By: Abigail Onley
This is a scared and special time of year. During the HOLYdays, our houses are being prepared for family and friends as we fill them with love and laughter to celebrate and enjoy time together.
But during this time, let us not forget those who live among us that have no place to go. These people can be neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, and even relatives with whom we have been out of touch.
Having traveled for most of our married life, Matthew and I know what it is to be in a new city without any friends or family. In fact, most of us can relate to this experience in one way or another in our own lives. Having no where to go turns the holidays into a series of awkward pauses and uncomfortable smiles as we hope to be invited to a gathering but don't want to ask or impose.
Over the last 10 years I have come to look at community from a different vantage point. We went from being planted in the place where we grew up with lots of friends and family to being in another country where we had to grow a community from scratch. Community is more than any one of us; by very definition it is the joining together of lives for the purpose of enriching and embracing another. I've learned that the only way to grow community is through hospitality.
Hospitality is our willingness to say yes to our neighbor. Saying yes is not always convenient. Even as I am writing this post, my three wonderful and demanding children need to be fed and clothed. I need to brush my teeth and cook a dish for Thanksgiving, and ohh yeah, I woke up inspired to complete a bunch of tasks for All of Us Matter... then I got the text message.
"Do you mind if we stop by and visit?"
A relative who I had not seen in a long time was in town and wanted to drop by for a visit. I had a choice, I could say no--which would have been convenient--or I could say yes and have an opportunity to open my home and share real and authentic life with one another.
Matthew and I have learned that by saying yes we are enriching our lives and the lives of those around us. We have made it a family rule that we always try to say yes in these situations. Saying yes is not only how our tribe of community grows, enriching our lives with new friendships and experiences, but it is also our responsibility as Christians.
All throughout the Bible we read about the importance of hospitality. It is through hospitality that we meet the needs of our neighbor--sharing what we have with others.
The Amplified translation of the Bible elaborates on the word "practice" to say pursue the practice of hospitality. This gives us the imagery that hospitality should be a pursuit in our lives.
This even goes beyond our co-workers and acquaintances to those who are suffering on another level this time of year. Let us share what we have with the homeless and fatherless, those who are going through hard times, and those who are fighting to free people from bondage and injustice.
Let us be a voice to the voiceless. Let us make a difference in the lives of others ...and let us start by simply being willing to say yes to our neighbor.
Start conversations that matter, let's be a voice to the voiceless.
Crystal, Founder, and Visionary at All of Us Matter
By Laura Rinas
If you were to ever meet me, which definitely should not be, like, a life goal or anything… But if you were to meet me, you would probably, and quickly, assume that I am an extrovert. I love people. And I love chatting with people. I tend to bring enthusiasm to a gathering, and don’t mind at all holding your attention. But the truth is, as much as I love that, it drains me. I am an introvert at heart, meaning that I need space from people, I need solitude to recharge. I prefer meeting with people one on one, but quickly reflex to just staying at home with my husband. I like our quiet nights together, with the kids in bed and the popcorn popped, and really struggle giving any of those up to invite others into our home. I am happy to bring the Happy to Church, or a Coffee Date, but my home is sacred. It’s my bubble, which protects me from the loud and often crowded world outside of it.
And yet, along with the Bible and Prayer, Community is one of the main facets of Christianity. How does that work for me? Is it enough that I go to church, run the Moms Ministry? Is it enough that I work with a group of over 100 women in the world of entrepreneurs? Can I just have that fill that pre-requisite and keep my bubble the way it is at home?
I really want to say yes to that question. I really want to say that I need space to recharge, and that no one would expect me to give that up. But what if, in giving up the solitude we find each night in our home, we might find something… more?
In Luke 24, we find a fascinating story about an encounter the disciples had with Jesus after Jesus’ death. There were two of them, traveling together, discussing what was happening. It had been three days since the death of Jesus, and they just had heard the story that the women were telling… that they had gone to the tomb and it was empty. They were joined by a stranger, who we know as readers was Jesus. They talked with Jesus for their entire trip, but their eyes “were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24: 16). They marveled that this strange man seemed to know nothing about the circumstances surrounding the life and death of Jesus, and they shared their disappointment that Jesus had turned out not to be the type of savior that they had wanted. (It turns out, in fact, that this was a very good thing, because, like most things, what they wanted would not have been good for them. Jesus was what they needed, what we ALL needed. They just hadn’t figured it out yet.) The disciples invited this stranger to dine with them, and in verses 30-31, we read: “When he was at the table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he vanished from their sight.”
