Thursday, February 26, 2015

Diner Talks

Sometimes my friend Vern looks like he's been to hell and back.  And he has been.  He has enjoyed the spoils of the good life and he's scrounged for his daily bread when the good life stopped giving.  Through all of the peaks and valleys, Vern has kept his family in tact.  He is known to his family.  They know God.  They persevere.  So, when Vern told me about "diner talks" with his kids, I listened.  A "diner talk" is a time that may be called for by the kid or the parent.  It's simple.  You go to a diner.  Preferably on the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.  You order greasy food and coffee.  And you talk.  This may occur at any time of the day or night.  And any topic is on the table.  Emotions can run free.  Doubts and fears are welcome at the table among the drops of turkey gravy and spilled coffee creamer.  A diner talk is a way to make it safe to talk about anything.  It's a time of being together, to mentor one another, to listen and be heard.  It a time of being vulnerable and real.

My friend Ryan has been to Africa and back.  He says that in Zimbabwe 75% of families care for at least one orphan.  Compare this to the US where less than 1% of families care for at least one orphan.  Ryan says that the local church in Africa is exploding and that they are best equipped to address the orphan crisis.  Ryan is Harvard educated and has tremendous potential to do, well, anything.  He started a non-profit called Forgotten Voices International and they partner with the local church to create custom plans through quiet investments that produce sustainable income for orphans in Africa.  Ryan started his organization after soaking in the depths of the orphan crisis and then spending significant time asking questions of the local church.  He knew that the answers were to be found in the listening.   Ryan says  that one African pastor told him that for 20 years he had watched mission initiatives come through to help fix the needs of orphans and that no one had ever asked him what he thought about the issue or how to best address it.  Ryan asked and listened.  Since that time, thousands of kids have been helped by Forgotten Voices, via the local church.

There are these two guys, trained as pastors, who've gone all-in with their careers and started a non profit called Someone To Tell It To.  They sensed that there are too many  wounded and broken people who have no one with whom they can share their struggles.  They have this radical idea that everyone should have a place to go to be heard and valued.  They have an even more radical idea that when people go to this place of safety to talk and to be counseled, that they shouldn't have to pay.  So, they started an organization to listen and to teach others to listen.  They go around speaking to groups and tell us that it's important that we humanize the workplace, the neighborhood, and the home.  They say it's important that we listen to one another.

I had a diner talk with my oldest son some time ago.  It was special and significant.  We haven't made it a routine. I need to do that.  He's years older now.   My youngest son heard of this diner talk of which we spoke. He felt he was ready.  He marked it on the calendar and asked if we could go for our own diner talk.  We went to the Waffle House.  He had chocolate chip waffles and Mr. Pibb.  We played Florida Georgia Line on the juke box.  We listened to each other.  It was special and significant. 

Harvard-educated Ryan recently gave a talk where he challenged the audience to stop looking at those in need as people we needed to fix, but rather as brothers and sisters who have the answers.  What if we spent less time aiming to fix and more time asking questions?  What if we spent less time writing checks void of emotion and more time sitting with people and listening?  What if we spent less time judging our neighbor and more time knowing our neighbor?  What if there were less waiting lists of kids who need mentors and more waiting lists of mentors ready to serve kids?  What if there were no need for orphanages because every child had a home?  What if we made time for more diner talks? 

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