a hospital waiting room, can be just terribly awful.

Pr. 10:19 When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.

Job 6:26  Do you think that you can reprove words, when the speech of a despairing man is wind?

It Can Be Just So Terribly Awkward – (Conversations About Cancer pt. 1)

(As I’ve been talking about Jeff’s health and our circumstances with people for a while now, I think I’m ready to write a bit about what the experience is like, to have pain in my life and to have conversations about it with others. This is part one.)

I feel kind of sorry for many of the people I’m relating to in my life right now. Because as I’m going through various conversations with them, I have a choice to make. At what point, if ever, do I mention, “My husband has cancer.” ?

Just for the record, I’m not one of those over-sharers who bares uncomfortable truth out of context, with terrible timing, throwing very private, personal and valuable information to anyone who unfortunately happens to cross my path. In fact, at times  I can be a slightly socially awkward introvert, who waits a while before opening up. I am ok with listening first, asking questions of the other and sharing healthily… if it is safe, appropriate, if I’ve read the other person well enough to guess that they are indeed interested and it is the right time. (FYI – it isn’t always safe or appropriate, I don’t always read people properly, not everyone is interested and it isn’t always the right time.) For the most part, I am comfortable with myself and even when things get personal,  I’m not a bad conversationalist.

The conundrum comes when I realize this person will be in my life for a while and Jeff’s and my situation will eventually come up. How to tell them, to introduce the information for the first time? If I bring it up too soon or botch the actual words… before they get to know who I really am…maybe before I’m emotionally ready to release such personal information…they may retreat. I don’t blame them for being unsure if they want to commit to anything more than just a superficial relationship with one whose life is going to be so very messy. On the other hand,  if I wait a long while to share, after we have actually become friends or it is obvious I’ve had the news for a while, they may justifiably ask, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” How on earth do I make this easier for them? For me?

Because that moment when I actually say the words, “My husband has cancer,” can be just so terribly awkward. It is not an emotionally neutral statement and there are so many the unspoken implications that go along with it. Where exactly does a conversation go after that? And who leads after this point?

For some, it can be an emotional moment, especially if they know Jeff, if they already care about me or my kids, or if they have a similar experience in their background and more fully understand the weight of what I just said. Some have cried or gotten choked up with me as I’ve told them, which is powerful. I am almost always touched deeply when this happens – I don’t find this awkward at all. It is just that in these moments, I realize that, while I’ve had time to process the shock and grief, the other person hasn’t. So sometimes I get thrust into that also-awkward role-reversal moment of having to offer comfort to someone else about my grief. I’m ok with this and fully understand how we get here. But sometimes it still doesn’t seem quite right.

For others, they don’t know what to say. Either because they themselves are socially awkward around heart topics and don’t want to say the wrong thing. (Which is totally ok by the way.) Or they may want to ask questions but aren’t sure just how to do it or if it is appropriate. Sometimes there can be long awkward silences I am expected to manage because I am the only one in the conversation who seems to know what to do next. For the record, I appreciate these people, because I know they mean me no harm. In fact, I don’t mind subtly coaching them on how to handle me or others like me. I usually don’t even mind leading the conversation from here based the other person’s comfort level and needs in the moment.

Then I’ve had some conversations where the other person wasn’t really listening and didn’t hear what I said… either literally or metaphorically. Or they were so unsure of what to do that they pretended they didn’t hear me. (This has happened more than once.) These are truly awkward moments because they usually go on with the conversation as if I just said, “My husband had a burrito for lunch.” And I’m left to figure out where things drifted off to the surreal. I just mentioned cancer and they are back to talking metaphorical Mexican food. I dared to get vulnerable and go to the deep end of the conversational pool, entrusting them with something valuable from my heart… and they ran, screaming for the shallows, leaving me treading water, wet and alone.

Fortunately, awkward doesn’t kill. It is just uncomfortable. Sometimes it leads me to question myself and my relating abilities, which isn’t always a bad thing. A little more introspection and self-awareness can often be quite helpful in learning to relate better to others.  Sometimes I let it hit me in my self-worth, which is pretty much always a bad thing. Or, I wonder if staying connected in my outside world is worth all the work it takes. (Hint – almost always, when I consider hiding, it is dangerous.)

Ultimately, creating congruence in my life between my inner and outer worlds, between my heart and my relationships – working the discipline of appropriate honesty rather than secret-keeping – is very worth the effort. The pain of talking about A when my heart is breaking about B…well, I suspect if I did that long enough, unlike awkwardness, it would eventually kill something inside of me. Secrets create a powerfully destructive duplicity. And this is much more painful than an awkward conversation.

Awkward passes. Thank you Jesus. So I’ll keep at it, trying to figure out how to do that for which there is no real instruction manual. Trying to learn conversational graciousness, kindness and gentleness – and walk with others well as we learn to communicate about important things during an important season of life.

Pr. 12:25 An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

 

Good Conversation – (Healthy Rhythms pt. 2)

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Ephesians 5:19

There are times when I walk through the halls of church and I get very frustrated. I pass through one conversation after another that goes something like this: “How are you doing?” “Fine, fine. You?” “Good.” “Staying busy?” “You know how it goes, especially with kids.” “I know that’s right.” “Well, have a good day!” “You too. See you later.”

For the record, there is nothing wrong with that exchange. We all know that in the South, “How are you?” is a greeting, not an actual question. It is not an expression of superficiality. It is just a pleasant, culturally appropriate and wonderful way to say hello to someone. The small talk that follows such a greeting is also part of the ritual. It is a way for two

Friends from overseas, enjoying the sunshine, our front porch and a great conversation.

