I run around our dining-living-kitchen room like I do before company comes over, making sure there isn’t too much dog hair on the sofa or too little water in the garage sale pitcher with sunflowers. I peek into the oven and see the peach crisp is finished baking. I turn off the oven, but I leave the dessert inside.
I don’t want to serve lukewarm peach crisp after dinner. And like any self-respecting Enneagram two, I don’t want to serve lukewarm hospitality either.
As I assemble the simple, six-ingredient salad (arugula, parmesan, salt and pepper with a splash of olive oil and lemon juice), our friends, Salena and Sheldon, walk up the front steps. David opens the door for them, and Salena hands me white and yellow daisies, sunshine wrapped in petals and stems.
Salena herself is sunshine wrapped in dark-hued skin.
David serves up drinks before we pray, and then we serve ourselves arugula salad, sourdough bread, and Bolognese sauce and pasta (or as I like to call it, fancy spaghetti).
It isn’t fancy, but it is tasty.
We sit ‘round our table with the three Strong kids, and as is the case with us, we’re barely into dinner before the conversation turns to Serious Current Events. That kicks off three hours of conversation that deep dives into the middle of so many relevant questions:
What’s the best way to move forward through COVID?
How do we reconcile the issues we care about with the conduct of those holding power?
Why is empathy so hard to come by these days?
While we’ve known each other for over five years now, this conversation is similar to the first one Salena and I had back in 2015.
At that time, while speaking at a function for US Army and Air Force spouses in Colorado Springs, I noticed (and appreciated!) Salena’s kind, positive engagement with my talk on change. After I finished yammering and people were milling about, I introduced myself to her and was immediately put at ease with her effervescent personality. We did the small-talk thing for a little while, and then I basically cannon-balled into the conversational pool by asking her a question that set the tone for our relationship today. At that time, our country’s national headlines focused on altercations between police officers and young black men, much like today. Of course, I had my own thoughts on the subject, but I knew my own perspective couldn’t be the beginning and end of the conversation. Since Salena is a Black woman, I really wanted to know her perspective.
Twisting my hands, I asked, “Salena, I have a personal question for you, and if you’re not comfortable answering, then I totally understand.”
She told me to go right ahead.
“Could you help me understand what’s going on concerning the headlines and the racial division in our country?” Salena answered frankly within the context of her story, both her history and her present life. For two hours, we talked about that, our shared history as military spouses, and about raising sons.
While I have other Black friends I’ve known longer, Salena was the first person I felt compelled to “go there” with — to cross the awkward bridge toward a potentially thorny conversation. We didn’t solve any big issues that night, but after listening to her, I moved closer to understanding the bigger picture of why things are the way they are.
The driving force behind all our subsequent conversations has been the same: to peel back yet another layer of our stories as we listen to one another. We talk about uncomfortable subjects, but it’s not uncomfortable to do so because we each come to the conversation with the goal of understanding the other’s perspective — not airing our own Big Important Opinions.
These days, I’m working on humbly listening more and talking less — period. Salena and Sheldon continue to be gracious friends whom God uses to expose blind spots in the hearts of my family and me.
Back at our house around the decades-old, walnut-wood table, I pass out bowls of maple peach crisp with whipped cream to each person. As Salena takes hers, she drops a good word about conversations in general: “It seems that sometimes, the church is building platforms when they should be building tables.”
We all nod, and I tell her I would be writing that one down. YES to tables over platforms.
YES to talking with rather than talking at.
Scripture says, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10 ESV). Concentrating on intentionally sitting with and hearing another is a mighty fine place to start.
Forkful of peach crisp midair, I ask Salena another question: “In our first conversation five years ago, was it off-putting to have a white woman come over and ask you the question I did?”
Salena replied that she didn’t feel that way about it because she appreciated the opportunity to engage. She liked being asked the question because she liked that someone cared about what she thought. Most of all, she liked that I listened and believed that her experiences actually happened.
Here’s to humbling ourselves and realizing our own perspective is not the beginning and end of the matter — and others’ perspectives matter.
Here’s to saying yes to crossing the awkward bridge toward an awesome connection.
Here’s to learning and growing through difficult conversations.
