Year in Review

It has been a long year. Looking back over my calendar, it’s almost surprising to find that the year had the same amount of Mondays as usual and that there wasn’t a hidden month in there somewhere. More so than any year in recent memory, this year has felt so disjointed that the only reasonable conclusion is that it contained multiple years in one, bound together by some mysterious gap in the space/time continuum (I’ve been watching a lot of Dr. Who this year). I’ve given each era a title, to worthily distinguish it from the others:

  • The End (Jan ’14 – Sept ’14)
  • No Man’s Land (July ’14 – Nov ’14)
  • A Beginning? (Dec ’14)

The End was marvelous. Normal and full of life and celebrations and hard, messiness lived out in genuine community. Sometimes normal is hard to write about, so I’ll skip to the less-than-normal bits. The year began with The End in mind, although with just one end truly anticipated, the Good Lord thought He’d add some more, just to make the season true to its name. The first half of the year was filled with high school students – a full sprint to soak up all of their remaining time at home. Two retreats (one in the midst of having mono), d-group breakfasts at 5 Doors Down, coffee dates, last: track meet, concert, recital, performance, etc. Constant questioning about what other wisdom I had to impact during the days that were left. Senior night. And then suddenly, silence. They were gone. Graduation came and they left for camp, family vacation, immersion programs. And then they really left. For Alabama, Pennsylvania, Boston, Chicago, California. There were no more hands to hold in pews on Sunday mornings. No more lessons to plan or 12 hour days at church. Just silence. In fairness, this was always going to be hard. I have not known adult life without these girls. They’ve always been there to welcome me to church, to fill my free time, to occupy my prayers. I don’t know how to do life without them. In truth, I’m still trying to figure it out. Even when you know The End is coming, it still finds you unprepared.

But when you don’t know it’s coming, it can knock your feet out from under you and leave you dizzily trying to refocus a life that you thought you knew. In early spring, we decided to leave 5 Doors. It made sense – we were logical more than sentimental. Our lives were going different directions and it was the next clear step. So we tried to redistribute our kitchen and parse out the trinket shelves. But even when I was able to stretch my mind back and remember who the original owner of the Pride and Prejudice DVD was, I found it impossible to remember who I was apart from these women. How did I process life away from the black, candle-lit table? What did hospitality look like without a dining room table that could fit twelve? How could I sustain my spirit when entering a house to the hum of the refrigerator instead of laughter? I don’t have the answers, other than to say, I still don’t know. What I do know is that I thought moving would clearly be The End. That a new beginning was sure to follow. But the Lord had another end in mind first.

After Labor Day, my church added a third service on Sunday mornings. It is definitely safe to say that this should not have upended my life the way that it did. But upend it did. I finally lost my moorings. The one constant across my eight years of transient DC existence (and a rather changing constant at that) has been this church. When I tried to get rid of it, the Lord clearly had other plans. Yet when I longed for it to stay, and stay the same, the Lord’s plans again prevailed. I no longer saw the familiar faces I had grown accustomed to. I didn’t know where to sit or who to sit with or what my part was in the body. Added to the rest of The End, I cracked.

I fell into No Man’s Land.

I can’t recommend that you visit. It’s a dark place with more tears than sunshine. The exit signs are dim and flickering and the darkness leads you to believe you are all alone. My No Man’s Land was a vacuum, formed out of the backdrops of what was left after The End – lots of relationships, but none that I came home to. There were shadows of familiarity, until I actually focused my gaze and realized nothing was as it seemed. When I was home, I ate dinner alone. Laughter was replaced by the drone of the TV, until I started avoiding home altogether. I flitted around, visiting with friends, but perpetually feeling like I was catching up with them rather than growing our relationships. There were good things in this season, too – I began volunteering with Story Warren, Dan continued to be a source of consistency and support, I joined the admissions committee of the Fellows Program, and was able to travel more freely to Cleveland, Maine, New York City, Clemson and Nashville. But relationally, I was exhausted. Not from an abundance – as I’m more familiar with – but from a lack. Without roommates to process life with, or high schoolers to pour life into, my mind swirled around, constantly moving, but never getting anywhere. It felt like a wilderness with nothing but untended ground for company.

