I’m working on setting up a series of online discussions and workshops covering various topics.
This topic is a virtual Bible Study. Listen to my thoughts here:
What do you think? Would you participate? It would be between #Zoom and #Whatsapp or perhaps a combo of both. If you’d like to participate, please send me your email address and I’ll send a link or details once the first meeting is organized.
Following a rally demanding the reunification of the abducted children the United States government abscounded with at the southern border, with their their parents, I began a conversation with a first generation Irish American woman. Our lingering conversation intrigued Idris, a Turkish student studying film in the city. He had been filming during and after the rally and asked for a short statement from us. I in turn asked to film a statement from him. Unfortunately, I missed the first half of his truly enlightening statement because I forgot to hit record. Luckily, I’m not being graded! Take a listen and share his story!
Today was a blah day. This whole week I’ve been low on energy. Tonight on my way home, a young homeless man called out to me as I walked past with a classmate, “Can you buy me something to eat?” This is a common question in New York City. I do what I can when I can, and basically keep it moving. I asked him if he knew what he wanted. He said yes. We went into the restaurant. My classmate followed. There was a line; he and I got in it. My classmate had a large bag so she stood off to the side.
I started asking him questions. Are you a student? How long have you been homeless? Where do you normally stay? How long have you lived in New York? How are you doing overall? He answered some of the questions and deflected others, but he was very adamant in telling me what bothered him about the world. “How am I doing,” he repeated. “How should I be doing when so many people hate me? People hate me because I’m gay. They hate me because I sing and they don’t want me too. They don’t want me to be anything and they tell me that. But I’m not going to hate them back. And I’m going to keep singing.”
I looked him in the eye and said, “Can I share something with you that I’ve learned over the last twenty years?”
He looked taken aback. “I shared that with you because I thought you wanted me to be real,” he said cautiously.
“I do. Thank you for sharing. I just want to save you some time and energy. From the last twenty years of my life, I can tell you: people don’t hate you because you’re gay. People hate you because people are hateful. It’s just people being people. Don’t over-complicate it. I can’t tell you how often I asked myself , ‘Why me? Why are people treating me like this or that? What if I was different? What if I did what they wanted me to do? What if I was a better person?’ But you know what? None of that mattered. People hated me because they wanted to. Hate is what people do. I had to learn to appreciate who I am. You need accept who you are. When you accept all the various aspects of yourself, other peoples’ thoughts about you will no longer matter. Learn to appreciate yourself. Learn to love yourself.”
He looked a bit dreamy-eyed and touched his head to my shoulder for a second – I admit I wasn’t expecting that. Then he looked me in the eye and asked if he could sing me a song.
“I’m not one to silence anyone’s voice,” I replied, “please do.” We were still in the middle of a slow-moving line in a restaurant in Union Square. He began singing a beautiful song in his beautiful voice. Halfway through I began lip-syncing along with him. My heart was lifted and I believe he lifted the hearts of several people in the line also.
He sang I Still Believe by Brenda K. Starr; the song was later covered by Mariah Carey.
When he finished, I had more questions for him, as did my classmate and soon we were at the register. He ordered his meal and I asked him his name.
Brandon. His name is Brandon.
A short while later, after leaving the restaurant and parting with my classmate, I searched online for the song he sang to me. If there’s one spark of hope left in my grasp, I’ll hold it with both hands. It’s worth the risk of burning to have a second chance…If we believe that true love never has to end, then we must know that we will love again.
What Brandon gave me
I was in need of a song. I desperately needed a word. Brandon started his serenade off with “You looked into my eyes….”
Shortly before me and my classmate came into contact with Brandon, my classmate saw someone on campus from another of her classes. She walked up to this woman and said, “Do you see me?” Before we parted company with that woman, my classmate told her, “When you see me, say ‘hi’ and I will do the same.” The woman was taken aback by both statements, however the first statement she didn’t take literally at first and she asked, “How do you mean, ‘Do I see you’?” However by the end of their conversation she understood it literally and returned to the first question to answer succinctly, “This is the first time I am seeing you and I did speak.”
