BECAUSE COMMUNITY ISN’T A SYSTEM OF EVEN EXCHANGES

“I can’t believe that you let me sign your table the first time I came to your house for dinner.  I’m surprised that you don’t want to be sure that I’m going to come back.”

“Of course!” I replied, “Everyone who shares a meal with us at our table is invited to sign it regardless of whether you come one time or for years.  Signing our table isn’t an invitation that you have to earn.”

I continue to ponder this conversation that I shared with a lovely young woman standing on my candlelit patio a couple of weeks ago.

We all feel this way some times, or a lot of the time.  That we don’t deserve someone’s offering of time or kindness or grace unless we have somehow earned it.

But community doesn’t flourish under a system of even exchanges.

Community at it’s best is created when we share friendship and care for each other regardless of whether or not it’s been earned by the time or efforts invested.

And I’m beginning to see that one of the greatest reasons that community has grown to be so significant in my life is because I’m willing to ask for and accept help in meaningful – and sometimes extravagant – ways from people who I haven’t necessarily spent a ton of social time with.

During my darkest seasons I’ve reached out to people who have walked through similar circumstances, as well as to people whom I admire for how they live their life – regardless of how much time we’ve invested in a reciprocal relationship.

These walks and coffee dates have grown into a handful of kindred friendships that are closely bound into the fabric of my life even though they aren’t necessarily the people that I socialize with.  The amount of time we’ve spent together isn’t nearly as significant as the depth of meaningful life moments we’ve shared.

I think this is what God intended when he established his Church.  Not to be merely a house of prayer, worship, and teaching, as well as a social club that fills our calendars with activities. But also to be a place where we can reach out to others and say I’m sinking in a storm that is raging around me and I need a few trusted people to throw me a life preserver so I can keep my head above the deepening waters.

I too am guilty of smiling on Sunday morning and saying “Good.  Thanks.” in response to the greeting of, “How are you doing?” even when my whole world feels like it’s falling apart.  Or even worse, I’ve stayed home from church just because I can’t handle the angst of that scenario when I know the expression in my eyes will likely betray the facade I want to present.

The truth is that I don’t want to talk about my problems to everyone at church, and there’s a boundary in there that’s healthy and honors the people who are driving the narrative of my hardest stories.

But that necessary boundary is also balanced with the value of telling a few people at church what’s really going on in my life and asking them to come along side and help me.  These ladies are now a beloved part of “My People” not because we hang out all the time, but because they are among my lifelines when life is hard.  What a gift.

There’s a difference between being a receiver and a taker.  And I wonder if too often we get them confused.

Taking is getting something into my possession by force.  I don’t ever want to be a taker.

But receiving is taking something into my possession that is being offered.  Receiving care and kindness and help is beautiful.  And the love I receive through My People is why I can feel strong, confident, joy-filled, and hopeful in all circumstances.

I think there are more people around us in our community willing to offer help than we realize when we are wounded or sad or scared.  We unnecessarily limit the pool of support around us when we pre-decide that we haven’t shared enough life with someone in our community or our church to ask them to come along side us – especially when we know that person possesses the wisdom that we need because they’ve already been walking on a similar road before we got there.

I don’t try and carry life by myself.  It’s far too heavy.  I carry it with my people.  And not just the ones who I given enough too that I feel like it’s okay to ask for their support.  That circle would be too small to hold some of the burdens that have troubled me.  Life has required me to reach out to people who aren’t in my closest circle and their response has been overwhelmingly grace-filled.

And that has made all the difference in my response these days when someone asks me, “How are you doing?”  And I smile and say truthfully, “Really good. Thanks.  How are you?”

HOW TO THROW A GROWN-UP PITY PARTY

I was having a particularly bad day.

I had planned on using solitary time at home to catch up on my to-do list. But I ended up laying on my bed, staring at the ceiling instead. Telling God my list of grievances, and finding comfort under the blanket of self-pity.