I think it was Christmas that saved me. Or, more specifically, it was Advent that shined a light in the darkness and let me see more clearly. Yes, my world is different now. Darker. But there are lessons to be learned in the darkness. One of them may just be learning how turn on the lights. In my No Man’s Land, the lights are called People and the first switch is called Hospitality. The first kind was a hospitality of life – to invite others (particularly my silent and isolationist roommates) into my world. In Advent, that meant invitations to decorate the house, eat Swedish gingersnaps, pick out a tree, watch Christmas movies. Although I got a lot of no’s, a few yes’s were enough to leave the lights on. The second kind was a hospitality of home. This house has always felt borrowed – I sit at a borrowed table in someone else’s chairs – so I have felt reluctant to invite others in. But darkness, my darkness anyway, is countered by company. So I opened my doors. We gathered and ate soup and watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Then, my d-group girls were home from college so we once again met for brunch. The house feels a bit more like home now. Not perfect, but more solid than a mere echo.

Although this year has not followed the path I imagined, and I would have strongly preferred to stay out of the wilderness, there is something profoundly beautiful about being pulled out of darkness during Advent:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” Isaiah 9:2

I am not alone. Emmanuel came down, not to immediately take away my waiting and my wilderness, but to wait with me as He makes all things new. It’s not much yet, but it just might be A Beginning.

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Thankfulness at 30: Laura

It should be noted that she won’t be happy about this. My sister is not one to love the spotlight or to seek after public praise. But I’m the big sister (and have been for 30 years now) which means I do what I want. So, onward!

My sister and I weren’t always friends. Not like we are now, anyway. And my friendship with Laura has been the absolute best part of my twenties. This is the story of how that happened.

Our worlds have always been parallel, as is prone to happen when you have only known life without the other for two brief minutes. But for most of our lives, they were just that – parallel, but not touching. I think the lines started to bend slightly in high school, when marching band and young life and musical theater drew both of us in. But even then, we occupied different corners and were drawn by different things.

Then, we left for college – me to Pennsylvania and Laura to Michigan; both small, Christian, liberal arts schools, but again, parallel. We had the same sort of existence: classes, new friends, boy drama, chapels, meals in the dining hall, shared living spaces, crazy antics – but parallel, not the same, and aside from occasional visits, no longer even touching.

If our lives were ever to pull further away from each other, after graduation would have been the time. I headed off to a fast-paced fellows year in DC and Laura stayed in Holland, commuting to Grand Rapids. And I suppose they did pull apart a bit, as it was harder to explain our separate worlds to each other, and limited vacation time meant that we weren’t spending days at a time seeing how the other lived. I imagine that it would have been easy to continue on this way, perhaps forever; checking in on the other’s world, popping by as a tourist in an unfamiliar place.

But that is not our story. This is.

Not everyone is given a twin, someone to share a lifetime with. And as we turned 25, we decided to celebrate that fact, and take ourselves to Europe. Ireland, specifically, and then Edinburgh and London. And I think that’s when the first big shift happened. Every part of the trip was done together from the extensive planning beforehand to spending ten full days together. But more than that, in going to Ireland, we were entering Laura’s world – she had studied abroad there, and so she was in charge. And our parallel tracks crossed, and switched places, growing a bit closer together in the process. In between cross country bus trips, tours of castles older than our country and attempting to hide our obvious tourism, we had a lot of conversations – about growing up, and real jobs, and how church was hard, and what it felt like to watch our friends jump two life stages ahead of us. They weren’t revolutionary conversations, but that was the beauty of them.  They were points of connection, pulling our lives closer together.

