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People surprise me, when I’ve been curious enough to listen that is.
Carmine and I had almost nothing in common, besides Jesus and her daughter who was in my youth group . We could hardly have been more different. We were separated in age by about 25 years and in hometowns by about 2500 miles.
She was an African-American woman from a large, urban area of the Midwest who grew up in the shadow of tall buildings; I’m of northern European heritage and grew up in the shadow of Douglas Fir trees in Oregon. We were from “different sides of the tracks.”
God gave me a gift when I accepted a call and became her pastor. Fortunately, I was curious enough about Carmine to really listen to her and open up the gift.
Compared to my quite sheltered experience of life in America, she had lived through circumstances and episodes that I could never have imagined. My experience in church life was also pretty simple. I grew up in a very traditional LCMS congregation. She had a much more varied background in the Church.
I got to know Carmine at first through her daughter’s participation in youth group and through her own leadership in the congregation’s women’s group. It was when cancer struck that I got to know her very well.
Shortly after her diagnosis and initial surgery and treatments, I began visiting her at home for the duration of her illness. It was not a part of town that I previously had opportunity to visit much. What I remember most was the warm welcome her husband Tom gave me. We had not met before. Carmine and her daughter had both told me about their ongoing witness to this husband and father that they loved so dearly.
In my visits, I asked Carmine and Tom to share with me their story, their history, their family and their life together. It did indeed open up wonderful opportunities to share the faith with Tom and with other, older children who were often visiting with their mother, children I had not met before.
As her illness progressed, my heart ached more and more for the suffering she endured before her call to glory. As my relationship with Carmine and her family deepened through those months, I began to recognize how much I was being changed and transformed into a different person because of the wisdom they shared.
I’m glad I paid attention. Learning from Carmine was an experience of pure joy.
Intellectual Wellbeing is recognizing that I just might be able to learn something from the person in the pew next to me if I would take time to be sincerely curious and a careful listener. Carmine and her family taught me things I never knew before about life and death, about faith and worship, about family and love, about marriage and sacrifice, about harmony between races and about unity in the body of Christ. That’s a gift. It’s a gift wrapped in joy.
I’m ashamed at how I’ve been so slow to be curious about many of the people in my life. As I travel our synod, I’m amazed at what I’m learning from people I thought I had all figured out, people from every region, perspective and background.
I’m looking forward to my next joy-filled surprise. Let’s talk soon.
Thanks for reading!
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