Here's to humbling ourselves and realizing our own perspective is not the beginning and end of the matter -- and others' perspectives matter. -@Kristen_Strong: Click To Tweet Leave a Comment
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
We all have to respect everyone no matter who they are. No matter what skin color they are. See thing from their point of view. We might have white skin they might have brown they might black. But if we are saved we are to love them like Jesus would. Like the song you get it on YouTube I was taught it in Sunday School when small. It is a song so true for us Adults and Children today. It is “Jesus Loves All The Children Of The World Red And Yellow Black And White” That is so true. We especially the saved are to do the same. Even if not saved. Look at people no matter what their skin color is. Look at them from the Heart. For who they are. Each one has personality of their own. Just like we have. We are to do what Jesus would want as to do that is Love all people of all walks of life of all skin colors. Get to know them if we can especially someone with a different skin color than we have. See how they see things. Don’t judge what you don’t know anything about. Instead Pray for them. Love them like Jesus would. You never know you could become very good friends. As I am friend with a we boys Mum who I used to look after when I was Childminder. She is has from the Philippines her and her husband. They are Christians. We just got on they have even their Son now 13 brown skin. The kids I looked after at the time had white skin they loved the we boy with the brown skin. They never passed any remarks that he had brown skin they were white skin. That is why it should be in life. I said this so often. When you are in Hospital you don’t care what color skin the Doctor or Nurse is as long as they make you well again. So why should skin color matter. We should all Love either saved or not saved. Be thankful we are alive to enjoy every day God has blessed us with. Thank you for writing what you did. I am so blessed. Thank you incourage for everything you all do. Keeping you all in prayer Dawn Ferguson-Little xx
Kristen Strong says
Thank you for sharing here, Dawn! I love the way you detail Jesus’s love for all. And while Jesus does indeed love all His children, we humans (including myself!) don’t always reflect His truth to those around us as we should. Here’s to listening and learning, to living out these truths in action as well as in word. Sending love, Dawn! xoxo
Beth Williams says
The main problem in our country is that not many are listening. We all want to spout our opinions. Not many of us are willing to really get to know the other person. We are quick to judge based on skin color, race, etc. More Americans-Christians need to be like you- asking the hard questions & willing to listen & hear the others’ stories. Don’t base your opinions on what someone else thinks or said. Jesus would say “ALL Lives Matter”. We need to show this sinful, hate filled world that everyone is important. All opinions, thoughts, etc. are important. Christians need to show more tolerance & love towards ALL people-rich, poor, black, white, Asian, etc. Let’s put love over all & start intentionally spreading some Christ likeness into this world. We might change things if we start asking the hard questions & taking time to listen to their side.
Kristen Strong says
Beth! It’s always a delight to see you here! Yes–Jesus would say all lives matter. I also believe He’d say that black lives matter because all lives matter. I’m thankful for my friendship with Salena and the gift of our hard conversations that has shown me the truth of this statement and a hundred others that I never considered beforehand. Here’s to, as you said, ” . . .asking the hard questions and taking the time to listen . . .”
Love you, Beth, and so grateful for you, too!
Kelly G says
I found this post very (in)couraging!
Kristen Strong says
I’m so grateful, Kelly! Sending love.
Andrea Chatelain says
I am definitely an avoider of awkwardness because in my mind it can lead to disagreement and confrontation. Everyone seems so charged politically that I just keep my mouth shut. But then I miss out on growing and learning. Thanks for the reminder that the end result of change and peace are worth the awkward start.
I love the “build tables instead of platforms” idea. When we gather around a table, especially if there’s food being served, we are more willing to not just listen but to ‘hear’ one another. It becomes an invitation to be – accepted, heard, allowed, seen, embraced, and the list can go on and on.
I have been blessed to be friends with a family for 38 years. We have become family. As you can guess with that many years together we have experienced it all. Graduations, births, deaths, financial woes, divorce, weddings, you name it. With all the memories we share, the best times have been around a table sharing a meal and then once it’s been cleared it became a game table with more snacks and laughter and as each new generation comes along they become part of the tradition.
We cannot bring about change until we are willing to make changes as needed to our own hearts. Christ didn’t just speak to the crowds, he approached sinners one by one and had conversation, meaningful conversation with them. He gave each one opportunity to engage and to accept what He was offering. That’s all that we are expected to do – have an answer for our belief. If all we know is John 3:16 then let us tell everyone that they too can become a ‘whosoever’ and receive the freedom that salvation brings.
There are no quick fixes and we may never have a world free from strife, but we can still be who Christ wants us to be to everyone we come in contact with. Nothing will define us more than by how we treat one another every day.
Nancy Ruegg says
You are so right, Kristen. We need to say “YES to talking with rather than talking at.” It seems an awful lot of shouting is going on these days with little desire to listen. I suppose the listening will have to start with us. “Lord, help us keep our talk to a minimum. Give us ears to hear, and hearts to understand and respond in healing ways. Provide opportunities for us to do that, I pray, even during this pandemic. AMEN.”