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Whether you are trying to tell your own story or share life’s absurdities, one of the most vital skills we posess is our ability to listen to each other. It really doesn’t matter what I’m trying to communicate if no one will listen.

And a big part of listening is responding. It can be a simple nod of your head. “Yes, I hear you.” Or a shrug. “I don’t have a clue.” Or, if someone isn’t making sense, it might mean asking a question.

One day last week, I got a cryptic text. “Is it okay if we use items from the craft fair?” Since I’m in charge of part of the church craft fair, I knew this was most likely from a church member. But who? All I had was a number.

“I could text back – who is this?” I said aloud.

“That would be rude,” said my husband.

“Asking who it is would be rude?”

He nodded.

Pfft. How could asking for more info be rude? Nope. If I wanted to be rude, I’d just ignore it. Instead I clicked the phone icon.

In moments, Caryn and I were laughing. “Your name is in my phone. Why wouldn’t my phone tell you who was calling?”

In a few moments, I had saved her number with her name and I knew what she needed. We discussed work and her daughter’s health problems. I promised to continue praying.

Whenever we don’t agree with someone or don’t immediately understand what they are saying, it is easy to pull back and ignore them. Whatever. Not my problem. And that’s on a good day. On a bad day we argue and we shut each other down.

But God gave us ears to hear not only his word but each other. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with each other about everything, but it only takes a moment to listen and to nod. “I hear you. I hear what you’re saying.”

–SueBE

This past week I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries. One on the Cuban Missile Crisis really drove home the importance of communication.

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For those of you who don’t remember the historic specifics, Russia put missiles in Cuba. These missiles made the US a viable target. Kennedy announced that any Russian ship trying to approach Cuba with military weapons would be considered hostile.

A Russian sub was detected by the Americans. The agreed upon method to tell an enemy sub to surface and surrender was to drop charges. What the two sides hadn’t agreed on was how many charges should be dropped to send that particular message. The Russians expected a three charge memo. The Americans thought it took five charges to send the message, so that’s how many they dropped. Oddly enough, the Russians were hesitant to surface.

World War III nearly started because no one had thought to discuss how many charges should be dropped to signal a request to surrender. Never mind that it might be smart to find a better way to communicate.

This really spoke to me. How often do we assume that everyone sees things our way? After all, our way is logical. It is rational. It is natural and right. And if everyone we talk to agrees with us, that only reinforces our delusions. Then when someone doesn’t do what we think they should – BOOM.

The next time someone seems to be ignoring you or doesn’t give the answer you want, take a deep breath. Ask God to open your ears and heart. Maybe just maybe, you are talking past each other and none of us meer mortals has the complete picture.

As if we were submerged in a big, old can.

–SueBE

Anyone who says that they love change, in my not-so-humble opinion, is speaking from a position of power.  This is someone who is generally the engine of change. This is not the person who suddenly finds themselves looking for a new doctor since their old one is no longer or their insurance plan.  This is not the woman who learns that she is no longer on Medicaid.

Even positive change is hard if for no other reason than the fact that we need to learn change is needed.

This morning I listened to episode three of “Uncomforable Conversations with a Black Man,” a Youtube show with retired NFL player Emmanuel Acho.  Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper talked about discussing race with their kids.  “We want them to be color blind.”

This is something that you hear white people say.  But Acho explained why that is not what black people want.  It is not what they need.  Instead we need to see people and their cultures and respect them.

I don’t know if Acho and his guests “pre-discuss” the various topics they plan to cover or if it is truly candid, but neither Chip or Joanna batted an eye.  They listened, they heard, and they put in the effort to understand.

We aren’t at the Tower of Babel but sometimes it feels like we may as well be.  For years, the dominant society has been told that things are not fair.  Given how well it was heard, you’d think it was said in a different language.

It is time to listen.  It is time to do.  It isn’t going to be comfortable but God is with us every step of the way.

–SueBE

 

Nobody knows they’re a noodge, do they? I didn’t realize I was one myself until one day when my son was fixing his bed frame and I stopped in to offer “encouragement.” I’d say, “What if you tried it this way?” He’d say, “That won’t work, Mom.” I’d offer, “Do you need a wrench for that?” Finally he said politely but firmly, “That’s not helping. Please stop now.”

