The Listeners






Who are they?


They are the ones who hear our stories, often in bits and pieces like a patchwork quilt. Many times they are not the ones we had planned to tell or even wanted to tell, but each one had the incredible talent for giving our hearts a safe place to settle in that moment. Once settled, our hearts and thoughts coalesced and sometimes without a question being asked, bits and pieces tucked inside formed into words and we spoke them out loud. In the absence of judgment we said what we might not have said otherwise.


The dailyness of our lives can get stacked up inside us like the conveyor belt at the grocery store that halts unexpectedly. The processing of all those things can halt, but though set aside they do not leave us. They wait to be discovered later. Even then they are not always expressed as we sort through them.


We grow up hoping our parents will be listeners. Some of us are blessed to have them be so, but many more of us are not. We hope our best friend will be a listener. We thought they were at the very beginning, but that doesn’t prove true later at times. We hoped our ministry leader or Bible study leader would be a listener, but often disappointment can happen with them as well.


We pass by friends at church or when we are out shopping and they ask us how we are, but they barely listen and our soul remains famished for the one whose eyes will hold our own eyes steadily and truly see us before we risk speaking.




Their identity often surprises us. They may be our barber or hairdresser. We sit in their chair and they touch our head covered with thousands of nerve endings. They run their hands through our hair and we relax. They never fail to ask us how we are and their purpose is to make us look better than we think we look. In those moments, our mouths open and we share random bits of our stories both current and past, painful and frightening, joyful and exciting.


Jayber Crow was one of those listeners, a barber in rural Kentucky, who is the main character in a novel by Wendell Berry of the same name (Jayber Crow).


Jayber described the truth of this:


“But it’s a fact that knowledge comes to barbers, just as stray cats come to milking barns. If you are a barber and you stay in one place long enough, eventually you will know the outlines of a lot of stories, and you will see how the bits and pieces of knowledge fit in. Anything you know about, there is a fair chance you will sooner or later know more about. You will never get the outlines filled in completely, but as I say, knowledge will come. You don’t have to ask. In fact, I have been pretty scrupulous about not asking. If a matter is none of my business, I ask nothing and tell nothing. And yet I am amazed at what I have come to know and how much.”


Jayber had been in one place for many years of time. He had cut the hair of fathers, their sons, and grandsons. For the older ones he noted the conversation was like this: “They were remembering, carrying in their living thoughts all the history…”


Large shops and salons do not lend themselves to being someone’s “regular” oftentimes. But for those who do have that one person who knows how to get the cut and color just right and help us adapt to a new style, we count them as invaluable.


Listeners at times hear and see things they do not wish to. They see changes in health, signs of aging, and more. Most of the time they keep those observations to themselves and bless us in that.


One such experience for Jayber was especially poignantly depicted:


“…one day he comes into your shop and you have heard and you see that he is dying even as he is standing there looking at you, and you can see in his eyes that (whether or not he admits it) he knows it, and all of a sudden everything is changed. You seem no longer to be standing in the center of time. Now you are on time’s edge, looking off into eternity.”


Such listeners did not plan on being those special people who are keepers of the scrapbook of our stories, but it came to them and how blessed we are when we are in the company of a listener.


Few of us are truly listeners if we are honest.


I wonder if one of the things that most attracted so many to Jesus during His earthly ministry was that He was a listener.


Of course we know He spoke life-giving words with power and gentleness, but He listened as well. He not only listened to the words, but also to the hearts and anxious thoughts behind them. He was a safe place for a person to be who they were.


Thank you, Lord, for listeners, whoever they are and wherever they may be. This gift they give is precious indeed. Help each of us to grow in our desire to join them, to become listeners and not just talkers.


(This post is dedicated to all the listeners out there and especially one of my favorites…Molly!)


Featured at Counting My Blessings:





To Ask or Not to Ask




As I sometimes spend time with my grandchildren when their parents are out of town, I am reminded of how much I appreciate the handy GPS on my phone. There are often times when a trip to a soccer game, a music lesson, or some other activity requires I navigate to a place I have never been over roads that are not well known to me. I know that GPS is not always 100% accurate, but over the years I think it has improved and is not often wrong.


How much more difficult it was to navigate around town when the phone in our purses did not give us that assistance. My husband is very visual so he always loves to look at or have someone draw a map. Those don’t seem to work for me. I am one of those who needs landmarks and such to guide me, but that is a bit imprecise sometimes.


