Thoughts on ‘The Gospel Comes with a House Key’

I dug into Rosaria Butterfield’s “The Gospel Comes with a House Key” knowing it would be beautiful, convicting, compassionate, and truthful. But I didn’t expect to shed so many tears or feel such a weight of conviction delivered with each powerful paragraph.

southern-press_rosaria-butterfieldThis book is not for the faint of heart. I think everyone should read it, but I also realize not everyone is ready. Not everyone is ready to hear the heart-wrenching and convicting message that our Christian walk and “radically ordinary hospitality” go hand in hand. Not everyone is ready to allow strangers into their messy, dusty, pet-hair-covered, very personal homes. Not everyone is prepared to meet the neighbors, let alone invite the neighbors over for dinner.

But why the home? The safe haven, the place we guard against unwelcome guests, door-to-door salesmen, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Opening the front door, inviting strangers in is a huge risk. It’s a sacrifice.

“For Christians to maintain an authentic Christian witness to a world that mistrusts us (at the very least), we must be transparently hospitable. The Christian life is a cross-bearing life, and the Word of God calls and equips God’s people to holy living. All our neighbors must know that we live differently from the world, and they will know as we live visibly within the means of grace, placing ourselves under the authority of the church as members in good standing — and we must be unmistakably hospitable…The Christian home is the place where we bring the church to the people as we seek to lock arms together.”

Radically Ordinary Hospitality Leads to Diverse Community

Radically ordinary hospitality must happen in the home because the home is where God’s people dwell. It’s through hospitality (literally the welcoming of strangers) that barricades come crashing down, hurts can begin to be healed, burdens are shouldered, prejudices overcome, safety and comfort found.

We talk often about the importance of diversity in the church; diversity of race, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic backgrounds, even theology and certain convictions. Reading this book (and many others this year), I honestly think that we cannot expect to see diversity in God’s church if we are not willing to have diversity in our homes. It is through church that we worship, and fellowship, and pray, and instruct. But it’s in the home that we provide nourishment, and conversation, and sanctuary. If we truly desire to worship on Sunday mornings with a diverse congregation then we will not hesitate to invite strangers over for dinner. We will not balk as unknown people cross our thresholds and enter our homes. We’ll hope for crowded dinner tables and stacks of dirty dishes from the diverse range of neighbors and strangers welcomed, and fed, and caffeinated.

How can we expect diverse American churches, if we’re not living in diverse communities? How can we desire to worship with people who are different if we’re not willing to dine with people who are different? How can we love and converse with neighbors we don’t understand if we don’t listen? How can we pray for our neighbors if we fail to dignify their humanity by learning their names? If we are truly living in obedience and inviting the stranger in, diversity in community will inevitably follow.

If we are practicing radically ordinary hospitality, then we will find ourselves engaging in tough conversations. We’ll know our neighbors stories. We’ll know a little more of their struggles, their fears, their current situations. We will be more equipped to pray, offer support. We’ll be able to love them through differences, disagreements, even sin and hurt that inevitably come with close community. Little by little, our perspectives will broaden as we engage, befriend, minister, and pray for people who are not like us. Little by little, our own prejudices can be overcome, our own sins forgiven, our own hearts softened.

Hospitality in the Third World

My first encounter with radically ordinary hospitality wasn’t in the church. It was on a poor island community in the Caribbean, a village where doors and windows were always open and locals sat on front porches and greeted passersby with “Buenas” and “Como estas?” I think about the generous gifts of tinto (black coffee), mangos, and patacones (made from unripened plantains and fried in oil) from sweet neighbors, and precious children who followed us everywhere because they were curious and affectionate and attention-deprived. I think about the strangers who let us stay at their home in the city with fresh sheets, and delicious meals, and genuine kindness though they didn’t speak English and we barely spoke Spanish. This was a radical sort of hospitality that transcended culture and race and language barriers through smiles, and coffee, and fresh island fruit. I experienced community amongst people that were incredibly different and it was beautiful. I miss it. I miss living in a neighborhood with open doors, and kid-filled streets, and the competing aromas from a hundred outdoor griddles.