Brandon gave me clarity.
I see people for who they are. I hear the things they don’t say. I feel their pain, confusion and their sense of loss. That’s what they willingly reveal to me… until they realize that in understanding their pain, I’m also able to follow them when they withdraw and hide within themselves. I invade their hiding places. I confront them in their fears. All this happens simply through the sharing of conversation.
Every friend I’ve gained through conversation, I have also loss through conversation. People are happy to tell you what they think you want to hear, but they can’t stand to share the truth of themselves. I have no problem with sharing my truth, but I’ve come to learn that my openness is the beginning of the end of my friend and family relationships. People reject openness, honesty, truth and love. After so many endings, I had started to despair that I could ever love people through, and beyond, their rejection of me.
And then during a random encounter with a young man named Brandon, I was briefly pulled out of hiding and heard that I will love again.
The former head of my department at work implemented what he called the “two-partner” approach to problem solving. He encouraged his managers to call on each other to talk through difficult or complex issues. He assured them that the process of talking through the problem would yield perspectives and solutions that the solo person never would have considered.
In the single female world, we call our girlfriends when we need to two-partner. But I’ve come to learn that girl talk is still one-sided as it is only a female perspective. I’ve also come to realize I have long been at a disadvantage without a male perspective to two-partner through issues with.
But God is good. This has been an exceptionally difficult year, but I can look back and see where God provided male voices I could hear, trust and listen to. As I sit here and write, I am exceptionally happy for their words of concern and guidance.
Usually, I am quick to say that I don’t have any male friends, but as I review this post, I see that there have been men who have stood as a friend to me in various situations through the years. They may not be a daily presence in my life, but when they have shown up, they have been fully present for me in that moment. This year, God has allowed some solid men to offer their voice to some of my decisions, dilemmas and transitions, and I must say I’ve been lapping up their words, suggestions and guidance with the eagerness of a leaderless scout following a glowing arrow in the woods.
A couple of years ago, I sat in on some small group Bible studies with an out-reach pastor in the City. Last spring, I sought him out before I left for Israel because I had some concerns and questions that I really needed to talk through. He was a good person to “two-partner” with regarding my desire to go to Israel and all the associated concerns. He asked for a follow-up meeting upon my return and from there we began meeting every other week to discuss any other Biblical topics or themes that came to mind. He has been a blessing. I had prayed long and hard for someone to discuss and explore the Word of God with. Our one-on-one Bible meetings have been incredibly thought provoking and edifying for us both. More than that, knowing that he’s a traditional Bible teacher who doesn’t believe women should be heard from in the assembly of the church (i.e. he quotes 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 which says women should be silent in the church and ask their husbands questions at home regarding the teachings) added a very interesting layer to our conversations. To be told by a pastor, who’s been teaching for thirty years, that our discussions have him looking at the Word from different angles encourages me to continue to speak in faith even when entering a conversation with someone who has different viewpoints; when the Holy Spirit is present, understanding will come.
On the work front, there’s a former colleague who’s been going through huge family growth and transition since we first met three years ago. He provided a voice of reason when I shared thoughts about a cross-country move in the late spring. Based on his experience as a husband and father, he suggested options and scenarios that never crossed my mind. He shared the things he considered when he and his wife made their first big move and when he moved his young family more recently. It was quite eye-opening, hearing the things a man thinks about in such a situation, especially because my own decision to relocate was completely based on my emotions. Sharing with him and hearing his feedback grounded me in a way that I couldn’t manage to ground myself. At the end of our conversation, I said with a little bit of awe,“I really need my own husband; you guys are awesome!”