There is also the challenge of stopping and asking someone for directions after your preferred method fails. Whether or not the person has a clue or acts as if they do is a toss up. More than once I have gotten bad advice.


Clearly, that was the experience of Jayber in Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow. Listen to this description:


“I got a lot of bad advice. People either didn’t know the way or were guessing, or they were mistaken about where the roads were blocked. I traveled by going wrong and then going right and then going wrong again, lost most of the time.”


Those words (spoken about an earthbound trip from point A to point B) can be just as true about our journey through life. Along the way, we can be given a lot of advice. Some of it is unasked for and offered from those who appear to be “in the know”. The challenge for us is whether we accept and trust the counsel or not.


Those offering the advice may be very sincere and sound knowledgeable. It seems like a images (1)safe bet to follow their guidance, but we may still find ourselves somewhere along “the yellow brick road” far from our destination. There may be many reasons for that. These many include that we do not ask with enough definition for them to understand what advice we may need. Other times the problem may be that the adviser may be using a lens filter from his or her own experience that distorts the information.


The truth is that the Father creates each of us uniquely. Each of us will likely take a variety of different paths to arrive at the place He has called us to. It will not be unusual for it to take some time for us to determine just what that is. Even with the best of counsel, we may be unsure of where we are on the journey.


Jayber Crow describes it this way:


“For long stretches…I walked along it seemed that I was staying in place and the world was turning backward beneath me like a big wheel. When I looked up again I would see that I had come a considerable way since I had looked the last time, and that would be a pleasure.”


Do we ask or not?


Even the most independent of us discovers at some point we want or need to ask for the advice or counsel of others. The key to remember is to choose the right companion for b25676f8b33bbde5ab67e98af75334c5--proverbs-bible-quotes-wise-proverbs (1)our journey through life. Humankind choices that prove the best are those who offer wisdom and insight as well as information. They also speak the truth even if we prefer not to hear it.


There is only One who knows the way we are to take. There is only One who never sleeps and never tires of us. There is only One who cheers us on even when we stumble. He is the same One who will be waiting for us when we finish the race and cross the finish line into eternity.


When Jesus walked the earth He sometimes appeared to be alone, but was never truly alone except when He hung on the cross. He communed with His Father who ordered His steps.


Let us never forget that when Jesus departed this earth, He promised and gave the Holy Spirit to us to be the very best companion. His counsel always lines up with the Father and Son. His advice never fails. It is we who must learn to listen patiently and then follow where He leads us.



What Did We Expect?



As I look around my little corner of the world, it seems like there are more than a few challenges going on in the lives of most everyone I know.


Peeking beyond that to a broader view beyond my corner, I see even more challenges. It’s a bit like looking at range after range of mountains that do not end.


The challenges come in all sizes and shapes.


They come no matter what the season we are in.


Some challenges are ones we choose and are for some good goal, but others come unbidden by us.


It’s one thing to choose to run a marathon, take a rigorous college program, signup for the military, or go on a mission trip. Those are all tough, but it’s those other challenges we didn’t sign up for that can seem especially daunting.


None of us sign up for accidents, a job loss, a failed relationship, a diagnosis of cancer, the death of a child, abuse, or a betrayal in ministry, but some of these and others I did not name still come anyway.


What is amazing to me is that somehow we can be so shocked when life doesn’t work out or go according to our plans. What did we expect?


At it’s very best life is an adventure. At its worst, life is a trial or a series of trials that may feel never ending.


Somehow some part of us still likes to believe in the illusion that we have more control than we do or were ever meant to have. Some of us believe if we follow the rules, are just good enough, or make very few mistakes, everything will be fairly smooth.


When things don’t work out that way, fear, anger, or hopelessness can paralyze us.


We want life to be safe (at least relatively speaking). As believers, we especially want to feel the safety and protection of the Lord with a confidence He will keep us from harm. When life hands us a different menu, we question whether God is good or who we believe He says He is (more often than we might want to admit).


I love the C.S. Lewis Narnia series. It is so rich in meaning and depth. One favorite scene in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is when the children ask the beavers if Aslan is safe. The beavers respond that he isn’t safe, but he is good.