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Hospitality in America is hard. We think the south is friendly and welcoming and inviting. But drive through any neighborhood on a given Saturday afternoon and you’ll notice most front doors are closed, yards are empty, neighborhoods are eerily quiet. The same can be said for my front door and yard. I have easily forgotten the lessons learned on the island. Though I desire to have an open, hospitable home, the reality is that I have a long way to go. I am guilty of closing myself off from the world. I let fear, and inconvenience, and awkwardness keep me from the beauty of fellowship, the excitement of truly living amongst my physical neighbors.

“Too many of us are sidelined by fears. We fear that people will hurt us. We fear that people will negatively influence our children. We fear that we do not understand the language of this new world order, least of all its people. We long for days gone by. Our sentimentality makes us stupid. We need to snap ourselves out of this self-pitying reverie. The best days are ahead. Jesus advances from the front of the line.”

Final Thoughts

I’ve spent the last few weeks mulling over Rosaria’s words. Actually, to be honest, I verbally unleashed my tangled and confusing thoughts onto my poor husband for about 15 minutes before I realized I was monologuing. Since then, I’ve been thinking and praying about what hospitality means for us and our little home in Augusta. I don’t have all the answers and I still don’t really know my neighbors. But I do know that my perspective towards hospitality has been radically impacted and I no longer want to live in a home barricaded to the outside world.

I realize my home does not need to be clean, my refrigerator doesn’t need to be full. The start to radically ordinary hospitality does not necessarily mean a fancy dinner or fine china. Rather, this is a lifestyle, an extension of ministry, arguably a requirement for Christians who truly desire to minister to and live amongst a lost and hurting world.

It’s the simplest things – a cup of coffee, an afternoon spent weeding a neighbor’s flower bed, a shared meal, a listening ear. Hospitality isn’t attempting to change cultures or eliminate surface-level personalities. It’s seeing needs and meeting them – choosing to live amongst the people (like Elisabeth Elliot when she moved into the Ecuadorian jungles to live amongst Auca tribe that killed her husband). It’s befriending the rough and foul-mouthed neighbors across the street, worrying less about their language and caring more for their souls. It’s dangerous in that this kind of vulnerability can lead to hurt and even betrayal. It’s holy in the same way Christ demonstrated a love for the lost, the marginalized, and the despised when he healed lepers and dined amongst outcasts. This kind of hospitality requires obedience. And obedience is hard.

“Obedience to Jesus — dying to self, doing whatever he wants in spite of the cravings of our flesh — renders liberty, with arms open wide, with bread and fish to give away, with a shocking recognition for the outcast and despised, remembering that we were once her.”

 

My Favorite Reads in 2017 (Part 2)

 

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Last week, I shared three of my favorite books from 2017. This week, I’m sharing Part 2 with four more of my favorite reads from this year!

[4] Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls, and Everything in Between by Lauren Graham

southern-press_talkingI read a lot of reflective and serious books this year. Sometimes (especially when at the beach) it’s nice to take a bit of a break and laugh.

I loved Lauren Graham in Gilmore Girls, but she won my heart in Parenthood. Talking as Fast I can is her memoir as an actress and a behind-the-scenes look at the years she spent on the sets of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood (and then Gilmore Girls again). I rarely ever read books by celebrities (I don’t have any desire to read about your crazy partying, poor decisions, and pretentious lifestyle). But Graham’s book is so relatable. She talks about the very real struggles of being an artist, the hypocrisy and humor of fad diets, and the tight-knit relationships that develop during years of filming running TV shows.

She also talks about her journey from the stage to film and all of the ups-and-downs, failures and successes along the way. In addition to being an actress, Graham is also an author and has written a few novels. Her attention to detail and hilarious ability to write compellingly is what makes this book so good and enjoyable (can I also just add that it’s nice to read a book by a celebrity who does not feel the need to curse excessively in order the tell a good story?)!

[5] Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

southern-press_hillbillyAn interesting look into “hillbilly culture” and the material and educational poverty that exists in rural and Appalachian America to this day. This is a memoir, but also delves into the voting and historic history of rural America (how and why a historically democratic population turned Republication during the Trump election).