I am forty-four years old, but sometimes I still pray like a teenage girl. A very immature teenage girl – all wrapped up in my own perspective and ego and needs and wants. Prayers consumed by what I think is right. What I think is fair. What I think I deserve.

I’ve been intentionally growing in my faith for twenty-seven years, but I have yet to take all of my petty thoughts captive. I have merely developed the ability to recognize when my thoughts are self-aggrandizing before they are formed into words that come out of my mouth.

The truth is that while I have developed a genuine desire to be a reflection of Christ at all times and to all people – I do not always feel that way. Nor have I completely outgrown self-absorption.

Sometimes as maturing adults we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to think noble, faith-filled thoughts despite our circumstances. Or at least appear that way to others.

But every life is marked by moments of exhaustion and frustration and weakness. And there is a process for transforming my heart into something that is useful to God and others when it has become weary.

So can I just throw it out there that perhaps an occasional pity-party is okay, even when we are no longer adolescents?

In fact I have actually found a good, grown-up pity-party to be quite helpful under two conditions:

  • as a short-term aid.
  • when I invite God to attend.

Sometimes before I can receive “the peace that surpasses all understanding” or “the strength that enables me to overcome all things” or “joy in all circumstances”, I just need to just take a few moments to feel sorry for myself and wallow in my mess.

This is a dangerous place to linger for too long because it’s an awful place to get stuck.

And it is rarely helpful to invite a lot of people.

But for a brief moment, exposing my uncensored and unfiltered feelings before God – trusting that He will meet me in that unbecoming moment with compassion, not condemnation – deepens my intimacy with Him.

As mature adults, when we are hurting or scared or weary we are often too quick to throw out the powerful banner statements of the church and our faith. Even though I believe that the big promises of God are absolutely true, I am also learning that there is something powerful and healing in just sitting with God for a moment in the ugliness of my sadness and anger and fear.

Before I start pushing forward toward overcoming and victory and restoration, I need a few moments to let myself feel and express the injustice or the wrongness of a broken situation or a broken person – in the company of God.

Not to be fixed, but to be seen.

In a recent experience of shameless self-pity – lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, voicing my frustrations to God – my phone rang.

Even though I had decided that it would be best to cut myself off from communication with people that afternoon, I answered because it was my roommate from college. She has already experienced my self-absorption when it was at it’s peak, and she loves me anyways. With her I never have to pretend to be anything other than exactly how I am feeling.

But before I could say anything other than “Hi Roomie”, she told me that she was calling because I was on her mind. And she’d been praying for me. She just wanted me to know.

I cried.

Because I heard the voice of God speaking gently to me through her words.  Reminding me that when I feel alone or rejected or unappreciated or ignored or forgotten, God sees me.

When I pause to listen for God’s gentle voice after I have finished my pubescent rant – He is always faithful to remind me that:

I am loved.

I am valued.

I am seen.

In my most self-absorbed moments, it is God’s presence and voice – spoken through the Holy Spirit, or scripture, or a loved one – that lifts me up and enables me to get back to the hard work of living and loving and serving and growing.

Because God’s unconditional love reconciles the teenage girl and the maturing woman that both live inside me.

God loves me just as I am.  And He loves me too much to let me stay that way.

That’s grace.

Celebrated at a pity-party.

CONNECTING FAMILY THROUGH COOKING

Food connects us.

Not just as we gather around the table to eat.  Food also connects generations through traditions and recipes that are passed down and shared.  Family recipes offer the tremendous gift of tasting the same food as our ancestors.  And showing someone how to create a beloved family recipe is a powerful way to graft in-laws into our family tree.

This year my family celebrated a White Christmas.  Not in San Diego where we live, but in Idaho while spending time with Ryan’s family for the holidays.  We played in the snow, went ice-skating, took a night-time walk on snow-shoes (well, I actually stayed in the house sipping hot tea while the men partook in that adventure), and our two youngest sons enjoyed some extreme-sledding, aka “hookie-bobbin”.  City folks would describe this activity as tying a plastic sled to the back of a pick-up truck.