The next year, Laura invited me to join her at this conference called Hutchmoot. She had attended the year before and come home…fuller. I was truly honored to be invited, to get a backstage pass into her world. My expectations were fully set on being a spectator, perhaps learning more about Laura in the same way that an anthropologist might. But what happened instead was that the community at Hutchmoot, including my sister, kept inviting me in. They behaved as if I belonged, and much to my surprise, I found that I did. This has become so much more than just a shared membership. Hutchmoot, the Rabbit Room, and the friends that we have made there have given me and Laura a significant shared vocabulary. For the first time since we were very young, we were listening to the same music, reading the same books, thinking about the same topics. We were being shaped and influenced by the same sources, and in the process, without really trying, we found that our lives were starting to overlap. There was more laughter on our phone calls, more honesty, more shared experiences to draw on. Out of that first conference came two more trips to Nashville with a third on the calendar. We’ve road-tripped to West Virginia to spend a weekend with new friends and gone to visit the other to coincide with concerts or special events. In short, we’ve done the things that friends do. And we’ve become rather good friends along the way.

These days, we’re pretty good at doing life together from a distance. We catch up on the mundane details of our days as they are unfolding, through gchat; we text and call and FaceTime during important cultural events like electing a new Pope or the Olympics or the premier of the final Harry Potter movie. But in addition to daily life, each year since Hutchmoot, we’ve gone on an adventure. In 2012, we invited our parents on our second European adventure, this time to Italy. Parents are great because they come with nicer lodging and fancier meals, and if they’re my parents, they’re also just delightful company. Laura and I got to continue forging new memories together, this time with our parents by our side.

In 2013, the international travel budget was a bit depleted as Laura was paying for grad school and I had just started a new job with significantly fewer vacation days. Undeterred, we managed to find a long weekend to head south and pay Hogwarts a visit. It is not an exaggeration to say that I was just about as excited to see the Hogwarts castle in the distance as I had been to see Big Ben. Judge me if you must. And this year, we’ve gone to New York City to be together as we enter another decade of life, side by side.

My sister is steady and faithful, inquisitive and grounded. She is thoughtful where I am impulsive and quick to listen while I am usually just quick to speak. Each year has made her more compassionate and her many, many hours spent listening have shaped her to be wise. She is passionate about good and true stories and can offer you words with the power of transformation behind them, whether they are her own or referenced from another. Laura is a rememberer – she got the part of the brain that absorbs trivia and details, but she also remembers birthdays and milestones and formative conversations. She is a world-class planner, an excellently resourceful cook and a great reader. These things have all been true of Laura for a long time, I have just been slow to see them. And though I wish that I had come to appreciate Laura much sooner, I am so grateful to know who she is now. She is simply the best kind of person, and one whom I am honored to call a friend.

Happy birthday, Laura! I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Thankfulness at 30: Place

It is easy to indulge in an anonymous lifestyle during your twenties. New cities, new jobs, new relationships – you can reinvent yourself every few years and few people would be the wiser. Perfect the art of happy hour chatter and you will always be invited to the next party, welcomed in the next group.

As I march toward 30, I am grateful that I have been given a different story. And that story has largely been rooted and nourished by people and place. I’ve tried hard to separate the two, but the truth is, they are inextricably linked. So when you read your place, know that I am speaking of you. Thank you.

I begin by being grateful for home. For the Village, which cared for my soul and fed my mind and challenged my spirit, even as I was beginning adulthood. But also for the big green couch where I read the final Harry Potter book, trading off chapters with Laura; where I sat to open Christmas presents and collapsed when I came home from college. I’m thankful for fires in the fireplace that twinkled through our wine glasses as we read Christmas cards; for my sunflower yellow bedroom wall that told me I was home and for the glass dining room table that stretched to fit all of the family at Thanksgiving once we were finally all old enough to appreciate that we had been given each other. I’m thankful for sturdy kitchen counters that held dear friends as we talked about our increasingly separate worlds; for the hardwood floors where I sat and played with my dog; and for the front porch stoop that let me watch the neighborhood and remember who I am.