Author J.D. Vance grew up in America’s rust belt and was the first in his family to achieve a college education (and probably one of the few to graduate from high school). Had it not been for a loving (though tough-as-nails grandmother) he probably would have ended up like most of his family members caught in cycles of drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, and poverty.

This is an interesting and personal analysis of what Vance calls “a culture in crisis.”

[6] Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture by Makoto Fujimura

southern-press_refractionsI was first introduced to artist and author Makoto Fujimura when I heard about Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence (which led me to the novel, and Fujimura’s book Silence and Beauty). This year, I’ve been encouraged to read more books about art, specifically books on the merging of faith and art and what it means to be a Christian and an artist.

Refractions is a collection of essays, some about specific pieces of art (like The Last Supper), others about 9/11 (Fujimura lives and works in Manhattan), and the Freedom Tower. He talks about the importance of art even (and especially) during times of war and violence:

“…the language of the arts translates the universal longing for peace into the tangible experience of the desire for peace. The arts provides us with language for mediating the broken relational and cultural divides: the arts can model for us how we need to value each person as created in the image of God.”

I love Fujimura’s writing style. I’m inspired by his perspective about specific art pieces and the relationship between history, culture, art, and faith. Definitely an encouraging read for Christian artists and makers.

[7] White Awake: An Honest Look at What it Means to be White by Daniel Hill

southern-press_white-awakeThis is an important and convicting book, especially for white Christians. I can relate on so many levels to author Daniel hill and his naiveté about the realities of race and privilege in America.

White Awake is convicting because we, the church, have failed and remained so incredibly blind to the injustice that exists under our noses towards people of color in our congregations and communities. It’s also encouraging because even in our oblivion and sin, there is grace and opportunity to right and correct wrongs, make changes, listen better, “walk humbly and love mercy.” 

Hill talks about the stages white Christians go through upon the realization of systemic and cultural racism in the U.S. and the church. He talks about his own personal journey, mistakes and failures, good but flawed intentions. As a young adult he was challenged with a life changing revelation: white people have culture, and “white culture almost always wins.”

This is a book that may completely shock some people. Others may already be somewhat aware, but uncertain on what do do. Some of us – probably most of us – need to take the time to do what Hill recommends first and foremost: lament.

“It [lament] sees suffering not as a problem to be solved but as a condition to be mourned. Lament doesn’t see the power of salvation as being in the hands of the oppressors; instead it cries out to God for deliverance from the grip of injustice. Lament is a guttural cry and a longing for God’s intervention. It recognizes, as the psalmist so eloquently stated, that hope is found not in chariots and in horses but in God alone.” 

So why lament? Because it’s imperative to grieve, mourn, and repent for our sins, the sins of the nation, and the sins of the church. Hill quotes Carl Jung, “There is no coming to consciousness without pain.” We cannot move forward correctly, empathize lovingly, or stand together with our brothers and sisters until we experience shame and collectively lament. I think it’s also through lamentation that we can learn to listen better and truly seek the Lord’s direction moving forward.

There’s so much more in this book and my review cannot do it justice. But I hope you’ll pick up a copy and read it for yourself.

Follow me on Goodreads to check out my reading list and 2018 reading challenge!

 

My favorite reads in 2017 (Part 1)

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This year has been a full one. A year of growth and community, adventures and new friendships, lots of coffee and grits bowls, and good, life-changing books.

It’s been another year of intentional reading. I’m learning to read widely – to be a promiscuous reader as John Milton famously said. No longer do I only read books by authors who share my exact worldview. I read promiscuously so that truth will rise to the surface. As Karen Swallow Prior wrote in one of my new favorite books, Booked, “…by exposure to so many competing ideas and examples, I gained a more truthful understanding of the nature of love and life and relationships…and so much more…falsehood prevails through the suppression of countering ideas, but truth triumphs in a free and open exchange that allows the truth to shine.”

So with 2017 drawing to a close, I wanted to share a few of my favorite books. Some made me laugh out loud. Others are full of random notes and a whole lot of yellow, highlighted passages. Some drove me to tears and deep, purposeful thought and reflection.

Books are powerful, words are influential. I think this is why I value and appreciate good books so much. Truth continues to rise to the surface as I continue to read.