But my favorite part of the trip was learning how to make Knephla (pronounced k-nep-fla) – a German, dumpling stew – with my mother-in-law, Nancy.

My husband comes from a long line of German Mennonite farmers.  Most of their food traditions are borne from needing to satisfy the appetites of hard-working people who believe in the value of manual labor and eating as a community.  Thus, Knephla is a hearty dish, made from a few simple ingredients, that Ryan’s grandma (Rosella Kessler) learned from her mom (Lydia Graumann).  You can find the recipe HERE.

During our Idaho visit, my mother-in-law made this German stew.  It was a great way to feed 13 hungry people and use up leftover Christmas ham.  She prepared this dish by referring to a weathered page of a 1950’s community cookbook, as well as her memory of watching her mother-in-law prepare it.

I looked through my cookbooks after we returned home, and discovered that I have Rosella’s original copy of this cookbook published in 1959 by the Harvey (North Dakota) Mennonite Brethren Church – the church my father-in-law attended as a boy.  (Rosella suggested that Ryan be named “Harvey”, thankfully my mother-in-law chose a much better name!)

Reading through the recipes in this book is like discovering a time capsule.  All of the recipes were submitted by women, and very few have their personal name printed – most of the submissions are credited to Mrs. (insert husband’s name).  Many of the recipes include ingredients, but very few cooking instructions.  I think there was an assumption that everyone using the book would know what to do.  And the book includes a large section on salads, but almost all of them include Jello.

Many of the recipes included were provided by immediate family members and distant relatives.  When I read through the recipe submissions I recognize so many of the last names because they were written on my wedding invitations.  And even though I didn’t personally know most of the women who contributed to this collaborative effort, I feel a connection to them when I make the same foods in my kitchen that they prepared in theirs over half a century ago.

Family recipes truly are a treasure.  I hope you get the chance to create a meal with deep roots into your history some time soon.

JOY & LOVE IN COMMUNITY

Joy & Love.

This is where I left off at my last post.  

In early December I wrote about the ways that Hope & Peace are experienced within community.  Hope and Peace are two of the virtues celebrated during Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas when we wait with anticipation for Christ’s birth.  Joy and Love are the others.  

Funny that we celebrate peace in the middle of the Advent.  The church calendar is perfectly timed to bring peace to the forefront of our attention right before the frenzy of the holiday season begins to rapidly pick up steam!

Clearly I’m still learning to master living out peace throughout the entirety of Advent, not just during the second week of December.  Alas, I allowed the activities of celebrating the holidays overwhelm my calendar during the last two weeks of December, and set aside too little time for writing.

Once again life reminds me that the virtues of Advent are beautiful in their purity and simplicity, while at the same time complicated to live out on a consistent basis.

Personally, of the four virtues of Advent, I find joy to be the trickiest. 

Because Joy isn’t the same thing as happiness.  

The Joy that Christ brings isn’t dependent on my circumstances.  And it isn’t something that I can create by my own will.  

Joy is something that I come to understand through experience.

In my opinion, that’s where joy takes a detour from the other themes of Advent.  I think we can understand love, hope, and peace without having to experience a lack of these virtues.   

But Joy – we don’t really get Joy until we get sorrow.  

During Advent, an article by Preston Sprinkle: “Why do Christians Get So Many Christmas Story Details Wrong? led me down the road of thinking more and more about Mary.  

Jesus’ mom experienced the joy of being blessed with one of the greatest honors mankind has known.  But her faith-filled life was also marked with tremendous sorrow.

Sprinkle writes, “While Luke 2:7 says ‘there was no room for them at the inn,’ the word for ‘inn’ is kataluma, which can mean ‘inn’ in the traditional sense, but most likely refers to a room in a house. The only other time Luke uses kataluma is in Luke 22:11, where it clearly means a room in a house, not a commercial inn. Luke does actually refer to an inn later in Luke 10:34 (where the Samaritan brought the half-dead man), but he uses a different word there: pandokeion (‘inn’) and not kataluma.

