I Listened to Their Stories
Updated: Oct 8, 2018
I listened to their stories and they became a part of my story. Forever etched in my memory, I can picture their faces, eyes, the smiles and laughs, the distant looks, and anguish from battling through a tough life. Their stories now repeated over and over in my mind. A random flashback here and there, sometimes out of the blue or sometimes triggered by something overheard at a store, a song, or a dream. The stories told by people that would forever change me -- opening my eyes and ransacking my soul with humility. The stories and people that would humble me and test the faith --forever tugging on the strings of my heart.
In the hardest years of my life to date – three to be exact. Three very long, tough years of tests, trials, and unanswered questions, but also full of hidden rewards, gifts, and life-lessons. He gave me the gift of those people and their stories. An unwanted gift in the form of a break – a break from reality that would be followed by a short break from the typical hum of my days. In those days, I would connect with people from all walks-of-life, different ages, races, backgrounds, and careers. In the midst of my confusion, from that unwanted gift, I would gain a richness only received from opening your heart and letting people in – even for just a temporary time.
Most of those men and women had hearts of gold. Even with nothing but the shirt on their back, they would gladly give that shirt to you if you needed it. Regular Joe’s clamoring for a simple life, a normalcy of family, a steady job, and an ability to fight the mental duress of a broken past. They were real people with real problems, real battles and real triumphs. Little did I know that I would meet some of the toughest warriors to walk this Earth. People that danced with the Dark on a regular basis and lived another day to spit in its face and cling to the sliver of light that breaks through.
Without cell phones and no real responsibilities, except to make your bed and show up for scheduled activities, there was plenty of time to get to know each other or sleep. Some people chose the latter, but I felt the pull to connect. It was my chosen way to pass the time. And with each conversation there was an element of healing and a hidden lesson to unpack.
Bits and pieces of their lives would emerge from our time together. Even though most of their chapters were tough, they usually managed to pepper it with humor – lightening the heaviness of the past. Sometimes they would quickly snap out of memory lane, training their thoughts to move forward and not settle on a painful moment for too long. Sometimes we would just “shoot the breeze,” chat about the movie on TV, politics, or the new patient down the hall. I’d ask annoying questions throughout an old Western I had never seen, but the older gentlemen never seemed to mind. We would laugh our butts off playing an impromptu game of Charades. We’d kick back and listen to the radio, attempting to sing. Then we would joke about how we weren’t really hungry while we downed some cereal after sneaking into the snack room after-hours.
With each conversation, I gained a new friend – an ally. Allies were needed. They had your back. They would make sure you were up in time for breakfast. They sat next to you during lunch and gave you their iced tea, because they knew how much you loved tea. They made the guy who just changed your radio station or TV channel turn it back. They stood between you and threatening patients. Spent hours playing cards with you. Gave you time alone when you needed it, but quickly helped you fill the dark hole that you were digging, usually with a witty remark. They held your hand, looked you in the eye, and without an ounce of doubt in their voice told you how “God would restore everything.” And they anxiously counted down the minutes with you on your departure day, praying that everything goes as planned. Then within the blink of an eye, we would say goodbye, knowing full-well that we wouldn’t see each other again this side of Heaven.
But I would be left with the memories, the lessons learned, and the realization that there is so much more to the meaning of this life. Stories that are evident that God does exist, especially in the dark corners, in the struggles and weaknesses, amongst the poor, the ashamed, the lonely and the captives. Stories about brothers and sisters struggling in our own backyard waiting for the love of Christ to shine through the next passerby. Stories and lessons that I will share with you.
This One Rings True
Human by Rag'n'Bone Man came on while I was finishing this story. This was the first time I had heard it and well it fit. We have to remember we are all human -- our flesh is weak, but the Christ in us is Strong.
There is beauty in the weakness of our flesh. He uses the weakness to give strength to the character and depth to the story.
It's a lot easier to judge the person's actions before you know the backstory.
Being a disciple to others doesn’t have to be that daunting. Sometimes it just starts with an earnest effort to listen, hold a hand, kiss a cheek, give a compliment, or share a meal. I am not a theological expert and I don’t pretend to be, so quoting the gospel is not my forte. However, I do know that the greatest gift we are given is the ability to love and to be loved. Jesus commands us in the book of John to love one another, just as He has loved us. This type of love is called “agape love,” which is a love that acts according to what is best for the other person. 1
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35, ESV).