I knew I was officially grown up when my aunt Gladys from New York called to say she was planning a visit to California with her friend Roseanne and wanted to know if they could spend a few nights with me and my family. For years, aunt Gladys would travel across country with different friends to visit all of the California family and typically would stay at her sister’s house, my aunt MaryJane.
As a child, I loved going to my aunt MaryJane’s when aunt Gladys came to town because I knew it meant all of the family would be getting together, eating delicious food, laughing endlessly and before the night ended some sort of trinket or present would be handed out.
It was a wonderful time of my childhood but when aunt Gladys suddenly called to see if she and her friend Roseanne could stay at my house, I felt like I was no longer a child but a mature adult who could be counted on to accommodate a guest or two for the evening. I was tremendously honored.
There are two things I remember most about my aunt’s visit. One was the fact that as a young married couple my husband and I didn’t have a big house with separate guest rooms to offer aunt Gladys and Roseanne. We didn’t have firm beds, soft comforters and fluffy pillows for our guests but we did have the floor in our children’s room along with two tri-fold cushions about 6 inches thick, and a couple of sleeping bags.
Aunt Gladys and Roseanne were both in their mid-sixties at the time and I wasn’t sure how comfortable they would feel sleeping on thin cushions with sleeping bags. Nonetheless, when they arrived and I showed them their modest accommodations they appeared genuinely pleased.
I’ll never forget that first evening seeing the two women in their flower print PJ’s making their way down to the floor to sleep on their thin cushions for the night. It was adorable really, but the true challenge came in the morning when aunt Gladys and Roseanne each rolled off their make shift bed and onto the floor before wiggling, squirming, and maneuvering their way up to a standing position. I felt two opposing emotions as I watched their struggle, pity and outrageous humor as they were quite the sight to be seen.
By the time aunt Gladys and Roseanne made it to their feet, they were breaking a sweat, yet neither one complained. Unfortunately, their challenges were not quite over as the two ladies had to hobble over a 3-foot high pet gate we had set up between the living room and our kitchen for our Doberman pinscher. As both women cleared the gate, without a murmur, using the wall for support, I realized these two senior women rocked.
Every time I think of what troopers they were in that moment with all their maneuvering, I just have to laugh out loud. As memorable as their maneuvering moment was, there was another moment, not long after, that has been stuck in my memory for more than twenty years.
We were getting in the car to take aunt Gladys and Roseann to the zoo. I decided to sit in the back with Roseanne and let aunt Gladys chat with my husband in the front. As I settled into my sit Roseanne turned toward me and asked a question, “What are you interested in, Monica?”
I assumed she was just trying to create some polite conversation while we rode in the car and so I briefly shared with her my interest in serving God however I could in which she replied, “Reeeeally!”
The way she said it caught my attention because it sounded so much more enthusiastic and sincere than I had expected. She then adjusted herself to face me and purposely established solid eye contact with me before asking, “And what are some of the ways you like serving God?”
She had an eager look in her eye as if she couldn’t wait to hear what what I was going to say next and so I casually shared things with her in which she again replied, “Reeeeally!” with an enthusiastic tone as if I had told her I had discovered a new plant or the cure for cancer.
Her enthusiasm over whatever I had to say was infectious. She didn’t once break her gaze from me as I continued to speak. Everything about her body language and her manner said she was fully engaged, she was fully listening to me, not just my words, but my heart behind them. To be quite honest, I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first because I had never experienced someone who listened with their entire being.
What was suppose to be a quick car ride to the zoo ended up being a life changing moment for me. Roseanne had a gift that I didn’t typically see in people, the gift of sincere listening. It didn’t matter what I was talking about, she listened from her inner spirit on out and caused me to feel valued which something you don’t find in our non-stop texting, Facebook posting culture.
There was something about the way Roseanne demonstrated the gift of listening in that moment that made me feel exceptionally valued. By the time we reached the zoo, I knew exactly how I wanted to serve God from there on. I knew I wanted to help other people sense God’s love and goodness through the simple yet beautiful act listening.
During the rest of their visit, I purposely observed Roseanne as she interacted with my husband, children and others, and realized that this gift of listening was how she served God with everyone He brought her way. Her gift left such an impression on me, that I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to follow in her footsteps, using my ears to bring value to others and honor to God.
The gift of listening reminds me of the story found in Luke 24:17-20. Jesus approached two men walking along the road to Emmaus. He asked them and imperative question and then he listened.
“What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. Cleopas asked the Lord, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
“What things?” He asked.
Jesus really didn’t need to ask questions of these two men. He obviously was aware of what was going on being that he had just fulfilled prophecy with his death and resurrection. But He knew these men needed to express themselves, they needed to be heard and feel valued, particularly in that moment. Therefore, Jesus asked a sincere question “What things?” and then he listened with His whole being.
Similarly, Roseanne didn’t have to talk about her faith during her visit. She understood the value of Jesus asking the question “What things?” She understood what his listening meant and how it added purpose and so she simply used her ears and followed His example and so can we.