Note: I'm relaunching my blog today after a year's hiatus. To celebrate, I'm doing a double feature. "I miss your blogs..." talks about what I've been up to this past year. But, it is the post below that I really couldn't wait to share with you. Enjoy!
There are two friends that I often see on Sundays. One speaks for a living….the other can’t open his mouth.
My friend Steve Wiens is the pastor of Genesis Covenant Church. Genesis meets in a theater at a Jewish Community Center that is 40 minutes from my house. Sometimes it feels like a long drive, but in all the times I’ve gone, I’ve never regretted the journey. The seats in the auditorium are teal and the stage often holds a set of whatever play is being performed that afternoon. The church is so full of young families that I joke it’s the church of the car seat. I’ve stumbled over many on my way to the communion line.
Steve used to stutter growing up, but if you heard him preach on a Sunday morning you would never know it. Steve unlocks words, explores their original Hebrew or Greek meanings, and helps makes them available to all who listen. He’s a demonstrative talker. He likes to move around and makes gestures and faces. He asks questions of his audience as he speaks because he really believes that we all have something to learn from one another.
Steve also has a podcast called This Good Word. I love listening to it on my iPhone while I’m going through my morning routine or driving to work. His voice fills up my car with sound, my head with thoughts, and my heart with hope. Steve understands something about what it means to be human and knows how to share words in ways that are insightful, honest, and uplifting. He knows how to create community even when his audience spans the globe.
I love listening to people talk after hearing Steve speak for the first time. I think they’re blown away by how brilliant he is, but at the same time so warm, relatable, and inviting. Steve is a good teacher, and many people just like me have received his words on Sunday week after week as some of their favorite gifts.
If the Vikings are playing at noon, I give quick hugs to my friends after church and dash into my car, though town and out into the country. I stop at the house that has a ramp leading to the door and am greeted by a welcoming party of two Yorkies and a drooling mutt. My friend is sitting inside.
“Hi Kris.” I call as I enter.
Kris waves his index finger to say hello. Most Sundays he’s decked out head to toe in neon; all six feet nine inches of him. Kris was in a car accident one icy November night in the middle of his college career. The resulting injuries and surgeries following his crash have been life-altering. The body he lives in has changed, but his mind is fully intact.
Kris lost the ability to open his mouth, so while I eat pizza during the game, Kris’ smoothie hangs from an IV bag. Kris has double vision and a paralyzed left hand, so the best way he has found to communicate is through one-handed finger spelling. Slowly, with great concentration, Kris begins to move his fingers on his working hand to spell out what he wants to say one careful letter at a time. His long fingers labor intently to express his thoughts; his thumb doesn’t always want to participate.
Some days our communication is clear and I can understand his signs with ease. Some days are harder and I need the help of a friend and a notepad. Kris has a sign for “erasing the chalk board” so to speak, and individual signs for people in his life. Mine kind of looks like “Live Long and Prosper” and I find it fitting.
His words on Sunday are also teaching me but they’re not explaining the Hebrew language or filling space with sound. Kris’ silent signs are helping me learn patience, presence, and the beautiful, undeniable truth that every human life has value. Kris was once asked what he thinks about doing someday in heaven. He began to sign to me, “I want to be heard.” Kris, I can’t wait to listen.
When the game ends, I drive home to get ready for another week. As I finish my to-do list for the weekend and consider the week ahead, I pause to ponder the dichotomy of my friendships and consider the beauty of words and signs, silence and sound. I thank God for my friends Steve and Kris; friends who have shared their words with me on Sunday.