Joseph and Mary also had familial roots in Bethlehem. Unlike 21st-century Westerners, first-century Middle Easterners knew a thing or two about hospitality. There’s no way Joseph and Mary would have gone to a commercial inn in a small town where they had many relatives. But even hospitable relatives will stand their moral ground when their own flesh and blood shows up pregnant out of wedlock. ‘Sorry, you can’t stay in our spare room with that lifestyle; you’ll have to sleep out in the courtyard with the animals.'”

I spent a long time thinking about Sprinkle’s assertions.  I looked up this biblical account in my Greek bible, studied the original meanings, and have come to the same conclusion.  That most likely Jesus wasn’t born in the stable of a Bethlehem hotel – but rather in the smelly barn of Mary or Joseph’s extended family who wouldn’t allow them to stay in their home because they were labeled by their culture as being undeserving of respect.

Ouch.

Mary was scorned by family as a young woman, probably lived a good portion of her adult life as a widow (there is no mention of Joseph during Jesus ministry while there are recorded accounts of Mary and his brothers), and she witnessed the horrific and unjust execution of her son (John 19: 26).

Mary knew sorrow.

And yet her song of praise was, ““My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit REJOICES in God my Savior.” Luke 1: 46-47

I think Mary was a woman of joy because she paid attention to the constant goodness of God’s presence and provision in her life and “treasured all of these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19 & Luke 2:51).

And I’m learning that the abundant life Christ makes possible is experienced in the fullest when I can look beyond all the imperfections of my life, my circumstances, and the people I care so deeply about – and see the Love that is always there surrounding us all.  The Love of God.  The Love of family.  The Love of community.

That’s joy.

You cannot separate joy and sorrow.  Or joy and love.

As a community we are eternally connected by the bonds of hope, peace, joy and love.  Promises of God, fulfilled in the birth of Christ.  Truth we see in and for each other when we can’t see and experience them on our own.  Virtues more powerful than circumstances.

This is what we celebrate, at Christmas time and throughout The New Year, as we gather around each others tables and break bread in our homes.  Sharing in the virtues of Advent, being one in heart, and praising God. (Acts 2: 46-47).

Together.

 

 

 

PEACE IN COMMUNITY

Peace is something that we celebrate with great fervor at the holidays.  And it is the theme of the second week of Advent, when we celebrate Christ’s coming to earth then, now, and in the days to come.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Luke 2:14 (KJV)

We all claim to want peace, but do we really consider what is required of us to experience true peace?

So often I want to reduce God to a wishing machine.  I close my eyes and offer up a prayer and expect a magical result.  But that’s not how God works.  Because one of the crazy truths of this world is that he wants to partner with us in His redemptive work for mankind.

The themes of Advent – Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love – are not passive wishes.  They are the promises of God, made true through Christ, and shared through His people.

As followers of Christ, we are called to be active participants in peace – in our community, as well as in our spheres of influence – not merely wish for it.

COLOSSIANS 3:12-15 (NIV)

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (v 12-14)

Just asking God for peace isn’t enough.  If we want to be people of peace, then we must pray that God will help us to be compassionate and kind and humble and gentle and patient – whether we feel like or not.  We must pray that God will give us the willingness and the strength to bear one another’s burdens.  As well as ask for and offer forgiveness to each other every time it’s needed.  We must continually ask God to help us to love each other well, unifying our hearts to Him and to each other.

This is how peace is found on earth.  How goodwill is shared with mankind.

Peace is active.

And it is revealed in and through us when we are engaged with our community.

In his heartfelt letter to the church at Colossae, Paul continues,

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.” (v 15a)

One of the most effective prayers I have learned is not praying for Christ to give me peace, but to BE my peace.  BE my hope.  BE my joy.  BE my love.  Regardless of my strength, desires, ability, or circumstance.  Christ is THE great intercessor.  I can fully rely on Him to empower me to experience peace even when I am weak, or troubled, or uncertain, or falling very, very short of who I’m called to be.