Here’s Part 1 of my favorite books of 2017 (because it’s hard not to be long winded when writing about beautiful and powerful books)

[1] Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle

southern-press_walking-waterI remember reading A Wrinkle in Time in middle school. Though clearly written for a young demographic, the novel is full of symbolism, science, and good, old-fashioned storytelling not unlike Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. After A Wrinkle in Time, I was hooked on Madeleine L’Engle’s writing style.

I wish I had heard of L’Engle’s book Walking on Water a little earlier in life. I’m going to try to abstain from using the term “life changing,” but this book truly impacted my creative soul. Like all artists, I’ve struggled finding my purpose. I’ve spent this year flailing and floundering more than I have creating or writing. I’ve wondered what it is that I’m supposed to do, or write, or draw, or design…

In this beautiful book, L’Engle discusses what it means to be a Christian artist, the inward struggle, and the relationship of faith and art. She writes that all of humanity has been created to create, and by creating we are obeying our Creator:

“Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child. I believe that each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, ‘Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.'”

If there is one book I would recommend to every creative and artistic person trying to find their voice, their purpose, their way, it would be this one. I sobbed unexpectedly during the first chapter. I’ve naively believed I’m the only creative who has wrestled with her creativity, only to be reminded that we all struggle, we all (at times) feel uninspired and discouraged in our craft.

“When the artist is truly the servant of the work, the work is better than the artist; Shakespeare knew how to listen to his work, and so he often wrote better than he could write; Bach composed more deeply, more truly than he knew; Rembrandt’s brush put more of the human spirit on canvas than Rembrandt could comprehend. When the work takes over, then the artist is enabled to get out of the way, not to interfere. When the work takes over, then the artist listens.”

L’Engle makes a compelling case for art for the glory of God but not necessarily art that is only about or overtly “Christian” art. She argues that it is often through art that we struggle and even question our faith. Through art we journey towards truth, grapple with inner demons, delve into our emotions. We’ve been given these creative tools for worship, but also for discovery, for anguish, for lament, for joy, for communication, for beauty.

Reading of L’Engle’s own struggle and successes as a writer, encouraged me in my own time of creative drought. When I’ve felt like a failure for lack of creative inspiration, lack of a decent pay check, and extreme lacking as a wife, I’ve been so blessed by L’Engle’s gentle reminder: We’ve all been created to create. But it’s not an easy calling, and requires patience and perseverance. But it’s something that’s been planted within me and is crying out for me to explore.

 

[2) Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior

southern-press_bookedPrior’s first book is a memoir of sorts – each chapter is about a book, poem, or play that impacted and shaped her worldview. It’s a beautiful book about the importance of books, including classics like Great Expectations, Charlotte’s Web, Madame Bovary, and Death of a Salesman.

So often, we read books without taking the time to consider and research an author’s purpose in writing. Is an author writing a novel about an unhappy woman and an affair because he wants to shock and titillate? Or is it, perhaps, a cautionary tale about the perils of discontentment? Charlotte’s Webb is not a mere children’s story, but a brilliant tale of the power of words and true friendship. Tess of the D’Urbervilles served as a social commentary by an atheist about the hypocrisy of the times (and church). Gulliver’s Travels was so much more than an adventure story, but an incredible piece of satire.

These books and several others, informed Prior’s worldview. Booked is about her love affair with books, but it’s also so much deeper. It’s about life and love, growing up, childhood memories, joyous times and hardship. It’s a book I can relate to because I’ve also been shaped by books. I also had the privilege, like Prior, to grow up in a home where I was allowed and encouraged to read, where Charlotte’s Web was a worn and tear stained favorite and The Hobbit was a book before it was ever a movie.

[3] Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

southern-press_mercyThis was perhaps the most compelling book I read in 2017. Just Mercy is an eye-opening story about America’s prison-system and some of the real-life (and innocent) prisoners author Bryan Stevenson defended and met on death row. It is a moving story about redemption and mercy, but also an expose on a very real and very unjust system.

