on listening and the hard-core

There’s a boy a few tables over from me outside this coffee shop. He has the bangs and a studded belt, and he wears it all dark and heavy. He feels different. He nods his head to the bothered music.

He smokes like an old man, the cigarette carefully lipped, puffing. His feet prop crossed on the table. He leans way back, waiting. His chain touches the ground.

And now up walks his Grandma. She knows I watch. He raises and effortlessly flicks the plume to the gravel. She wears panty hose under her elastic pants and sandals with velcro. She’s a foot-tapper. He leans forward. His hands hold his knees, and he talks so gently. She’s listening. He’s explaining. She’s laughing. She’s laughing a real laugh. 

And she loves him so good. They stand and embrace. She doesn’t trace the outline of his face with her eyes. She doesn’t stare another hole in his ear. She is just happy to know him. He smiles because of her at goodbye.


I remember walking down Dickson Street long enough after my salvation that it surprised me when I heard the bass line to a Nine Inch Nail song and recalled every single word. I couldn’t get it out of my head for days afterward. It spoke to me of the power of music and how it serves the memory and the heart.

I knew our first year of marriage, when we were youth ministers, the power of dark music and of claiming an identity with my clothes. We made rules back then to keep our kids safe. We taught how wrong it was to give your mind to anything other than “the Word of God.”

And there was a boy, with long black hair, and he had two TOOL t-shirts he rotated. The butt of his pants stayed between his knees, and we chastised him, implored him to live right, to think better of himself, to identify with Christ. We begged.

And only once did he try to explain about the music and no one understanding and the parents and the pain. We weren’t listening. We thought he disrespected.  

And almost ten years later, after more life, after seeing more lowness of our own humanity, we drive home from Louisiana and listen to a station that reminds us of high school. After a gorgeous run of the bass and the drums kick in, and my heart starts racing, and I enter the music, I remember how good it is to hear the order – even in the chaos. Maynard’s voice is God-made. 

Had I listened to him for just a minute, what would have come of God’s love in that boy? What would have come of it in me?

About me


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Heather of the EO
Reply July 7, 2009

So many times I don't comment because I just don't even know what to say. Today I HAVE to comment and just say YES YES YES. Those last lines, they're what it's all about. Listening really is one of the truest forms of loving, it speaks so loudly even though it can be so silent. Ugh, I just love this post. Amber, I love your heart too.

Heather of the EO’s last blog post..Maybe not now and possibly never

Reply July 7, 2009

Thank you, Heather. Let it be next time that it doesn't take me ten years to realize my lack of love.

Reply July 7, 2009

I was a youth leader for many years and one of the nicest pharisees you could ever meet. It took a tumble late in life to knock the quietly judgmental attitudes out of my ears so I could truly begin hear.

I am learning that listening well isn't easy - the roar of pain and anger and lostness (sometimes my own) can be deafening. Thankfully, God's grace is a partner to carry the weight of others' words, whether they're spit like nails or whispered like escaping air.

Discovering all this has changed my purpose for writing. I used to want to write so others would listen. Now I write so I can become a better listener.

Stephen’s last blog post..sunset

    Reply July 7, 2009

    "Discovering all this has changed my purpose for writing. I used to want to write so others would listen. Now I write so I can become a better listener."

    YES! That's what I want. I'm only just learning.

Kelly @ Love Well
Reply July 7, 2009

This is beautiful, Amber. I often wish Christians were better listeners than talkers. We drown out Jesus' love with all the noise.

Kelly @ Love Well’s last blog post..Frankenstein

Reply July 7, 2009

I pray that I LISTEN to my children, when the time comes.

Reply July 7, 2009

It's really all about WHO the source of true LOVE is, isn't it? It's about the character of God. And it's about how poorly we convey it.

And honestly, it's about perspective, too.

I have a loved one who has caused great harm to people - been on TV, the internet, famous shows, etc. I have another loved one who is a meth head. Another who is an alcoholic in one abusive relationsip after another...

So when my kids express interest in things like piercings or tatoos - well, it's all kinda relative. Yeah, I make them do the homework - which choice is with you FOREVER? What are you trying to say with this choice? What are others likely to think about you because of this choice? Does this choice make you smile because you know Jesus is proud of you?

When it comes right down to it I'm more concerned about the HEART of the matter than the exterior. Maybe it's a little bit because I'm a rebel at heart - I'm the lone hold-out who chose to follow Christ in of my siblings. Yep, I've got piercings myself. I'm too wimpy to get a tat, tho! :)

I guess this really hits home with me right now because I believe that as a wholehearted follower of Jesus Christ I'm called to LOVE - without condition, and I'm feeling like we - as the church - aren't doing such a great job at that with the folks who - let's face it - are what we hope to be the emerging church...

I could go on! :) I'll shut up now!

Excellent post!

dina’s last blog post..Oh My Goodness Gracious!

Reply July 7, 2009

I was the same way--just like you and Stephen described. It was easier (safer?) to be about black and white and rules and to (unknowingly) look down upon those who walked outside of that construct....than to accommodate the grey, those outside the mold with a listening ear and a heart of compassion. Like Stephen, I had to be myself broken and to feel the weight of judgment on my own shoulders before I "got it."
Like Kelly, I sure wish we Christians were better at being quick to hear and slow to speak. We do tend to drown out Grace with all our noise.

Jo@Mylestones’s last blog post..And a Parade To Boot!

Your Husband
Reply July 7, 2009

I have a hidden tattoo and a piercing.

Okay, that's not true, but I wanted to be cool.

I like your writin' and stuff.

Jenn Calling Home
Reply July 7, 2009

Wow! I love your description of the grandmother's love for the boy...so accepting, unconditional; the way God sees him, the way God loves him.

Jenn Calling Home’s last blog post..Summer: Where You’ll Find Me

Reply July 8, 2009

Profound (as usual) and incredibly encouraging for this recovering Pharisee. You have no idea how rare it is for me to meet people who realize what you've just shared. Every time I do, something inside just shouts out, "hurrah! the Spirit is working!" Sometimes, my husband and I feel very alone in what He has been teaching us. Thank you for your encouragement today. I think it's Him in you that keeps me coming back here. :-)

Kelly’s last blog post..Imagine

Secret Agent Mama
Reply July 8, 2009

Can you promise me something? Someday I'd like to just spend a day with you. We can tell stories and laugh and you can continue to teach me things. You are wise. Wise beyond years.

Secret Agent Mama’s last blog post..Weekly Winners LXXXIV

Reply July 8, 2009

Great thoughts, Amber. Thanks for sharing!

Amy’s last blog post..Good thoughts

Reply July 9, 2009

I can so relate to this . . . we were in the ministry for eight years, and I would do so many things differently if I could go back . . . just listening is sometimes all they're asking . . . I love the grandma in this post! I want to be like that!! Great post!

Frank Owen
Reply July 19, 2009

The limited confines of the human ego cannot truly fathom the depths of pain in 'the other'...but we can listen.

And any human-designed construction of the nature and vastness of God will always fall short...but we can move the ego aside, and become a living presence of love in motion.

This is possible regardless of what spiritual tradition we may hail from, and I think you have touched quite nicely upon these deeper truths in this piece. It was sent to me by a relative, and I am honored to have read it.

Frank Owen’s last blog post..Lexicon

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