And concludes by writing,

“And be thankful.” (v 15b)

Thankful that Christ came to earth as a baby to heal, and redeem, and restore God’s beloved creation by showing us how to live a life of peace, not merely wish for it.

And thankful for my community – my people.  The loved ones with whom I get to experience the bonds of peace by expressing love, carrying each others burdens, forgiving one another, and sharing a life of unity that is rooted in something much more deeper, more beautiful, and more lasting than mere agreement.

But rather, the unity that is rooted in God’s goodwill towards women and men.  Demonstrated by our active pursuit of peace.

HOPE IN COMMUNITY

I love Advent; a Latin word that means “coming”.  It is the season when we celebrate hope, peace, joy, and love in anticipation of a world renewed by the coming of Christ.  During the four weeks leading up to Christ’s birthday, we celebrate the was, is, and will be of God’s creation – all at the same time.

The world made new because Christ came to earth in the past.  The world made new when Christ returns again in the future.  But also the world being made new by Christ right NOW, in his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

This is why Advent begins with celebrating HOPE.

Because, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1.

But when we look around at the brokenness of our world, our lives, or our hearts – sometimes hope is hard.  And what we do see can make it challenging to consider what we don’t see.

Sometimes the circumstances in my life, and in this world, threaten to reduce my hope to a mere flicker.  Worry and disappointment can smother the hope that resides in the most faithful of hearts.

But one thing I know is that community is oxygen to hope.  Community breathes life into my heart when hope is growing faint.

It think that’s why Hebrews 11 opens with a verse about hope, and then goes on to summarize the stories of men and woman of faith who went before the recipients of Paul’s letter.  We aren’t meant to walk the road of faith alone.  We walk it together.

Because we can’t really grasp hope by ourselves, we experience it with our people.

The presence of my people in my unfinished story is why I can say with confidence, “HOPE does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.” Romans 5:5

Not my heart, our hearts.  And not given to me, but given to us.

When life seems dark and hope feels fleeting, Christ show up through people.  He shows up in the flesh and blood, and words and hugs, and the laughter and tears of my people.  The family and friends who keep showing up to speak truth and love and grace over me.  The people who are the bridge of intercession that connects me to God’s movement in my life when overwhelming emotions disconnect me from experiencing it on my own.

The people who remind me – by their prayers, words, and actions – that hope does not disappoint.

And so this week I celebrate Advent and HOPE with my people – those who have gone before me, those who walk with me now, and those who will come after me.  We are on this long, hard, beautiful road of faith together.

Paul concludes his long list of faithful men and women who share in our hope by writing, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”  Hebrews 12:1.

Therefore – me and you and every person of faith – are a part of this great cloud of witnesses that Paul wrote about.

Together we cheer for each other and pick other up.  Together we carry and honor and retell each others stories.  Together we represent the love and goodness of Christ to one another as we run our course of faith.  Together we create something better and believe in the promise of all things made new.

All of us.  Those who were, those who are, those who will be.  We engage in the good work of God’s kingdom here on earth together.

That’s HOPE.

A RESPONSE TO HURTING & HEALING IN COMMUNITY

Last night I gathered around my table with the community of young women who have become my family.  It is hard to believe how much has happened since we last met.  It seemed appropriate to take a break from our current book discussion and spend the evening sharing about how we are feeling about the election and recent events instead.  As a community of individual people our thoughts and emotions are varied, and yet our love and respect for one another is consistent.  This is community at it’s best.  And why I am committed to my calling to inspire others to create and engage in authentic community as well.

