Choosing Curious

One of the most helpful tools I’ve had over the past month is curiosity. I know that it can be off-putting to say “why” all the time, but even if I don’t say “why” I’m still in the position of: what can I learn? What can I discover? What is the story that is hiding in this exchange? What is the true thing that is yet to be found here in this conversation? 

I know that I am smart. That I have had a whole lot of education and reading and learning and that I am fairly good at teaching and preaching and facilitation. And I also know that I do not know the details of this community. 

I’m working on it. I’m spending a lot of time in conversation. Curiosity is the position from which I am aiming to have all of my conversations. 

People really are interesting. Like. Really. And I’ve spent so much time in the recent past not being able to talk to new people. Or really any people. And so I’m getting a lot of people time in. 

It’s making this introvert learn some new limits. And finding new places for spending spoons. And dropping things that were spending ones that I didn’t realize I had to spare. 

But in this all, I’m staying curious. 

I mean, sure, soon I’m going to have to jump off the deep end of creating a project and writing seventy pages of theological ground work. (Maybe eighty, I’m not sure). 

One of the things that I find really curious about being this kind of curious—is that the way that someone tells you a story—tells you nearly as much about the storyteller as it does about the story. 

I’ve got a story I’ve heard seven times, and I have heard at least seven different versions of it. Sometimes even the same narrator will have a different narrative the next time around. 

I’d have missed it if I wasn’t so curious. 

I’m working at braiding all these stories together, so that I can see the picture as widely as possible. Of course, my own perspective will also have a bearing on how I hear and interpret the story, but that is one of the great things about being a storyteller… I get to tell the story anew, a new way, and shape the telling of it the next time around. 

And even then, I need to remember to be curious to hearing the way that the listener reflects the story back to me, so that I can keep learning. 

Curious. Even.  

open ears

I have had more in person conversations with people outside of my family in the last week and a half than I have had over the last sixteen months. 

I truly believe that ministry is based on relationships, and I am doing my level best at practicing it. People love to share. People are hungry to tell you their story, even if it is the happy version of that story, because sometimes the telling of the story is also the crafting of it. But still. Listening matters. 

And I’m hearing the stories. 

I had a woman stop me in the grocery store and share with me for twenty minutes. I get this all the time. I am a sponge or magnet or glue for stories. I’m the heat signature for the tracking device. 

Its become so common that I get surprised when stories don’t overflow. When my norm is barely prompted outpouring of the deepest past and part of someone, when I encounter someone who is not eager to spill, I forget the prompts. What was easy becomes monumentally difficult. 

I’m remembering to stay curious. 

I’m reminding myself to stay curious. 

And in the midst of staying curious, to also allow and receive nuance, to hear the story behind the statement, to not fall into the trap of assuming that a single decision point is the defining part of the whole person in front of me. 

If only because I don’t want that done to me. 

I’m in this strange space of having five years of paid employment and ten years since I finished school… ten years of conversations deeply embedded in church without the performative or compensated part of it. 

And I wonder how that changes how I listen. I hope that the ten years have changed me. Rather, I know they have… I could go and read what I was writing right as I finished and see what changes have been wrought in my perspective. 

It makes me wonder what the next ten years will bring. What stories I have yet to hear. What heartbreak I have yet to sustain. What transition I have yet to navigate. 

How many more conversations I get to have. 

I am looking forward to listening and learning. 

I Love You

I love you. 

We might not have met yet, but. 

I love you.

I love you because you are made in the image of God. 

God knit you together in the womb of your mother and loved you and said you were very good. Supremely good. God loves you and I am working on learning from God. 

And so, I love you.

God says you are worthy of love. God says you are worthy of friendship and welcome and grace. It is part of your intrinsic being, no matter what you do or say. God loves you and wants you to share that love with those around you, so that you can experience even more the way that God loves you. And I want to keep learning about how God loves. 

As I learn, I love you. 

God is the only one who is perfect. God is the one who gave a perfect son to show us how love can be perfected in life here on earth, and I am working each day to be made perfect in love. I don’t expect to get it right today, tomorrow, or next year, but that doesn’t give me a reason not to work at it right now. I’m trying to love the way God loves. 

Loved, I love you.

If we are strangers, if we have never had the chance to meet and share around a table and celebrate that God loves us the way we are, I hope and pray you would give me a chance to show you how much God loves you by loving you in my own imperfect way. I won’t always get it right. I will make mistakes. I have scars and wounds and memories of times when I didn’t feel loved. 

But, or even because of these things… 

I will love you. 

Childhood Memories of Dad

One morning I was working on my sermon for Sunday. It especially struck me this time how I learned my basic sermon construction and delivery far before I ever considered preaching on a regular basis. I learned how I like to deliver sermons from the way that my father delivers sermons.