Over the summer, I was able to connect with an old friend who proved to be a great support in the past. We hadn’t spoken in a while, but from the word, “Hey” it was laugh-therapy with quite a bit of sharing about how our worlds and focus have changed over the years. We spoke about our current challenges and the hopes that were sustaining us. It was nice to “two-partner” with someone who knows how I think and can understand my conclusions without a drawn-out personal history lesson for background. We just jumped right into the listening, guidance and support portions of the conversation. As always, I was uplifted by the exchange.
There was another co-worker who, for well over a year, heard my gripes, joys and hopes on a regular basis. He listened with attentive ears and offered very insightful council. And more often than not, he shared his own gripes, joys and hopes as well. We were both cheerleaders and receivers to one another – often times in the same conversation.
This fall, I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with a social brother I rarely see. We had something of a public disagreement last year via social media. We made up, in a way, via other forms of media. Since then, we’ve seen each other a couple of times in groups and got along well. But when we ran into each other a few weeks ago, he made a point of telling me that my public rebuke “had him feeling some kind of way”…. Even though he understood why I did it and acknowledged that a rebuke may have been necessary, he said he wished I would have pulled him to the side and said my piece offline. I thought about it. I heard him, really I did. I briefly defended myself by stating that I responded to the offense in the same forum that I received it. Then I assured him that, in future, I would endeavor to keep any criticisms for private conversation.
I don’t know about you, but that was huge for me. I’ve been telling people for years that you have to teach people how to treat you. The same holds true for me – I have to be taught how to respond to individuals in a constructive way for my relationship with them. Some people don’t pay attention to my bluntness. Other’s pay attention, but don’t care. Then there are those who hear and care, but would appreciate a softer word to respond to. The fact that we “two-partnered” our own relationship was enlightening and encouraging. What I took away from our conversation was the need to pay more attention to the masculinity in the man. To treat a man’s masculinity as something I wish to nurture rather than destroy.
Last in this short list of men who have given me a taste of two-partnerhood, is the neighbor who speaks to me so comfortably about some of his troubles that his wife has two-partnered with me a couple of times regarding him. He speaks to me of things his wife has told him (and me) that she has no interest in talking to him about or she doesn’t otherwise want to hear. I’m not suggesting this is a good practice to allow or encourage, however, I have learned a valuable lesson from them: I pray that when I marry, I learn to have an open ear and heart for my husband always. I pray I don’t become a woman who poisons the well of communication in my marriage.
The men briefly profiled here have provided positive examples of manhood for me over the past seven years. Looking back on what I’ve learned from my interactions with them, I am able to see that God heard my cry and answered my supplication in my book, My God and Me: Listening, Learning and Growing on My Journey, where Iwrote a great deal about how I had no positive examples of marriage while growing up. Throughout the book, it was evident that there was an early and long struggle for me to respect many of the males who had impacted my early life. In my early experience, men did not act like men and I saw no need to treat them as if they were. By the time I published My God and Me, I had disposed of all that worn-out baggage and was looking for better experiences for my life.
Now, as I look back on what I term an “exceptionally difficult year”, I see an exceptional shift in my preparation for marriage. God has seen fit to connect me to men whose masculinity is tempered with compassion, humor, vulnerability and wisdom. He connected me to men who communicate and follow-through on their care and concern for my well-being.
I no longer see the negative representatives of manhood from my early life when I think of the man I will partner with. I see a collage made of:
Men who want to be husbandsMen who truly want to become fathersMen who are actively caring for their childrenMen who are dedicated leaders in their homeMen who work hard to provide for their familyMen who want to communicate with their wifeMen who want to share their real selves – the good, the bad and the ugly – with their wifeMen who actually want to be MEN – with all the strength and vulnerability that entails
I see a man who will be a confidant, friend, guide, lover, motivator, protector, provider, supporter, visionary and more to this woman who wants to be the same and more to him.
I have many things to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to come to you and talk face to face so we can be full of joy. ~ 2 John 12
I have come to identify myself as a writer. More than that, people now refer to me as a writer. I use words to express myself. I use words to soothe and heal myself. I live off of God’s Word and I grow by applying His Word in my daily life. Yet no amount of writing or being read brings as much joy and contentment in my relationships as speaking to someone face to face.