I wrote this for my Monday night community of sisters, and I want to share it with you as well:

So many thoughts and emotions stirring in my head and heart this morning.  Our conversation last night was really helpful in broadening my perspective on how this election deeply affects everyone, but not necessarily in the same ways.  It is a beautiful testimony to how uniquely created we are.  And that even though we share the identities of Christian and women – how we feel, interpret, and engage with the world around us differs.  And yet our faith and and the testimony of Christ’s followers in scripture gives us hope that despite variances, we can still experience a deep sense of unity and caring for one another.  What I experienced in a small way last night, is the foundation for my big dream and hope for my nation.  Our time of sharing is a guide to how I’m going to pray for my country.  It also deepens my commitment to listen and truly consider what others are saying – with a willingness to let what I hear shape what I think, rather than just trying to get my point across.

What I want most is to be light where there is darkness, and yet this is also where I feel the most challenged.  This election and so many events of this past year have brought to light deep brokenness and inequality in our country, but how to move from awareness to action is something that feels much harder. Because the problems in our nation that have come to light through the cracks of brokenness are so deep and so overwhelming that I can’t get a handle on where or how to place my actions.  So for now I’m going to spend a lot of time listening and praying and being thoughtful about my words.  All the while asking God to prepare me to engage with this world in healing ways.  May God grant us all the wisdom and courage to act every time an opportunity opens up before us – big or small – that invites us to be a part of the love, grace, and truth that brings hope, healing, strength, and unity to this world.

I also hope that what was shared last night by everyone is the beginning of an ongoing conversation, not a one time event.  And that God will weave healing, hope, wisdom, unity, and calling into all of our conversations as we move forward together.

I just started reading the She Reads Truth 2 week study on the Beatitudes. It feels like divine timing to read scripture and commentary on this upside down world:

No matter how comfortable the house, we’ll never feel fully at home in this world; we were made for the coming one. But while we’re here, we have a job to do. Our job is not to earn our blessings; Jesus did that. Our assignment is to be salt and and light to the very world that makes us fidget with discomfort. As those who carry the life of Jesus around in us, we have a message of hope to offer a dying world (2 Corinthians 4:10). We hold out the Word of Life, inviting our neighbors “to taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). (excerpt from a commentary written by Amanda Bible Williams)

If you want to read She Read’s Truth’s full commentary on Jesus’ opening words in the Beatitudes, you can read that here.  I encourage you to read along with the entire 2 week study as well.  It is guiding wisdom as we sort through our thoughts and feelings about who we are as a nation, our role in it, and how God is in the midst of it all.

That is the end of my letter to my girls.  And two minutes after I hit send an African-American homeless man knocked on my front door.  I answered the door and said hello.  He asked me if I had any rice or oatmeal that I could give him.  I said sure and went to my pantry to get the biggest bag of rice I could find, while my yellow lab rubbed up against his legs, wagging her tail while he pet her.  I handed it to him, we both smiled, and wished each other a good day.  And he left.

And as I sit back down at my laptop I am sensing the movement of the Holy Spirit within me whispering to my heart that this man is a part of my community too.  It seems that the first action step that I’m called to in response to all the listening is just broadening my view and definition of who my community is.

I should have asked that man his name, and told him mine.  Next time I will.  These are the small actions that move all of us towards healing.

BECAUSE HOSPITALITY IS BOTH

It’s one of the most common questions that I’m asked when I’m sharing about hospitality. “Is your message about inviting different people into our homes, or the same people?” And my reply is always, “Both.”

I believe there is tremendous value in opening our front door wide to invite people to our tables for one time affairs.  Hosting a dinner party, celebration, or community event enriches our lives and enhances the joy that we are all created to experience.

However rhythmically opening our front door to the same group people creates an environment for growth, grace, and community that cannot be replicated in periodic encounters with different people.

As we continually gather around the table with the same people – meals transform into community – and those people become Our People.

In her book, “Present Over Perfect”, Shauna Niequist tells a story about a man she met on a ferry.  He shared a sad tale about “becoming a master at quick, intense emotional connection, and with each experience of it, he found himself less able to connect in the daily, trudging, one-after-the-other kinds of ways.”