This glancing, short-lived, intermittent community that we do today, where Facebook messages and texts have replaced discussion and physical presence… it is not enough. We can walk through this whole life and miss people. We can walk this road and lament about how things have gone wrong, how people are dying but all we have is confusion and an uncertainty about what the next step is. We can walk that road our entire lives and MISS HIM. It was not until they invited this stranger into their home, until they broke bread with him, that they were able to see Christ standing there.
My time and space is so precious to me as an introvert. But what if that makes that sacrifice that much sweeter to our brothers and sisters? If you are like me, if you struggle to People, if you struggle to offer yourself and your home up, I challenge you in this: Start small. Start with one friend. How you do Community will not, and should not, look like how your friend who is an extrovert does Community. God has created you, trust him that your tendency to avoid crowds is ok. Trust that your comfort with just one or two people at a time is a good thing. We need to be a part of a large group, that’s part of life. But we need that intimate interaction as well. So trust that you fill a void that is so necessary and so vital.
Don’t sweat the details. Clean if you must, but only where you guys will be sitting. Order pizza or takeout if cooking is not your love language. Have coffee on, have your cups ready. Make the first offering of vulnerability and see where that takes you. Invite Jesus in, break bread with strangers. Let your eyes be opened to the hint of God that is in each of us, regardless of our differences.
Start small. Start easy.
Do you remember the nursery rhyme "Polly Put The Kettle On".
It's a great nursery rhyme to me because there's two girls having tea together. The art of tea time is a light snack between meals.
The origin of afternoon tea was introduced in England by Anna, the seventh Duchess of Bedford (my claim to fame because the Duke and Duchess of Bedford are Russell's--my surname), in the year 1840. The Duchess would become hungry (she probably had a low-blood sugar) around four o'clock in the afternoon. The evening meal in her household was served fashionably late at eight o'clock, thus leaving a long period of time between lunch and dinner. - Historic UK
Tea time is not observed in America except for a special occasion where you make reservations and visit a tea room. My time in England gave me a great appreciation for all things tea. One of these traditions that I love is that a friend can pop by and immediately the host will offer tea and say, "Shall I will put the kettle on?". I love the simplicity of what this phrase means. Sitting down with something warm invokes warm feelings of togetherness. Whatever you fancy and enjoy, invite a girlfriend over and share life together. Whether you're forever friends or a new acquaintance open up and share life. There is nothing sweeter than forming a sisterhood. We are stronger together, so offer to put the kettle on.
Start conversations that matter, let's be a voice to the voiceless.
Crystal, Founder, and Visionary at All of Us Matter
by Laura Rinas
I will be completely honest and say that I am one of Those Mothers… that gleefully skip down the sidewalk on the first day of school, high-fiving other parents on the way. I love my babies, I really do. But by the end of summer, when our to-do lists have been crossed off and forgotten, and we are surviving on embarrassing amounts of screen time and frozen pizza, we are ALL READY. The image of my babies riding off into the sunrise on their school bus does not often stir a whole lot of emotion, other than that ball of joy that forms when you realize you can do the grocery shopping on your own now.
But every once in a while, I catch a glimpse of the NOW, of the HERE, and it takes my breath away.
Yesterday morning started like any other. We did the first round of Walk To The School Bus for my big two, then came home and readied for our next round, where my four year old would be the one I load for his half day at school. We’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, and while I still just want to squeeze him every time I see him make the just too big step up onto the bus because SO CUTE, the newness of it has worn off. It’s routine at this point.