I’m thankful for Grove City College – for the chapel gardens that heard our prayers of heartache and hard families and stubborn sins and the ever-sought travel mercies. For the apartments where I learned how to cook my own Thanksgiving meal alongside the friends who had become family, about the importance of carefully planned spontaneity and the welcome of an ongoing Scrabble game. I’m thankful for the way that the sun shone through the tall windows in the Gee/SAC/STU, illuminating the loud laughter of friends at the tables in the corner and for real conversations that were always more important than homework. I’m grateful for the hard, wooden pews of the chapel that caught my tears, even as the hands of friends pressed the Spirit back into my heart. And for the Hall of Arts and Letters where I learned to think, to challenge, and to listen, in service to the Lord and the world.

Other days will tell of my gratitude toward McLean Presbyterian Church and the home and haven that they have provided. But here, I will mention that place as a doorway into others. Out of MPC came the Sycamore House, the first place in DC that felt not like a borrowed home, but truly, deeply, a home of my own. We toured the empty house with dreams for its future – dreams that beautifully turned into reality. Shared evening meals, backyard bar-b-ques, costume parties, cook offs, dance parties, movie nights, bridal showers, snow days, and laughter – so much laughter. If a building itself can be a gift, the small brick house on Sycamore was an abundance. I’m thankful for lessons in hospitality and improvisation and the importance of always having canned goods and bottles of wine. And for the laughter.

After Sycamore came the legend that was 5 Doors Down. If Sycamore was a place for widespread hospitality, 5DD was more a place for rest. There were parties – homecomings and Christmas caroling and Easter dinners – but there were more meals with just a few friends, or, more often than not, just us roommates. We would come home from long days and sit for hours, drinking tea at our candle-lit table and processing through our increasingly complex worlds. All of us would start new jobs while living there, wrestle with heartbreak, struggle with deeply-rooted sin and talk through how to love our families, friends, and neighbors. I am grateful for the space to welcome in my beloved d-group and to sit and laugh and cry with them in the comfort of a home; for a “guest room” that allowed us to welcome in visiting friends and sometimes strangers in need of a place to rest; for the trinket shelves and the children’s books and an abundance of throw pillows. And I’m thankful for the movie marathons and late-night preposterous conversations; for the Red Mango runs, the wild accusations, the no-pudge brownies and the life that was lived within those walls. I’m thankful for a place where I could walk through the door and exhale, because I knew that I was loved and cared for.

As I enter 30, my house is no longer a place of comfort and knowledge, but largely a place of anonymity. And so I appreciate the depth and beauty of these places all the more. To spend a decade largely removed from the connections of family and history and still find yourself known and loved and rooted is perhaps the greatest gift.

And I am grateful.

It Is and It Isn’t

I wanted to title this post #30DaysTill30 but thought that my almost-40-year-old self would judge my almost-30-year-old self for it, and we can’t have that, now can we? But nevertheless, that is why we are here. In 30 days, I will turn 30. I will have circled the sun 30 times and done a rather lot of living in spite of also traveling at 1,000 miles per hour. It’s a funny existence, this life, if you stop to think about it.

Thirty feels firm; planted. It feels secure and adventurous and uncharted, all at the same moment.

My approach to 30 feels different than I anticipated. At 30, I thought I’d be married, with children, in a nice home that was owned, not rented. I’m not sure that I ever stopped to think about a particular location that this 30-year-old-apparition would dwell, but I’m pretty sure it was in the suburbs. I imagined friends – dear friends – who I would laugh and joke and cry with, and who would call me from the grocery store to see if I needed milk. I’d hoped for dinner parties and play-dates and familiar vacations; for a challenging and loving church and a vocation that was thoughtful. I thought that I would be planning for the next decade with firm boundary lines drawn that would define the next 10 years.

