Thursday, December 18, 2014

Watching for God’s Quiet Gifts This Holiday Season: The Gift of Conversation

Some hearts are jammed shut by the collision of their hopes and dreams with disappointment and abandonment. Rusted by tears of bitterness, they don’t open right anymore. Conversation is almost impossible. Ever met anyone like that? Are you like that?

My uncle was like that. Heart broken years ago, he withdrew into a painful fortress of solitude and independence. He did not let anyone in. At least not often.  

I usually felt like I was talking to a fence-post when I tried to have a conversation with him. A fence post that grunted occasionally or said a bad word here and there, that is. When I hugged him, which I did regularly, the fence post didn’t usually give an inch.

However, he was famous for his quiet deeds of 

practical help and service to the people throughout the small mountain community where our old family farm sits, nestled by a creek. Affectionately nicknamed The Mayor, the whole community depended on him. 

Eccentric and anti social, he just couldn’t hide his good heart no matter how grumpy he acted on the outside. I always knew he was just hiding a broken heart under it all, and I loved him dearly. 

This year on a warm summer evening while fireflies blinked over the creek, I sat on the cabin porch listening to the calm water flow.  We were visiting the farm for a much-needed break from the city. My young son, the one with the gift of Compassion, came running up the steps with a clatter.  

Breathless, he asked, “Mom, can Uncle Dan come for dinner?” 

Wanting to protect his tender heart from rejection, I replied, “You can ask him, son, but he won’t come. He doesn’t come to visit. He just won’t.” 

Big eyes wide with innocence, freckles dancing, he looked up at me and said, “Well I already asked him and he said maybe.” 

I sat back in my rocking chair and thought, miracles do sometimes happen I suppose. 

But I knew he wouldn’t come and I did not set a place for him at the table.

Awhile later, as we sat before our meal, the back door swung open. Silently and awkwardly, Uncle Dan came into the kitchen and stood. My husband and I exchanged looks of wonder as I clamored to Uncle Dan’s side, offering him a plate and some supper.

He pulled up a chair and sat down with us. For the next half hour we talked about chickens, the tomato harvest, and the prices of gasoline. Farm talk, mostly.  

But like farming, something was happening under the surface… another conversation, a silent one, a growing one, one that said, “I will trust you enough to let you in this time!” Hope and love pushing its way to the sunlight.  

And like farming, this small planting yielded a tremendous gift. 

This conversation was like the miracle of harvest emerging from the stubborn mountain soil.  

We could not perceive or imagine what the following weeks would hold for all of us. We could not have believed that our lives would be changed permanently, that tragedy would rip that quiet mountain farm community with pain and shock. 

We were living in the moment, savoring the gift of conversation with a dear one who had the courage to open his pain-shut heart to us over a meal.

On another summer night a few weeks later, thieves attacked my uncle on his doorstep and took his life. In our grief, we have shut our own hearts down now, and conversation comes hard.

As I made my Christmas gift list this year, I realized with another wave of pain that I did not have to puzzle over what creative gift I could make or find for Uncle Dan this year. And immediately it occurred to me that he had left his Christmas gift for us early. As if he knew time was limited.  

Uncle Dan never said the words “I love you” to us. But he showed us when he let his guard down and gave us the gift of conversation this summer.    

So as our family grieves this Christmas in the wake of senseless tragedy, I will remember this early Christmas gift given in June. And I will determine to be more intentional with the ones gathered around my table this season, to stop and look at them, listen, and give the gift of conversation.

Are you the shut-up one, 
or the one trying to pry another shut-up heart open this holiday? 

May you have the courage to take the risk, have the conversation, whether you are the fencepost, or the one hugging it.  

Won’t you share with me how you are finding comfort for a grieving heart this Christmas season? 


  1. I am so happy to see how God is using your writing to not only heal from your pain, but to help others, as well. Thank you for sharing your story and the memory of your uncle. As always, you are in my thoughts and prayers.

  2. I hope it really can help others. Thank you Melissa for reading my posts and commenting on them too! We will be faithful...