My version of “help” was really not helping. Sometimes when you don’t know how to fix an issue, you flutter about, making it even worse. Maybe that’s what’s going on with negative emotions that just won’t let up. 

That nagging voice in our heads that we call guilt really doesn’t see itself that way. In fact, it regards itself more as a quilt, seeking only to cover you with a patchwork of memories so you don’t make the same mistakes again. 

And fear is really a deer, lost in the woods, trying to find its way home. It doesn’t want to harm you; it’s just trying to navigate the unknown alone.

God embedded us with these emotions, so there must be a reason for them. Maybe it’s just to learn that our feelings — and in fact, most of the people in our lives — are trying their best. 

So, I know I’m a noodge at times, but I’m learning to scale back my fluttering and s/mothering of those I care about. Harping isn’t helping. Someday, I’ll be a former noodge. Maybe I’ll do a PSA to help others to deal with people like me. It might even help you as you deal with all those misguided emotions that hassle you relentlessly. Be patient with them, but be direct when need be, as my son was with me. “Move along, now,” you can tell them. “I’ve got this.”

Loot from the seminar.

At an MS seminar today, I sauntered jauntily (is there any other way to saunter? Not for this lady!) through tables of vendors giving away freebies in exchange for my listening to them talk about their wares. “We’re the only company in the state with (insert unintelligible acronym here) certification!” said a representative of one company. “Not everyone can say that!” I shook my head and offered my own acronym: “TTFN” (Ta Ta for Now!)

I did enjoy the candy in the shape of internal organs that the MS Center of a local hospital was giving out. I’m sure this goes without saying, but nothing says “noms” like chocolate brains!

After a zombie-like chocolate feeding frenzy, it’s official: I now only have half a brain.

As I was walking past the tables, I thought, Hmph. They’ve all got an agenda. They’re just trying to sell me something! Of course they were. That’s their job. Besides, I’ve got an agenda, too: I want free stuff. Specifically, I was looking for free bags for the ladies in my round-loom knitting group to carry their yarn and materials.

Eventually, I was able to unclench my attitude long enough to listen to the shpiels with an open mind. As it turns out, there were a couple of products that might benefit me. 

It’s only fitting that we should each get something out of our interactions. It’s not wrong to earn a living by selling things, nor is it wrong to be skeptical when something sounds too good to be true. Sometimes, somewhere in the middle, there’s a chance to be kind to each other and listen, whether it be to a sales rep or those of a different religion or political party. We don’t have to see eye-to-eye to hear each other from the heart.

Empire model mission.  I had never seen that term before today but I immediately understood what it meant.  Mission from above. Mission from without. Mission where someone comes in and fixes you.

It’s easy to think that we know what someone else needs.  Face it – her life is a mess.  He clearly can’t feed his family.  Look at them!

But I also try to remember those times that someone was totally wrong about me.  I don’t fully understand it, but I seem to invite people to come up to me and give me unsolicited advice.  One Saturday a woman walked up to me in the art museum.  “I watched you walk in and those shoes are bad for you.  You need to get something new so you walk right.”

What I really needed was not to step into a hole the moment I got out of the car.  That would really have helped!

I’ve had women walk up to me in the grocery store, look at the contents of my cart and ask me why I’m poisoning my family with dairy.  Why do I have so much rabbit food and no meat?  And the list goes on.

I’m not sure what it is that makes people think I welcome this advice.  Because really I don’t and I immediately tense up when I see someone coming towards me with that look in her eye.

But I also imagine that this is how a mother struggling to feed her family feels when we tell her what she is doing wrong.  Maybe instead of telling, we need to listen.  Instead of making assumptions, we might learn what mistep led her to this place.  We might learn what our community needs to truly be whole.

–SueBE

 

No two people see the same thing.  But we are often so sure that what we see is so obvious that we forget this.

Way back before we were parents, my husband and I were hiking Boca Negra canyon in New Mexico.  I pointed out a petroglyph for him to photograph.  “Bird? What bird?”  I pointed and pointed and got testy and snatched off my sunglasses.  What the heck?  Where did the petroglyph go.