Unlike my father, who one Christmas Eve took a Post-It note with six words on it to the pulpit for his sermon notes, I need to write out the whole manuscript of what I want to say, word for word, in order to do my best work, even if I don’t read the text word for word once I get in front of people. However, it was my father who taught me by his example of interweaving storytelling and scripture reading along with the exegetical work necessary to apply the scripture to the lives of the people who listen. It is work that draws the hearer into the narrative, and when I get it right, I know that it is because the Spirit is working through me, the same way that I’ve seen the Spirit work through Dad in some tough places.

Once he preached about Moses who had to hold his staff up while the Israelite army was fighting, if the staff lowered, the army began to lose. Moses has two of his most supportive and trusted leaders come and hold his arms up so that the army can win the day.

Dad got a limb from a tree outside, and preached the entire sermon with it over his head, asking two of his leaders who were supporting him in the midst of conflict to come hold his arms while he continued to speak. He delivered that sermon over twenty years ago, and I still remember the vision of him with his arms raised in the chancel area of that sanctuary.

The week before Christmas I made a batch of Santa’s Favorites, the chocolate chip oatmeal walnut cookies that are our family’s specialty. My mom adapted the recipe to perfection and it has carried over into vegan brilliance now that we bake that way. These are the cookies that are our personal Santa’s favorite, our Santa being our father. He always wrote back to us after we left him cookies and a note on Christmas Eve, even after we knew we were playing pretend. Our Santa, every Christmas morning, leaves a Santa Apple for every person who is in the house. I know that dad worked hard to perfect the Santa Apples, carefully placing each individual element to make a fun creation. I’ve continued the tradition in our home, even before we had children; it’s a little like Dad is here even when he is a few states away.

We eat Santa’s Favorites at other times of the year, too. They make excellent river cookies. One of my dad’s favorite things to do is to go canoeing. He took both my sister and I canoeing out on the river throughout our childhood, teaching us how to read the water and plan ahead for obstacles downstream. He is an excellent paddler, able to brave rapids in a canoe that I would never dare without a guide. I get part of my love for the outdoors from dad, in part because he shared his joy and excitement with us as he taught us the names of trees and how different birds sounded as they echoed through the woods.

I learned how to be brave and caring from my father, as he navigated the rapids of rivers and twists and turns of ministry. I learned that you can’t always avoid the rough spots, but you can enter the bend and paddle through it in a way that gets you out the other side in one piece. Maybe with a little water in the boat, but still sound. It’s not always easy, but the journey and excitement are worth it.

Experienced Moving

I’ve moved a lot. I change houses like some people change favorite jeans. I know how to set up a kitchen in less than a week, and make a new house feel like a home I’ve lived in for years. 

Moving is not all about houses. It is also about leaving the familiar and moving to the unknown. It’s about changing out communities, finding new friends, and learning new places. It’s about losing and gaining things at the same time. 

My favorite moving day story is from when I was sixteen. We were leaving a place we had been for four years that we didn’t really ever feel we could call home. There are various reasons for that, most of them are not my story to tell, but for my own part I was not leaving any friends my age behind. I was glad to be leaving. 

Our driveway was black sand that ingrained itself in the carpet and any other surface it came into contact with. Each time I got into the family van, I would snap my feet together to shake the sand off my feet so that the sand transfer would be as minimal as possible. When I got in the car that final morning, I intentionally did not shake the sand off my feet, because I had run across the passage in Matthew 10 where Jesus sends out his disciples to preach about the Kingdom of Heaven. In verse 14, Jesus tells his disciples to shake the dust from their feet if they do not find welcome or listening ears. I didn’t shake the sand off my feet because I refused to say that the blessing of God’s peace was not present in that place, even if I hadn’t encountered peace while I was there. 

On the last day when we were packed up and the house was clean and empty, we went to have breakfast with a couple that were friends with our family. They pulled out all the stops. Biscuits, eggs, sausage, and this amazing concoction of blueberries with sour cream and brown sugar. Don’t knock it until you try it. June is prime blueberry season in south Georgia. That breakfast was the final good memory to have in a place that didn’t have many other good memories. 

Some moves are like that, a time to leave bad memories behind and move forward into new experiences. Some moves are heartbreaking, leaving behind longtime friends and loved spaces for the unknown. Some moves happen because of graduation or getting a new job or moving closer to family. 

I imagine that my perspective on moving is different than most folks, because I grew up expecting to move, and I chose to work in a profession that expects me to move. I never expected to be in the same place for a very long time. I always wonder where the next place we will live will be, even if that new place and new move is a long ways off. It means that my roots don’t get very deep. But it also means that I am always looking to learn something new about the people I meet. I become more curious each time I find somewhere new. I always know that the blessings of God are present even if I don’t yet know where to look.