Having confidence in God’s goodness is one of the linchpins of faith. When it is absent, our trust falters, our faith melts away like an ice cream cone on a summer’s day, and hope flickers like the wick at the end of a candle.


Here’s the truth we forget. We are caught up in a great story, a great adventure. It has IMG_2702been that way from the very beginning. Our challenge is to accept the challenge, move forward in the adventure, and keep the linchpin in place so in Him we triumph against all the odds that might be arrayed against us.


You see, as I read through THE STORY (the Bible), I see that truth everywhere.


Life is scary despite all the beautiful, exciting, wonderful things we discover in the adventure.


If that sounds unrealistic, ask Noah, Moses, Jonah, or the long list of heroes of the faith we learn about through His Word. Sure, we know they are heroes now, but if you could ask them if they felt that way when the flood was raging, the Red Sea lay ahead, or the belly of a whale was home, I doubt they would tell you they felt no fear.


So how did they become heroes? What did they do with the fear they experienced? What can we learn from them on our own adventures?


I think the key is something I heard quite some time ago.


Courage isn’t the absence of fear, but the byproduct we receive when we face our fear.


Ask any Medal of Honor recipient if they felt courageous when they threw themselves in harm’s way to save another and the answer will definitely be they did not. What happened in one terrifying moment’s time caused them to step into the situation for the sake of someone else, and God met them there.


That’s what He did with Joshua and every other favorite hero of the Bible.


I am reminded of one of Corrie Ten Boom’s stories of her life with her sister, Betsy, in Auschwitz during WW II. As Corrie was seeking to encourage Betsy as they faced unspeakable horrors and fears, she told her a story. She reminded her of trips they would make on a train with their father. Corrie brought back to Betsy’s memory how their father would not give them their tickets for the train until it was time to board the train because they wouldn’t need them until then.


Corrie gave a marvelous example of how God meets us just at that greatest point of fear and gives us just a few seconds to face it only to realize His gift of courage.


That’s the key to dismantling fear that cripples us.


“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7 ESV






Can You Hear It?




Those were the words spoken by August Rush in the 2007 film of the same name. The words reflect a powerful question. As the script reads, August goes on to say:


“Can you hear it? The music. I can hear it everywhere. In the wind…in the air…in the light. It’s all around us. All you have to do is open yourself up. All you have to do…is listen.”


August Rush tells the story of a musically gifted orphan who runs away from his orphanage and searches New York City for his birth parents. Little does he know that his parents are searching for him as well. He also doesn’t know that both of his parents are gifted musicians. What he does know and recognize is that he hears music everywhere. He picks up what others do not. He tunes in to the music beyond the hubbub of the noisy city streets that also can be heard in the noise by someone who listens to creation.


The film points to a significant truth that another character (Wizard) in the movie speaks of when he and August talk about the music August is hearing. Listen to these beautiful lines:


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 “You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe, a harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars.”


 Humans from every culture in every era are irresistibly drawn to music. The variations of musical sounds, styles, and types appear to be endless. Every generation, every tribe and culture, creates new sounds in new ways and call it music.


The current age allows us to enjoy a veritable buffet of choices of music in the many ways it is recorded and disseminated. The evidence of the popularity of music is clear when you see how many of those walking along the street, riding in an elevator, or running on the treadmill in the gym have earpieces tucked into their ears to accompany them. Some of us prefer a narrow bandwidth of musical types, while others of us enjoy many types and choose the music based on the mood or activity we are enjoying.


I fit into the latter category and the playlists on my iPod reflect that variety. I have classical, jazz, Broadway, pop, gospel, worship, movie themes, a little country, and even a writing playlist.



The evidence of music in the Bible shows up very early. It’s in Genesis 4:21 and it tells us Jubal was the fourth generation from Adam through Cain and was said to be “the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe.” Wow! It can be easy to miss these early evidences of music. Of course the longest book in the Bible, Psalms, is a book of songs. In Ephesians 5:19 Paul admonishes us to communicate with one another in the body through hymns, psalms, and songs from the Holy Spirit, to “sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”


But I digress because the thing that impacts me today is the theme from August Rush about the music that is already surrounding us, much of which comes from the Creator through what He has created. It’s not surprising Paul writes in Romans 1:20 (NASB), For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”


The songs around us show up vividly in Isaiah 55:12 (ESV):
“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”


What would that sound like? What incredible sounds will accompany the Lord’s return and the worship around the throne?