I have to confess that I (probably like so many Americans) was unaware of the injustice that runs rampant in our prison systems. I naively thought (assumed) American prisoners were far better off than prisoners in other countries. But this book shines a light on what Michelle Alexander calls “the new Jim Crow.” It is heartbreaking and overwhelming (the U.S. currently incarcerates more prisoners than any other country in the world).

Perhaps the most horrific injustice is how the U.S. prosecutes children as adults – children who may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time or been victims of abuse or neglect. In the United States, children can be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Wrap your mind around that – a child in the U.S. can be sentenced to life in prison without any possibility of getting out, where he or she is subject to more abuse, rape, a life of oppression and early death. Stevenson and his organization Equal Justice Initiative work to defend the poor and the wrongly condemned. But it’s hard work. And there are stories detailed in the book that do not end happily.

This is not an easy read, but it’s an important one. It’s a story of human dignity and worth, the beautiful truth that even in the midst of suffering and injustice, mercy is possible, and even when the “fair” system fails the prisoner, there is still hope for redemption.

Part 2 coming soon.

 

Exploring Brooklyn: braving the cold & eating the best food

I’ve been hibernating for the past three days due to an intense and nasty cold I’m pretty sure I picked up on the New York subway. We returned late Thursday night/early Friday morning from an amazing and bitterly cold four days in Brooklyn and Manhattan (literally a “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” situation getting back home: subway, train, second train, plane, shuttle, and 2.5 hour car ride + 2 stops to McDonalds because the first McDonald’s milk shake machine was down).

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Photo by Sam Costello

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But the germs, crazy travel, and cold weather exposure were worth it for a few days with my brother and a personal tour of Brooklyn and Manhattan. Getting to visit New York as a non-tourist was special (though we did, of course, swing by Rockefeller Center and stroll through Central Park). Even with the subway, we still managed to walk miles and miles each day (briefly making me wish I lived in NY until I remembered that it was freezing).

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This year has been amazing. I have three siblings and the four of us live in different states/countries. In September, I spent a week with my sister in Juarez, Mexico, and experienced a little of her life there. I met her kids, ate the best tacos, and drove all over the desert. My youngest brother is still in college, but I made it up to Anderson, South Carolina, to see him perform in the musical “Big Fish” in October. And finally, husband and I had the opportunity to visit my brother, Sam, in his new city of Brooklyn last week.

We visited New York a few year’s ago with my husband’s family and had a completely different experience. We were total tourists, and visited The Statue of Liberty and The Empire State Building, walked all over Central Park, China Town, and Little Italy. It was an amazing trip! This time though, we wanted to check out Brooklyn and enjoy the best kind of tour: a food tour.

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New York City is known for it’s food. But Brooklyn (in my humble opinion) is even better: spaces are bigger, crowds are smaller, beer is cheaper, and the service is faster. And dollar pizza – I mean, is there anything better? Tuesday night, we enjoyed amazing live jazz at an eclectic bar in Brooklyn (seriously it was so good, and so iconically New York). We strolled through Williamsburg, caught glimpses of patches of unmelted snow, and gazed at the city skyline at dusk. We walked about a mile through the most chilling wind for giant donuts at Brooklyn Doughnutry, and ate (probably the world’s best) avocado toast at the coolest little cafe.

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In between meals, we warmed up at several coffee shops (because there’s a coffee shop around every corner in Brooklyn and Manhattan), including Kave and Little Skips. After walking around The Met for hours, we ducked into the Plaza Food Hall for $2.00 coffee. We spent several hours playing Jenga in front of a roaring fire at Spritzenhaus, a German beer hall with tons of seating, a gorgeous Christmas tree, and the best soft pretzels. And for pizza (when we weren’t chowing down on $1 slices), we checked out Keste in Williamsburg for authentic, wood fired Neopolitan pizza. So much good food, and not enough time to check out all the places on my Yelp list.

New York is magical, especially at Christmas. Our legs may have been sore, our feet bruised, and our immune systems compromised, but it’s such an amazing city to visit this time of year (another thing I can officially check off of my bucket list)!

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Thankful for the place that has become our home

‘Tis the season of reflection and gratitude; the time of year we stuff ourselves with turkey and pumpkin pie; and sometimes (half heartedly or distractedly) list off the miscellaneous things for which we’re thankful.

