community

Because you never know where the smallest invitation and warm welcome will lead

By the time the fourth African family settled themselves into the pews on Sunday morning, I was sort of crying. Happy crying, but crying nonetheless.

I tend to tear up a lot in the back row. Just ignore me and pretend I’m not weeping over the amazing things God does when I least expect it. Nothing to see here; move along.

My tears were completely and totally due to a tiny portion of Africa streaming into church. A new family with the three boys arrived early, smiling tentatively (because at that point the foyer was full of blindingly white people such as yours truly), shaking hands, and pronouncing their very non-English names carefully for us.

Then, as the service started, their fellow continent-men joined as they got around to it. The three boys headed to children’s church, the smaller twins in matching white shirts did too, and I’m not sure where the baby ended up after the last family walked in.

It was really the baby who got me crying. He was just so pudgy and fat and happy and I was so profoundly thankful to be in a congregation where Kenyans feel welcome.

It all started a few years ago with Harry. He wandered into our church one Sunday because our building was close enough for him to walk from his apartment. A doctoral student at the local university, he was studying in Kalamazoo while his wife and children were home in Kenya.

I’m not exactly sure how we got from “Hello, welcome!” to a congregation with beautiful African dresses. I’m not sure when we moved from warm smiles to needing the translate option on Facebook to decipher Swahili when our friends switch over to their native language.

But we did. Somehow a warm welcome turned into friendship, and then the congregation brought Harry’s family here, then one international student after another ended up in our pews.

We don’t even have a formal ministry to international students. We don’t teach them English, or help them prepare for the Michigan driving test, or intercede on their behalf with their professors.

But we do give their kids a few too many cookies during the fellowship hour. We invite them to parties in the backyard and heaven knows we make sure they’re warm enough through our terrible Michigan winters.

It occurs to me that formal programs aren’t really what most of us are looking for, are we? Do you wake up in the morning and hope your husband will give you a formal lecture on how to load the dishwasher? Do you have a six-hour retreat scheduled for your friends tomorrow?

Probably not. That would be super weird. What we’re longing for is relationships, real and deep ones, to share food and time and parenting duties as we trudge through life next to each other.

And it appears that the Kenyans want exactly that, too.

It’s the smallest things that sometimes lead to the biggest, longest lasting relationships. It doesn’t have to be rocket science. We don’t need formal programs or fancy meals or the next ten years mapped out.

I need to be honest– I’m still pretty bad about this. Part of the reason I leaked tears on Sunday was because I’m not great about the invitations and all the hanging out. It’s often our pastor and his wife and a few specific families in our church who turn those invitations into the kind of relationships that keep our congregation full of Kenyans.

But I can see the results in living technicolor from that back pew. I can see the relationships that have grown, three years after an invitation was offered. I learn from hindsight and others’ actions, it turns out.

And maybe, after this long and meandering blog post, you can too.

Halloween Reframe: How we can reclaim the holiday for good

So, I’m sitting here in a house that’s stuffed to the gills with Halloween candy. Almost twelve pounds, to be exact. And while I’m sitting here and the smell of sugar is wafting out of the cupboard, I’m thinking deep thoughts.
Halloween candy!

These deep thoughts tend to be comparisons between the Halloweens I grew up with and the Halloween I know now. Way, way back in the 80s, our conservative church culture viewed the holiday with suspicion and fear, like perhaps Satan was in the streets gobbling up little children as they went from door to door.

One of these things is not like the other...
One of these things is not like the other…

It seemed safer to stay home and watch TV and avoid Satan all together. Oh, sometimes we could go to the school party at night, or maybe the church put on an alternative Harvest Party– a little bit of Halloween, but not too much.

I get the general idea behind the mindset. It’s absolutely dangerous to go dabbling in the dark, spiritual realm. But whether we like it or not, I think we can all acknowledge that our communities and neighborhoods are on the move Halloween night. Not only are things hopping, they’re coming right to our doors. And we’re going to right to theirs. hot pink mums

We had a neighbor move in two months ago, and I swear to you I’ve seen his face three times (at a distance) in eight weeks. There were two weeks where I wondered if he’d actually died in the house and we should send in a rescue team. I’ve looked for ways to introduce myself, but he skitters in and out like he’s afraid of the fresh air.

Guess what, buddy. We’re coming over on Halloween and we’re going to introduce ourselves.  Prepare yourself.

Another set of neighbors held a party on Saturday and we had a chance to catch up with people we usually just wave at while passing. Small children ran rampant through Josh and Heather’s home, battling with plastic weapons from their costumes. During this chaos Josh and Heather calmly chatted with the adults, watching their house being slowly torn to shreds. They just laughed and said they’d clean up in the morning. They were more interested in building friendships than protecting their carpet.

gourds and pumpkin

I’ve been watching our friends online and I’ve seen pumpkin carving parties, trunk or treat preparations, and group outings to the pumpkin farm. I love how people are coming together over chocolate and giant orange vegetables. We can reframe this holiday and use it to reach out, to grow closer, to strengthen friendships and start new ones.

At the moment I have all the candy in the high cupboard over the fridge. I like to tell myself it’s because I’m hiding it from the children, but really it’s to slow myself down from eating all of it before the trick or treaters show up. Because when the little ghosties and ghouls come begging, I’m going to be ready for them.