That is not the 30 that I’m approaching.

Well, it is and it isn’t.

What I imagined was the life that I had known – it was the life of my parents at 30; or the life that 17-year-old me perceived that my 30-year-old parents must have had, judging by their lives closer to 50. It had not taken into account the stress of having 1-year-old twins, or a new job or a new house – all of which my parents possessed at 30. This imaginary life hadn’t factored in my own temperament or choices or the generation that I was born into. And so, I’m here. I’m here, approaching 30 with new eyes. With different hopes. Not better or worse, I don’t think, but different.

Instead of spending my twenties building a marriage and creating my requisite 2.5 children, I’ve been able to find different adventures. I moved to the nation’s capital and met some extraordinary people who are daily changing the country and the world that we live in to reflect more of Christ’s kingdom come. I’ve had the gift of time to find meaningful work that challenges me and helps the world flourish, even if in small ways. A lack of family commitments has allowed me to give my time in service of wandering 20-somethings, energetic teenagers, and parents who need an ally. I have traveled the world with my sister and the country with my friends, even meeting new ones along the way. Dear friends have found me, and even if most of them don’t live in my neighborhood, they send letters and flowers and when they can, they meet me for frozen yogurt or drive-by hugs as they wait through layovers at Dulles airport. My church has both loved and challenged me, although both the love and the challenge have been harder to accept than I could have imagined. And this weekend, I’m throwing a dinner party.

What I have is abundance, with all the contours of real mixed in. There is much joy, but there is also deep sadness. I am well-loved and taken care of, but loneliness often creeps in. And yet I want to remain grateful. My life is a blessing; it is grace – undeserved and overflowing at every turn.

And so I am going to approach 30 as I hope to approach each day – with thankfulness. For the next 30 days, I will be reflecting on my 20s and the blessings that found me during those years. This is more for me than for you, but I’m grateful for you too, dear reader, and so I invite you into my window of thankfulness. Maybe I’ll set a pie on the windowsill or add some twinkle lights so you feel more welcome. Because truly, I am grateful that you are along for the journey.

Constraint.

I’ve been thinking a lot about constraint. Limitations. Boundaries. They are words that I chafe against; they make me bristle and put me on the defensive. But lately, they have also been defining me.

I just moved away from my safe, comfortable, known house of 5 Doors Down into a house of strangers. Technically, this was my choice. I wasn’t evicted and I’m not being held hostage. But I am here because of constraints. I am constrained by my income and my belief that living within my means is the best course of action. DC traffic forms a clear boundary and my attitude in traffic limits the time I should spend commuting. All of these constraints pooled together to drive me to my current situation.

On a broader level, everything that defines me constrains me. I live in DC, not somewhere else. That comes with transience and traffic and a perpetual election cycle. I am a member of just one church (as a part of the holy, catholic and apostolic kind), where vows I have taken bind me to service, to obedience, to accountability. I have a specific occupation that comes with unique assignments and a finite number of vacation days. Each of these things constrain me. They set the boundaries of my life. But in so doing, they also set me free. I am free to be involved in one church, one city. I am free to invest in this relationship and not that one. I am free to live a life of fullness and wholeness where God has placed me, and am also free from worrying about all of the vast facets of life that have not placed a boundary around me.

But even as I write that, I feel resentment toward those constraints sneaking in. There are days that I want to defy the laws of physics and the expectations of work and spend a year teleporting around to any friend who needs me. I have sat in inexplicable traffic jams as hot tears rolled down my face in protest of such an obstacle to relationships. But I am bound, in time and place, to the life that I have chosen, that God has given me.

The Psalmist writes, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” And that’s well and good for King David, but I often feel like my boundary lines have been gerrymandered to cause the most frustration.

