Vulnerable is Real – Act Two

(Act One is Here)


A guy came up to me to ask the same expected questions with the same manufactured concern as all the other people. I really was so tired of hearing the, “I’m so glad you are back, I was so concerned” statements from these people. I knew they meant well. I also knew that they were thinking about me when they saw me, but sincerely doubted that they really thought much at all about me and the guys I deployed with in their day to day lives. They needed a reminder or a trigger during the day, like a news report or a headline, to be reminded about us on the other side of the globe.

I don’t even remember hearing his question though I remember seeing his lips move. I had been playing my role, doing my scripted dance all day and I was tired. I remember looking at this guy who I didn’t actually know and thinking that he looked old enough to get punched in the gut and young enough to not actually be that hurt by it. I unloaded on him. I gave him exactly what Fred hoped I would give somebody. It took every bet of 30 seconds. Every word that came out felt like a little bit of water spraying through a mud retaining wall carrying a bit of dirt with it. Every word enlarged the hole, the dam was breaking, and there was less and less to restrain the tone and flavor of my emotions. Each word sprayed out and gave way for more words to follow. Thirty-ish seconds later and the that pool was drained.

In such a short moment, I had accidentally done what Fred had wanted me to do. I broke from the formation, stopped marching according to the rhythm of the day and told the truth.

This guy looked like he had been punched in the gut. His response was one of the most beautiful things ever.

“I… I have no response for that. I’m sorry. I didn’t expect that, but maybe I should have. I have to go… I want to hear more. I’ll cancel my evening and come to your place if you would let me.”

There are tears in my eyes as I remember that moment. He made good on his word too. He showed up that evening to the place I was staying and we stood out in a wood shop for hours. He became my friend.

He asked questions. Questions that a lot of people in our different cultures would say are “wrong” to ask. I didn’t get offended or hurt by the questions. Truth be told, I owed him the grace to ask the questions since I kind of demanded grace from him when I unloaded at church that morning. I listened to the questions he asked and realized more and more that this guy was drinking in who I am. He wasn’t hunting for facts or a fun story. He wasn’t looking for something to take away from me. He was taking his time to share in who I was, and who I was struggling to become.

He listened to me. He would apologize before his questions and I can now look back and see that he must have felt awkward, knowing he was walking in troubled waters and not wanting to create a messy disaster. His apologies and questions revealed his vulnerability. And then he listened. And listened. He would grimace every now and then, laugh from time to time, usually neither of those were at “appropriate” moments, but emotions do strange things when they are running high. I didn’t care.

He was humble and kind. Living in a vulnerable moment.

I was less humble and probably unkind. Living in a vulnerable moment.

We felt as though we were experiencing something real.

Vulnerable is Real – Act One

A friend of mine held a live Facebook prayer meeting a few days ago and spent some time talking about vulnerability in conversation and relationships. That reminded me of a story…


After getting back from Ramadi in 2006 I was having a hard time relating to people and returning to a healthy state of mind. I was hanging out with my father in law talking about how hard it was for me to be around churchy people. My father in law was a pastor at the time. He was deeply involved with encouraging and shaping the Monday through Saturday lives and interactions of the people in the congregation by serving the small group leaders, coordinating a small group, and providing hours upon hours of counseling with different members. His love for people and his service in prayer created the very canvas on which those deep, intimate relationships were painted. He very naturally desired that I would share my story, the hard parts, the way I was really feeling, with those at church on Sunday morning. He actually wanted me to speak out on a Sunday morning!

“Why would I want to even be there?”

I posed the question to Fred, my father in law, but it wasn’t a question to be answered.

“The other people walk around and fire thoughtless, inconsiderate (or at the least un-considered), phrases around. ‘Hi! How are you?’ But no intention of listening.”

I unloaded on Fred.

“What am I supposed to say? Terrible! I’m angry and confused, I feel myself getting worked up over almost nothing, I don’t feel any affection to my kids and wife, I find very little value in much of anything that we are doing as a family or a people, and I’m tired of the crushing expectation of this kind of life that says I have to conform and comply in order to be considered acceptable and then I have to participate in your shallow, careless (or un-careful), world to be accepted. It’s not real. It’s painful and frustrating and I have enough of that in my life already. What… you want me to say that to these people on Sunday morning?”


Fred said yes. He said I should say exactly that.

The next day was Sunday and at the beginning of the service, Fred actually asked for feedback from the congregation.

“Does anybody have anything on their heart that they would like to share with the church, something they feel God and his people should know?”

Well played there music man, well played. I didn’t respond, I didn’t move, I didn’t make a sound. Neither did anybody else. The moment passed and the people went about their rituals and routines. People came up to me before and after the service and I played my part. I told them the most untrue things. I told them I was fine, glad to be home, looking forward to more time with family. You know, all the right and good things that I was supposed to say. Nothing changed, the day continued to march along to the same rhythm as before. Expected call, expected response. The cadence was well established and we played our parts as the good people we were. Heads down, trudging along, in our smiley, happy shells.

Nobody being vulnerable.

Nothing feeling real.