For now, I want to tune in most of all to the sounds August mentions “the wind…in the air…in the light.” Those challenge me beyond the musical sounds of water and birds that I more often hear. I think He hopes we will tune in to the music all around us to remind us of His omnipresence, to encourage and comfort our hearts, to remind us we are not alone.


The sound I eagerly anticipate hearing is the sound of the trumpet that will announce His return. What a musical note that will be!






















If We Only Knew…




It takes a little while to discover that life is always full of surprises. When we are growing up, it can be so easy to see our days as boringly repetitious. It’s as if we are waiting on life to happen and often missing that we are already using up precious minutes longing for the next season ahead. We associate “surprises” as unexpected delightful things that brighten the routine of our daily life.


In childhood we have such a great lot of time. The clock appears to tick slowly.


Wendell Berry’s novel, Jayber Crow, introduces us to an insightful perspective on time that I doubt we can conceptualize when we are young. Listen to these words on the subject:


“Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory.”


We can be full of can’t wait till…” moments. We can’t wait till we get our first bicycle, get our own room, are able to walk or ride to a friend’s house in the neighborhood unaccompanied. We can’t wait till we are tall enough to ride that great coaster at the amusement park that measures how tall we are to give us a “thumbs up” to ride. The list goes on and on. We fail to recognize or value we have already started creating a scrapbook of memories.


It doesn’t stop in adolescence. We can’t wait till we get our driver’s license, get our first car, or go to our first dance. We dream of life on our own and want to be free to make all our own choices. We are so busy wishing for tomorrow that we sometimes are shocked when high school graduation comes along. We look ahead to what seems like a long journey of things to discover, experience, acquire, and accomplish. Of course, there may be some jitters, moments of uncertainty here and there, but we rarely admit it to anyone. Not even to ourselves. Isn’t this what we have been eager to enjoy?


Our feelings become contradictory. We want to be on our own, but perhaps for the first time we take a backward glance at home and the life we have known. It’s a momentary glance very often because the road ahead still beckons us onward. It still doesn’t occur to us the road will take many turns ahead. There will be more intersections than we can imagine. We may get a hint here or there that the road will have an end when some distant aunt or uncle dies. When a grandparent dies, it will occupy just a few more moments of thought. That thought will be short-lived because they are “old” after all. The idea that it will happen to us is not on our radar screen.


Early adulthood will bring with it the awareness that we need to sort out this new season we have so much desired. Choices are not as straightforward as we had thought. Our days fill up with advanced education, getting a job, and finding a person to share the journey with us. We return to that old habit of “can’t wait til…”


We can’t wait till we find the “dream job”, move to that place we always wanted to live, have enough money to buy our own place. And it doesn’t stop there, little by little almost without our awareness life keeps happening. We meet that “perfect someone” and can’t wait till we get married and start a family of our own. Getting older is not something we give much thought to after looking forward to it throughout our childhood. When a certain pivotal age comes along, we may pause and wonder how we arrived there so soon. After all, isn’t that the age my parents are?


In Jayber Crow, we hear the main character reflecting on the discovery we only find as we see the end of the road appearing in the distance,


“And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time.”


Those memories are a patchwork of sorts with some of the pieces in bright, bold colors and others in duller shades. Perhaps they become more precious to us because we alone know the intricacies of our story.


After all, as Jayber reflects:


“Telling a story is like reaching within a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told…there is also more than needs to be told, and more than anybody wants to hear.”


 It is unlikely we would have believed those farther ahead of us if they had articulated this to us. We were, after all, different than they. Our life was and would be different, wouldn’t it?


And yet as we approach the end, our vision is enhanced by a wider angle lens. We know more, but now we see there is less time ahead and we would slow the ticking if we could. We start to take stock of what we did with all the time (now memories) and assess what sort of steward we were.


Jayber understood that as he looked back and ahead:


“And so there would always be more to remember that could no longer be seen. This is one of the things I can tell you that I have learned: our life here is in some way marginal in our own doings, and our doings are marginal to the greater forces that are always at work. Our history is always returning to a little patch of weeds and saplings with an old chimney sticking up by itself.”


If only we knew back then, but maybe we were not supposed to know. Maybe we are supposed to discover that all life has meaning, that time is precious, and end is always closer than we think.


Fall in Stowe, Vermont