Many people are capable of charming someone they just met, but none of us can consistently dazzle the people who know us well.  The people who spend time with us regularly in the privacy of our homes know where our charm ends and the real us begins.

So instead of merely making a good impression, Our People push us to engage with our fears of not being enough.  We have to trust that Our People will continually offer acceptance, love, and grace even when we and our lives are messy.

This is hard work.

It’s hard work to grow and mature and evolve with the same group of people.  And it’s hard work holding space for others to do the same.  I have found that both demeanors require courage and reliance on Christ.

When we push through the challenges of living authentically with the same community over and over, we experience the radical gift of grace.  Grace to get back up after we fall.  Grace to be valued despite our limitations.  Grace to be a better version of our selves.

We can never experience grace to it’s fullest if we keep our lives too private or too controlled.  To experience the grace of forgiveness and the grace of acceptance and the grace of restoration – we have to let people see us.  Really see us.

That’s something that isn’t possible, or even wise to attempt, during a brief encounter.  We share this type of vulnerability with the people who keep showing up over, and over, and over again.

“It’s better to be loved than admired,” writes Shauna Niequist, “It is better to be truly known and seen and taken care of by a small tribe than adored by strangers who think they know you in a meaningful way.”

Gathering the same people around our tables to share life invites personal significance in ways that being admired for hosting a great dinner party cannot.

It is true that joy and satisfaction are found in both.  But personal transformation at our tables happens when we gather there with Our People to share meals and offer the truest version of our self.

WHY WE NEED TO SHEPHERD OUR WORK

“I am still learning how to shepherd this long work after the initial burst.”

This is the quote that leapt from my laptop screen yesterday, as I read a post written by D.L. Mayfield.

D.L. Mayfield is a Christian author, blogger, and lover of people.  She lives with her husband and their two young children in a low income, refugee community on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon.  And she is gifted at sharing glimpses of what a life of ministering and being ministered to by her beloved community looks and feels like.

I opened her recent post because the title on my Facebook newsfeed caught my attention: “The Ministry of Saying Goodbye (and Sticking Around)”.  You can read her full piece HERE.

The “burst” she’s referring to is the whirlwind of publishing her first book, “Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith“.

We are all created with unique passions that lead us to work that matters.  Regardless of whether our work is paid, vocational, or as volunteers – hopefully we’ve all experienced bursts of affirmation, fulfillment, or reward for our efforts.

But for every exciting burst, there are many ordinary days in between.

And we all wrestle with a fear of being ordinary.  We worry that being ordinary isn’t enough to make a significant impact in this world.

So this is where the challenge of our work often lies.  We can get lost or distracted from the significance of our work during a long stretch of ordinary days.  Feeling ordinary for too long can be just as devastating to our purpose as feeling defeated or discouraged by a dramatic event.

Feeling ordinary is when we need to shepherd our work.  Protecting, guiding, and watching over the efforts of our work because we know it matters even when it’s been a while since we have tangibly seen or felt the excitement of it.

Shepherding our work means resisting the temptation to abandon our efforts or change course to do something more dramatic or noticeable or harder just because we feel too ordinary.

Shepherding our work also means seeking God’s help to become more aware of His presence and pleasure with us on the ordinary days.  Rather than just on the days when another person’s response to our work affirms that we are doing something important.

D.L. Mayfield has invited me into a paradigm shift about shepherding.  Before reading her post, I had only thought about being a shepherd.  Christ as our shepherd, or my pastor’s giftedness at shepherding an entire congregation, and even my call to shepherd twenty somethings traveling through numerous life transitions.

But I had not considered shepherding as an action in regards to my work of gathering and loving people around my table.

Her words that have given me an opportunity to pause and think about how to stay committed to this important work through the stretches of ordinary days.  And I have added them to the rhythm of my prayers for my table:

“Lord teach me how to shepherd my long work after the exciting bursts.”

Any work that matters is always long work.  I’m so glad to be on this journey with you.

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