By Angi Steele
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Recently, on a sunny Sunday afternoon, my friend and I sat in Panera deeply engaged in conversation with smiles of deep appreciation for our friendship. I relish pensive heart to heart talks that summon and require the core of my being to stand attention, prepared for an influx of epiphanies. As we both indulged in our warm and inviting sugar-coffee drinks, thick and rich conversation about the journey of life’s thrills and challenges permeated the air. Then, my friend proceeded to gently speak to me and help me realize an unseen character flaw of mine. Holding my warm drink close; I embraced its comfort, knowing deep inside that I could shoulder her thoughtful and helpful words. I was ready to receive. As she spoke, my eyes widened at truth being spoken. It was brought to my attention how unapproachable I can be at times. She was referring when I can be socially reserved and withdrawn. Yes. I am indeed difficult to approach and even harder to get to know. As some of us do, I have several layers of protection to peel away before anyone gets to the core of my heart. It’s like tangles of tough twine yearning to be ever so gently touched and taken away to reveal my heart’s desires and motives. As with some introverts, I can be emotionally removed until pursued and drawn into conversation. Once I am convinced that my heart will be sincerely listened to and perhaps understood, my words flow effortlessly. On the other hand, there are times when friendly dialogue is nearly impossible. It's not happening at all. Period.
Aloofness is one of my weaknesses. My dear friend continued to speak with me in a tone of caring patience. Her words spoken to me hurt. But not a bad hurt, a good hurt. It made me slowly recline in my padded Panera chair, sip my warm drink, sigh heavily, and stare thoughtfully hard and squinty-eyed into the painting on the nearest wall in deep reflection. I was exposed; my fault was lovingly brought into the light of truth. Although the confrontation was uncomfortable, a deep peace settled in me, knowing that I have chosen people in my life that are unafraid to speak truth. How fortunate we all are to have treasured people unite with us, as we carry our maps of life, constantly adjusting our adventurous routes, journeying to our destinations.
Later that evening, in the comfort of my own home, I told my husband about my friend hurting my feelings in a good way; her words causing me to perhaps grow up a little bit. So I humbly asked him for his insight into my shortcomings. I write to you about my husband with much delight. Even as I write these words, I smile. We have been married twenty years; we are moving forward together, and everyday of life is an opportunity for us to thrive together in the midst of both the weary, heartbreaking setbacks and joyful victories of life. Although I am not defined by his opinion, I respect his perspective.
As we were sitting in our living room and with my gaze steadily upon him, I asked this question, knowing full well truth, he will speak truth. I asked him if he thinks I can be distant and unapproachable sometimes. In a brave, bold and quiet way, I asked, "So. Um. Do you think I'm unapproachable at times?" His facial expression implied, "Wow! Yes, ain't that the truth!" I pressed him further concerning his thoughts. As I attempted to invoke him, he did not utter a word, as he smiled and avoided my probing gaze of eager expectation. I do not know what his smile meant. Perhaps it was a smile of patience and grace, regardless of my flaws, as I better learn ways of dealing with life and people. His character offers understanding and acceptance in the light of my imperfections.
It takes confident fortitude to receive trusted exhortations. I received my friend’s words spoken to me, and I received my husband’s gracious smiles. I received them because they both came not from a hurtful heart but from a helpful heart. I challenge myself daily to hold my heart open unpretentiously in order to receive from others and to remain teachable. Honestly, for the first thirty-six years of my life, I thought that I knew most things, and I thought I knew what was important. I was quite pompous. Life did not work out the way I had planned, despite my greatest efforts. A new understanding of my mishaps and shortcomings created more compassion and patience for those in my sphere of influence. I roll my eyes at picturing myself nearly a decade ago, in the midst my pride. Even now, as I type, I shudder at how many times the word “I” appears in this essay. It’s all about helping each other. There is always something new to learn and live. Lightheartedly, I say that we are relational beings, and we all need caring people to speak into our lives. This is the way we are created. I choose to remain teachable.
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