With my polarized glasses on, I could see it.  Looking through the camera lens he saw nothing of the kind. Then he added a polarized filter.  “I think we need to head back so I can get what I missed.”  Now he could see it all.

More often than not, the problem is now when I don’t see things.  At 5’8″ I am the short person in the family.  They can see over things that I can’t.  You’d be amazed how often that’s a problem.  “What do you mean you couldn’t see me waving at you?  I’ve been doing it for five minutes.”

But we’ve also learned that by comparing notes, we get a much more complete view of various things and this isn’t just because of the differnce of six inches.  My background is social sciences and humanities.  My husband is a business major with a passion for astronomy.  Our son is an engineering student.

And the best thing about that kid?  He’s perfectly willing to quiz a farmer or a logger about something.  “Oh, now I see.  Thank you, man.  Have a good day.”

Me?  I’ve always suspected that we built the Tower of Babel with our own two hands and our unwillingness to see what others see and to listen to their perspectives.

–SueBE

Him: What’s bothering you?

Me: Nothing.

Him:  Why do you keep sighing?

Me:  I’m not.

Him:  You are.

After both my husband and son had conversations very like the one above with me, I realized something.  I sigh when my asthma is bothering me.  Long before the coughing kicks in, I sigh as I try to breathe deeply.  Now I know to look out for it as an early warning sign.

It doesn’t matter if the problem you need to address has to do with yourself or with society, step one is listening.  Only then will we learn that a problem exists.

Complaints about an election can indicate that people feel disenfranchised.

Concerns about hunger often point toward a lack of social justice.

Worries about the legal system might mean that we need to check to see that Justice’s blindfold hasn’t slipped allowing her to judge more harshly against one population that another.

Listen.  Listen deeply.  Even if you first reaction is to deny that a problem exists.

–SueBE

Color me befuddled. I could have sworn the voiceover in the commercial said that patients with “Twerkulosis” were advised not to take this medication.

Pause.

Twerkulosis? Is that something you’d see in a viral dance video? Viral in a good way, I suppose. Not like a contagion, or something. Of course, twerking at my age could throw a hitch in my gitalong. A twist in my pretzel.

Of course, what he said was: “Tuberculosis.”

Then I could have sworn a man in a conversation with friends spoke of being a “nocturnal octopus.” What might that be? A man who gets all handsy in the evening? That’s a bad thing, I would guess.

Oh. Wait. He said “eternal optimist.”

Mercy. This is why people get cranky as they get older. We start to have trouble with the senses we’ve counted on our entire lives. Hearing gets hinky. Vision gets blurry. And, of course, most people don’t project when they speak, so it can all lead to frustration.

It’s like a real-life game of Mad Libs. What random word will my ears hear? What is actually being said? Maybe this part of our lives is intended to teach us humility and those around us patience. Now, more than ever, the Golden Rule is a godsend.

Have you ever had a dream so vivid that you felt as if it was a message from the universe? It happened to me yesterday at 5 AM, so I bolted out of bed to write it down.

A lovely voice was singing to the tune of Al Green’s “So Tired of Being Alone” with different lyrics.

She sang:

When you’re out of here

When you can’t go on

When you feel like giving up wherever you go

And it bothered me. My first thought was to worry that my son might be feeling this way, so before he left for work yesterday, I told him about the dream and asked him if he was feeling like that. He said he wasn’t. I said, “I’m aware that I don’t always leave open avenues for our actually communicating. Often, I come at you with tasks or concerns instead of listening.” I asked the second question. “Do you want to talk about anything going on in your life right now?” He really listened to what I said. He told me he knew he could talk to me, and that he was okay.

Who was this message for?

In that patented Nicely-Noodgy way I have, I’m now in the process of cycling through my list of loved ones and contacting them. You okay? Had this dream. Want to make sure you’re feeling copasetic.

So when you ask the people in your life, “Are you okay?” and they say, “I’m fine,” ask the second question. “How are doing, really?”

Check on your loved ones.

Don’t tune out.

Check in with your soul.

Don’t check out.

We’d love it if you stuck around. We’ll stick by you. Let’s make it better, together.

P.S. If you need to talk, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number is 800-273-TALK (8255).

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