I’ve been reading this little book by Kate Harris called Wonder Women. She lives in DC and just gets it. In it, she reminds me that I am not the first person in history to feel the impact of unpleasant constraints:

“One of the more radical claims of Christianity is that we worship a God who willingly took on constraints. We worship a God who bent low and took on flesh…And it has some pretty profound things to tell us about what God thinks of our so-called limitations — especially if you’re like me and prefer to greet limitations with kicking and screaming or maybe a good, long pout”

I have not given up heaven for earth; perfection for the fall. I have only known this broken world with these limitations. And though I fight against them, a wider story is at work; a deeper magic that the world has almost forgotten. Kate goes on to say:

“Still, Easter reminds us — even at the height of human limitations on the cross — that God does not perceive them as we do. God is not surprised by even the ultimate constraint of death, nor is He deterred by it…[And so] we consent to our constraints, trusting He will use them as He did at the incarnation, to bring forth abundance.”

I don’t know what sort of abundance might be waiting for me at the next turn, but I want to be open to it. Open arms, open hands, in one city, one place.

*click*

If I hadn’t already called dibs on teleportation, I would claim “photographic memory” as my superpower.

When I was a kid, I read the Cam Jansen books. The main character is a red-headed girl, so like Nancy Drew and Anne (of the green gables) you just knew she was going to be awesome. And sure enough, she was. Cam (real name: Jennifer) is a super detective, who uses her photographic memory to solve mysteries. Best as I can remember, she blinks her eyes and says *click* and can remember anything.

Sign me up.

I spent last week with high schoolers. First, teenage-sitting for two of my favorite people, then, on a retreat with 50 high school students, including twelve of my own. (I’ve known them for seven years and so feel like the possessive pronoun is appropriate.) And I so desperately want to remember each and every moment.

Musty copies of Emerson and Thoreau delicately leafed through to find the perfect poetry recitation on Valentine’s Day while I make two teenage boys omelets for breakfast.                *click*

Six girls sitting on basement barstools, with their backs to me, reaching over each other for bags of chocolate, half-eaten chips and one lone bag of carrots as their laughter melds together.                *click*

The face of the confident senior as he shouts out song lyrics in the middle of a crowded dance floor, with no care for being on key.                *click*

Late night cuddle fests on top of four interlocking sleeping bags when conversations are no longer coherent and I can no longer tell which limb belongs to which girl.                *click*

An iPod stuffed inside a cup for better amplification to accompany a Disney sing-along and dance party in between chopping vegetables in the kitchen.                *click*

Hands clasped in prayer as thanksgiving is offered up for honey nut cheerios in the same breath as God’s unfailing grace.                *click*

Seven years feels like a whole lifetime. How many snapshots of the Lord’s faithfulness have I already forgotten? What moments of joy lay dormant in my memory? Seven years ago, these faces were names on a page. Now, they are stories, tears, personalized laughter, brokenness and redemption, fears and hopes. Seven years is an eternity.

I am often asked why I spend so much of my free time with teenagers. Why I answer my phone when it rings at two in the morning. Why someone pushing 30 needs snapchat on her phone. Why I would drive an hour across town in rush hour traffic for a half hour conversation over coffee. For me, these snapshots are the reason. But perhaps for you, I need to go back a bit further.

I’m sitting in a semi-circle of girls, facing my choir teacher, listening to her tell a class full of public school show choir girls that irrespective of what we believed, she knew that the God of the universe had allowed her husband to spin circles on the snowy highway, hit the median and walk away without a scratch.                *click*

It is a warm night in Goshen, Virginia and I am sitting on the steps of a Rockbridge dorm, bombarding my Young Life leader with hard questions about heaven and hell, confident that even though the answers may allude her, she will be there to hear any of my hard questions.                *click*

A rambunctious group of junior high girls is piled into the second floor church bathroom – the one with the couches – ignoring our discussion questions and giggling about boys as our high school leaders smiled and followed along.                *click*

A table of eager fourth graders nervously eye each other’s frilly Bible covers and meticulously placed book tabs as we get ready to study Esther and Ruth with two women who have seemingly arbitrarily decided to invest in a small group of 10 year old girls.                *click*

I could start answering your questions by explaining that I was well-loved as a teenager. Older women opened their lives to me and let me ask hard questions and showed me that though life would be difficult, God had given us each other. I am simply following the model that was given me.