They might leave my porch a little bit afraid of the over-friendly lady handing out twelve pounds of candy, but they’ll certainly know I was glad they stopped by. I’ve decided this is a chance to love my neighbors, and community. And I may take a wee nibble of chocolate while I’m at it.

What about you? How does your family approach this subject?

How to find your blue carpet friends (and why you need to!)

blue-carpet-friends-3Are you surrounded by friends who get you? I mean, do you have friends who support you in all your life choices? I think they’re key to living out your calling and dreams, and here’s why.

I have this good friend, Betsy, who is also my hairstylist. Now that my hair care routine requires quite a bit of dye to restore my luscious locks to the color I remember them being at age 25, Betsy and I get quite a bit of quality time together every six weeks.

The last time I was in the shop we started talking about priorities in life, and the toll they take on our finances. For example: choosing to travel as a family and/or enrolling the kids in a Christian school. Both are wonderful options, but neither comes cheaply. We talked about making all the budget areas stretch so we could fit our priorities into our financial picture without taking on debt.

And then we really got on a roll and examined how our friendships can be the key to helping us stay on track with our life choices, or they can derail us in the most dangerous ways.

I told her about how many years ago we’d chosen a completely different preschool for Caleb, because the community at his older sister’s preschool included people who actually went to the yacht club. They drove SUVs the size of my living room. They gave birthday parties for three year olds that cost hundreds of dollars.

I was out of my league in my rusty Chevy and wee little house and homemade cupcakes. So far out of my league, that for Caleb’s preschool experience we chose a little school in a farming community to our south. I felt far more comfortable there, like my life goals made sense to them and then, in turn, to me while I was there.

Betsy understood exactly what I meant, and told me about their friends with blue carpet. “They can afford new carpet,” she said, “but they have other priorities. They just haven’t changed it yet.”

That blue carpet brings something important to their relationship. It’s a statement. A reminder that not everything in life has to be perfect. It’s okay to have financial limitations or life goals other people might not understand.


It’s camaraderie, too. When we can peer into a friend’s life and see tangible proof that they feel no need to have everything matching and new and shiny and perfect, we can hold our our mismatched little lives close together and feel like we’re on the same team. Someone gets us.

On Thursday nights I take our kids to a local youth group and pull my beat up Sienna in next to my friend Kris’s beat up Sienna. We open up our trunks together to try to locate the leaks we both have, leaks that soak our trunk carpets in a good rain. We’ve been bonding over weird things since our college days, but those leaky trunks are just one more piece in the friendship.

photo-1475027204167-3187bf798ba2

It’s not like friendships start and blossom over things like wet carpet or blue carpet or even brand new carpet.

They blossom when something in me recognizes something in you, and we feel like we’re understood. We might not have the same life goals, we might not have the same blue carpet or old minivan, but we understand that you’re picking your important things and it’s okay for me to pick mine, too.

Friends who support us while we carve out our lives are one of God’s greatest gifts. So, today, I hope you’ll take a moment to notice your friends’ oddities and quirks and mismatched life. And may you say, out loud, how wonderful you think it all is. Your words might just give them the courage and joy they need today.

Flop down on their blue carpet and tell them it brings out the blue in their eyes. Climb into that minivan and say, “Oh, no. Mine smells so much worse than this. This is fine.”

Blue carpet is a way to connect and encourage. It’s kind of precious like that.

4-decisions-banner

Four easy steps to building your authentic community

You, right there. The woman in the car, reading this blog post on her mobile phone and wishing she had a new life.

You, the mother in the living room who has 1,342 children and only two arms.

You, the man who is married to the woman who has 1,342 children and even with your two arms involved, you’re feeling like your life is 1,338 arms short.

You.

Any person who is alive, I am speaking to you.

I’ve been carefully watching everyone lately and I’m seeing a recurring theme: everyone is stressed out. Everyone.

It looks like the person next to you has everything together and they’re dancing through life like a hippy in a field of flowers. Carefree, money in the bank, and having an excellent hair day.

Meanwhile, you feel like life has chewed you up and spit you back into that same field and the hippy is about to accidentally stomp on your face whilst she prances among the flowers. But you’re too exhausted to get out of her way, so you lie there and wait for the delicate sandal to the eye socket.

But here is the truth– all your friends probably feel the same way as you. Oh, sure– they might be having a good day. It’s possible. But in general, they’re probably worried about the same things. There are no perfect families, there is no perfect health, and there will never be enough money in the bank.

But we’re not fans of giant crybabies, so we all put on our Adult Panties and go about our business, pretending everything is fine. That’s why you think your friends are fine and dandy– they’re fakers.

I said it. Fakers!

I’m a faker. Maybe you’re a faker too.

What if we tried this instead:

  1. Stopped faking.
  2. Reached out to our friends and family and shared our real issues.
  3. Asked them how they are really doing. And then listened.
  4. Repeat forever.

We might eventually have a community where all the grass looked just about the same, and maybe we’d all be sitting on it having impromptu picnic lunches. Together.

A photo by Aranxa Esteve. unsplash.com/photos/pOXHU0UEDcg

 

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