So imagine my surprise when, after watching him toddle up the steps into the bus, I was struck by such a wave of emotions that it felt as if my heart stopped. He had plopped down on his seat, turned, looked out the window and gave me a huge grin. As the bus pulled away, he waved, mouthed either I love you or I have to poo, and off he went. Suddenly, without warning, he became my baby again. The love I felt for him in that moment felt like it would crush me, it was so great. Suddenly it was my own heart that was riding away from me on that bus, and I knew with a fierce sincerity that I would do literally anything to protect him. As I walked the block back to my house, I tasted this protective, jealous love in my mouth. It’s not as if I walk around not loving my children and this was uncommon, because that is decidedly false. But mostly my love for them plays in the background, it’s a given, something that is assumed and does not cause a stir of emotion to this level. To have it broiling on the surface like this, captivating all of my thoughts… that was uncommon.
When I got home, I started getting dressed for the day. I pulled out my black leggings, and the only dress I own. I pulled my hair up and twisted it into a bun. My husband met me downstairs, and we walked hand in hand to a church a few blocks away. We took our seats amidst others clothed in black, and I spent the next hour absorbing a different kind of love, a kind that is mixed with grief and longing, rich with memories and sadness and a gentle understanding of something that we cannot see. I held my husband’s hand as the hundred or so people sung, prayed and reminisced about our late neighbor, who passed suddenly last week. I cried softly, even though we probably knew her the least of these people gathered here. It wasn’t her passing that drew tears from my eyes, but the grief that was apparent on the faces of her family. I cried for the hole that they would have to fill, for the habits that would have to be abruptly ended, for the small, mundane memories they would forget over time. I sat in the pew and tasted this salty kind of love, one that is thankful on the inhale and grieving on the exhale. One that is brought on by death, but also overcomes it. One that loses its point of focus, so instead bears one another up as we struggle to find a new normal.
Fast forward to that evening, the kids in bed after the normal push and pull of THIRST, HUNGER, SPOOKY THINGS that usually command the rhythms of our bedtime rituals. We locked up and walked together upstairs. We stepped over the train tracks, the books, the cars, the dirty socks that never quite make it to the Very Official Pile of laundry that forms quite naturally outside of our bathroom. We did our ritualistic search for any of the more adventurous cars that may have made it into our bed, pushing aside sippy cups and lovies that were left there during the earlier melee. And then, with a quiet breath and a small smile, we made love, right there in the middle of life. We stepped out of our day, out of our schedule, and allowed ourselves to just feel, just move. It was nothing spectacular, but it didn’t have to be. It didn’t arise from a place of sexiness or passion, but a place of security and unabashed and steady love, one that tasted like kissing and trust. One that felt as comfortable and easy as breathing, albeit a bit faster.
Three kinds of love, an unfinished myriad of togetherness, just a small piece of the huge mosaic that is that unfathomable feeling.
In each of these moments, you can find a greater love, a more full and significant movement of the heart. I see God’s own parental love for us in my fierce love for my son, I see his jealous pursuit of me and my affection. I see God’s own sacrifice for us in the church hall, whispering amidst us that death is not the end, that a greater life, a greater togetherness is awaiting us just beyond that thin veil. And I see God’s own tenderness for us in the arms of my husband, promising an openness that can only come when you are with someone who knows every detail of you and still yearns for you.
These are mere shadows of God’s multifaceted love for us. His is a love that we could never hope to understand, and yet, when we catch glimpse in it in his creation, it should take our breath away.
When you are tempted to feel far away from God’s love, look into your own life. Look to the people who love you, the people you love. And understand that though we are broken, and our love for each other can often times leave someone wanting, we are in the very act of giving and receiving love mimicking our Savior, our community-steeped triune God. We are, sometimes without knowing or understanding it, expressing our likeness with the very creator of the universe. Remember that even the best exchange of love that we can have with another soul on this earth falls so short of the complete and all-encompassing love that God offers us every day.
So seek these out, the moments where you can inhale and exhale love. Any kind of love. There are so many to choose from. Don’t believe the lies that love is conditional, something that must be portioned lest we run out. It’s simply not true. Invite your neighbor over for dinner. Put down your work and play a silly game with your child. Choose to seek joy with your spouse. Smile at the people you pass in the grocery store. Let someone sneak ahead of you in the line of traffic. Love without holding your hand out, rejoice when that love is returned ten-fold, and move on unharmed when it’s not.
This is how we love. We love because He loved us first. Amen and thank God for this radical kind of love.