 We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.” 1 John 4:19, MSG

Isn’t it the model we have all been given? There are a million ways to love from love. But for as long as they will have me, I will choose this way. Seven years is just the beginning.

Further Up and Further In: A Hutchmoot

I’ve just returned from a rich, engaging weekend, full of thoughtful people and packed with insight I have yet to fully process. But I returned to a head cold, absent roommates and an attitude that I thought I had left behind. All week, I have used my illness, the shuttered federal government, or a busy schedule as excuses from pressing in to the life that has been given me. I have resented the care of my home, cursed the work I have been given to do and squandered the time that I was given.

At Hutchmoot, Jonathan Rogers gave us some thoughts – for free, he said. Not what you paid for. He told a story of turning in his swivel chair to talk with his wife. When a “ding” sounded from behind him, it took all of his concentration not to turn his back on his bride and attend to his email. Charles Hummel has written about “the tyranny of the urgent.” But I think it’s more than that. It’s an inversion of importance, from the tangible to the intangible. And this isn’t an isolated problem; it pervades nearly every category of thinking.

Jonathan spoke not of the “sins of the flesh” but of the “sins of the fleshlessness.” We devote ourselves to disembodied devices trusting in them for entertainment, distraction, community. But in so doing, we miss the world around us that the God of the Universe spoke into being. We ignore the image of God as he stands behind us in the line at the grocery store. We sit at a restaurant, phones on the table, waiting to be called to something better, all the while missing the holiness of the community within arms’ reach.

Keith Getty and Kevin Twit talked about thinking about theology the way that scripture does, and presented, as an example, the idea that God is a rock. Scripture uses that metaphor time and time again, but we are much more comfortable applying vast theological terms to God, ascribing worth to Him because of His omnipotence. But to call Him a rock seems too small, too…earthy. Yet that is how God reveals Himself to us. The tangible takes precedence over the intangible. We serve a God who came in the flesh; who appeared to His creation in the most tangible way possible. Perhaps it should not surprise when, in our sin, we diminish the sacred in the earth, in each other.

This weekend realigned importance. Tables had been prepared and Lewis and company worked tirelessly, with great joy to set those tables with food worth savoring. The food itself was a reminder of the glorious earthiness of creation – no microwaves, no shortcuts, just delicious flavors getting to know one another over a gas range in a church basement. These were extravagant riches. In all of this, I was surrounded by no mere mortals, but the very image of God. His grace was all around me, in this community of weary saints, pressing in to the choice to learn to love what they’ve been given.

Bonhoeffer writes, “It is grace, nothing but grace that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” And indeed, it was a weekend of grace. I was shown unmerited favor as people I did not know spoke about their worlds as if I inhabited them as well. New friends were as unguarded in their weariness as I am with only my dearest friends. This community that has formed would have very little in common if you sparked a political debate or grouped people by their chosen career. Family structure, family history, denominational affiliation – these would all divide us further. But for four days, we lean in to loving that which God has given us, in the hopes that when we return home, we will continue to find beauty and worth in the postage stamps God has placed us.

My confession to you, dear reader, is that I have not done this well. I have been restless, short-tempered and unimaginative. Meals have not been shared, books have not been opened and questions have not been asked. I have horded the riches of Hutchmoot, reluctant to open my hand and give them away, forgetting that I serve a God who draws manna from the sky and water from the desert. He multiplies our feeblest offerings and bids us only to come. I will fail, but I will press on: further up and further in!