A pastor once asked me if I used my exuberance to manipulate people. A pretty jaded response to an open heart, but hey, it’s New York City. My response to him exposed my own growing cynicism. After a brief pause, I told him, “No, my joy is genuine when I meet people. It’s in getting to know them that I become disappointed.”
I’ve nursed many disappointments over the years. But as I sit here thinking about my most disappointing interactions with people or my most disappointing relationships, for that matter, I realize that they were all characterized by falseness and hiding. The acquaintances that never grew into friendships and the friendships that crashed in mid-flight are the ones where the other party didn’t see fit to be truthful about who they were or where they were in life or what they wanted from me and our relationship. These were also relationships where I either didn’t feel comfortable being who I am or I simply was not accepted as I am.
I seek to model Christ in all aspects of my life. This desire is a continual manifestation. As I seek to experience, learn and obtain the nature of God, the character of Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, I apply the results of my search to my physical life. In this area, as I seek God’s presence, and earnestly attempt to walk with Him while speaking to Him face to face as a friend, then I have to adjust my thoughts on friendship in the natural world. If, of all the gazillion elements of creation, God still seeks intimate one-on-one time with me (me, just me! – and just you!) then one-on-one time must be important. Look at 2 John verse 12 again. Talking face-to-face can fill both parties with joy.
I’ve experienced that.
In fact, I experience joy in many of my face-to-face conversations throughout any given day.
For this reason social media has become more and more disenchanting for me. An emoticon 🙂 is nothing like seeing the answering sparkle in a conversation partner’s eye. Or the crinkle of their smile as their laughter first comes upon them or as it recedes. The best online conversations have been with people who know me personally because they will weave their personal knowledge into the virtual interaction, “I can hear your laughter,” they would say, “…. I can picture you now… I know what you’re thinking….” Such active imagery in the absence of one’s physical presence is only possible after personal time has been shared in one another’s presence.
However, even the best-of-the-best online conversations are nothing compared to the most common of face-to-face conversations. It’s an amazing thing to sit in someone’s presence and know you have their full attention and they know they have your full attention in return. They don’t have to envision your smile or tell you they’re sending one – they can simply smile and you know immediately you’ve been gifted with something precious. When you’re sitting in front of someone, you don’t have to access a memory of their laughter – you have the option of giving them a reason to laugh, therefore blessing you with a musical chorus that’s just for you…only you.
My people will be destroyed because they have no knowledge. You have refused to learn, so I will refuse to let you be priests to me. ~ Hosea 4:6, NCV
Relationships are destroyed from lack of knowledge as well. People don’t take the time or make the effort to get to know each other anymore. They seek shallow intimacies and call everyone friend. What one person knows, all people know – yet no one truly knows anyone and everyone feels the need to hide their true selves. This cycle is easy to maintain with technology, but the strain of maintaining the mask cannot be kept up indefinitely in face-to-face interactions.
I’ve been lamenting the onslaught of technology since I learned to text a few years ago. Technology can indeed be the ruin of interpersonal relationships if people attempt to communicate only via technological devices or mediums. On the other hand, technology has the potential to enhance interpersonal relationships when it’s used as a tool to fill in the gaps that can’t be accessed any other way.
I don’t mean to harp on technology, however I do hope to pound in the importance of face-to-face communication. People have been placed in your life to be a reflection of God’s glory. That reflection may not be immediate or apparent; it may be something that needs a conversation to reveal itself. I can guarantee you that a “God bless you” received via text has a completely different feel than a “God bless you” that’s spoken in the ear in the midst of a warm embrace or handshake.
Be the blessing you are called to be and go bless someone with a face-to-face conversation so you both may be filled with joy.
By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. ~ 2 Peter 1:3-4, NLT