Friends from overseas, enjoying the sunshine, our front porch and a great conversation.

people to say extended hellos to each other and acknowledge that they have a friendly relationship. If you’ve spent anytime at all crossing cultures, you know that how people greet each other is a very important part of relationships. It is the southern equivalent of shaking hands, giving a peck on the cheek, trading goats or drinking tea together, depending on where you are. It’s just how we say “Hey” to one another and warm up for the true communication to follow.

But. If over an extended period of time that is the extent and depth of the conversations that take place…It is like perpetually knocking on the front door and never getting invited inside to sit and stay a while. I’ve talked with many people about this very thing and found that others share my frustration and concern.

We were created for depth of relationship with others. If we are a Christ-follower, then even more so. The practice of our faith is a community thing. We are called to share our thoughts, burdens, joys and pains. That doesn’t happen as you pass someone in the hall. It happens over coffee. In a living room. At a kitchen table. While walking together somewhere outdoors. Whatever it is that brings you side by side and face to face with another person for an extended time.

Intentional conversation is a healthy rhythm to practice. Putting times on the calendar with good friends where the object is to ask questions like, “How are you?” and then not rush the answer. Ask follow-up questions. Move slowly through the exchange, following a train of thought thoroughly before switching topics.

Conversations around a dinner table are great! Especially when balloons and streamers are involved.

Conversations around a dinner table are great! And while the birthday balloons are optional, the coffee isn’t.

A good conversation can be like a good meal. It takes time to gather the ingredients (trust, affection, shared memories), to prepare the food (when and where to meet, giving some thought about what to share and ask) and then to eat slowly, savoring the experience. A stomach feels completely different after a full meal with salad and dessert, than following a trip to McDonald’s.

I would suggest not only calendaring a few significant conversations a month, but also preparing for them. Think ahead of time what you want to ask and what you want to share. A good conversation is like a good tennis match. There should be lots of back and forth.

It can be a challenge to say, “This week I’m going to share my heart with someone and ask them about theirs,” without feeling a bit odd. Sort of needy, sort of nerdy. It feels like normal people don’t do that. But emotionally and spiritually healthy people do. It is so easy to let a month, then two, slip by and realize that you’ve haven’t talked with someone about anything more important than the weather, your kids’ schedules or sports teams.

I’ve not really had God show up in my life during a conversation about the weather. But I’ve repeatedly had Him show up during a conversation where I opened my heart to someone else. Knowing that, a rhythm of healthy conversation makes sense.

Permission To Come Undone (Being Human pt. 6)

I was talking with a friend of mine recently and she is one of ‘those’ kinds of friends. You know the type. She knows how to ask the right question, how to listen intently and wait as long as it takes to get the real answer, the right answer and to make you feel safe enough that if you wanted to…you could cry with her. And it would totally be ok.

Unfortunately, those sorts of people are few and far between.

At the start of our conversation I decided to throw out a test question, to see if I had read her correctly and if she was indeed as safe as I thought. I asked it with some context that isn’t important here and also in a genuinely light-hearted manner, so it wasn’t quite as awkward as it will seem. “So… if I come undone today during our time together, that’s ok, right?” Without batting an eye,  with a smile and gentle chuckle even, she replied, “You have complete permission to come undone.”

As I reflected on our conversation that day, I wondered why her words stuck with me. Could it have been her comfort with whatever form of emotion I chose to express? Her invitation for me to be as real or as vulnerable as I wanted? Maybe it was how she managed to create a safe place for us to talk and exchange more than just information. And I thought about how few places there are in my life where I have permission to come undone.

I found it sort of sad that somehow our emotions aren’t always as welcome into a conversation as our intellect or humor. What does it say about my normal conversational style and rhythms that I felt I needed permission from another person to express how I felt? Aren’t my emotions a valid and important part of who I am? And why is it that I am not always comfortable with this part of me or this part of others when it is their turn to come undone?

Jesus meets us in our humanity. This is the main thesis of the series entitled Being Human. There are things in our most fleshly, most earthly, most human parts that Jesus loves to inhabit, to speak to, to heal, to change, to redeem, to restore, to love. Jesus made us humans and He made us human. This includes our tears.

There are times we come undone and it is very much ok. Natural. Healthy. Those times when emotion bubbles and pours out of us. And while I can’t fully explain it, sometimes part of the undoing process must involve others – being with those who know how to guide us into and out of our undoing. Then we learn, when it is our turn, to walk others into and out of their undoing. While there is certainly a time for crying alone, I’m not sure that is how God planned it. It seems to me that when we learn to weep together, and this part of our humanity becomes ok in community, something powerful happens.

We connect. We learn to trust someone else with our pain. Shame dissipates. We humble ourselves with each other, cracking the door to greater relational depth. We learn to open our hearts in the presence of others, making peace with who God has made us to be, even when it is a bit messy. Or a lot messy. Jesus shows up and inhabits those moments, using us in each others lives to begin the process of ‘undoing’ what sin has done – and to begin the process of ‘re-doing’ us in His image.

So I’ve been wondering, when people are talking with me, am I a safe person? Am I comfortable enough in my own skin and with my own emotional health to invite others to be as real as they choose, to express whatever they feel with no fear of rejection or shame? Am I a good enough conversationalist that I can lead and/or follow people to talk about things that are important enough, where we get beyond just the head and maybe, just maybe, delve into the arena of the heart?

And am I willing to go first when appropriate?