I talk a lot about my love and affection for this particular holiday. Part of it is nostalgic – Thanksgiving has traditionally been the holiday of family gatherings, cousin scavenger hunts, family portraits at JC Penny, and the annual viewing of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” But more seriously, I can’t help but reflect on the blessings of this past year. Not in a cliche, lame attempt at remembering to be thankful while devouring pumpkin pie. But with genuine gratitude because this year has been transformative.

2017 has been a rich and full year of personal growth, new friendships and opportunities. This time last year, we were still pretty isolated, hungry for community but very much alone. I think my husband and I (with a little more clarity now as hindsight is 20/20) realize some of the mistakes we initially made. We chose to live in base housing, a good 20-30 minutes from the civilization of Augusta and the church we were attending. We struggled to find a church, partly due to the fact that we didn’t really know anything about the community and what kind of church we wanted to attend. We only had one car, and work (for both of us) kept us on base, inhibiting our ability to get out, explore, and meet people.

But then we found a church. And we moved to a more central location. We bought a truck. We connected, diversified, willingly pushed ourselves outside of our bubbles of comfort. We stopped complaining about Augusta and began to recognize the benefits. We started frequenting the same coffee shops. We kayak and venture out to Saturday morning farmers markets. We go for walks on the many trails throughout North Augusta and along the Savannah River. We’ve discovered local breweries and decadent grits bowls. We take advantage of the many opportunities for day trips to Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta, Columbia, Greenville, the north Georgia mountains, and the South Carolina coast. We have an open home – one we hope is a haven and place of comfort to friends and strangers alike.

We’re learning that friendship and community are essential to healthy life and personal growth. How easy it is to be hindered by a narrow-minded view of the world without diverse and far reaching community. Wisdom, as Karen Swallow Prior writes in “Booked,” comes as a result of community. Isolation isn’t health for a number of reasons, particularly because it inhibits one’s ability to think outside of the box, engage in conversation, hear other’s perspectives, serve and love, and humbly recognize the world is so much bigger than what we’ve seen and experienced. Active engagement in community requires vulnerability and hard work. There’s the vulnerability that comes in asking an Instagram stranger out for a cup of coffee, or inviting people into your house – allowing them to cross over the threshold and trust they won’t judge the dishes in the sink, unfinished projects, and excessive dog hair.

I’m thankful for 2017 because I’ve learned I’m not through growing. I have not arrived at the height of knowledge or achieved the perfect friendships. I’m thankful for a year of being made of aware of how much I don’t know, for conversations that have pushed and stretched. For good books and podcasts. For a church community. For grits. For coffee. For new friends. For a renewal of my love of writing. For a husband who is a constant example to me of how to better love people.

A year and a half ago, I cried (sobbed) at the news that we were moving to Augusta. And now I cry for different reasons. I cry because God has been so good to us here in His provision of deep friendships and growing community. I cry because this full and transformative year would not have happened had we moved elsewhere. Now when we’re out of town or visiting family, I find myself missing Augusta – the place that has become our home.

 

South by Southwest

Last week, I flew out of hot-and-humid Georgia to visit my sister in hot-and-dry Juarez, Mexico, the largest city in the state of Chihuahua on the border of El Paso, TX.

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My sister has been living in the desert and working at a children’s home in the city for more than two years now, and I finally had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of her life there. I stayed at her little apartment, walked through her unpaved neighborhood, met some of her precious children, celebrated Independence Day, ate fresh and authentic tacos and churros, discovered a new love of street corn, drove hundreds of miles through the deserts of New Mexico and Northern Texas, hiked high peaks, watched the most breathtaking sunsets, wandered through an incredibly cheap zoo in my sister’s neighborhood (ligers – ligres – do exist), and enjoyed a glorious week catching up with my sister (who puts me to shame with her fluency in Spanish).

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Juarez, Mexico (Lydia’s neighborhood)

 

My week in Juarez had me reminiscing about my year in Colombia, South America. I miss Spanish. I miss the culture. I miss the hospitality and friendship extended from strangers on front porches. But Juarez is also incredibly different from the island life I experienced. There aren’t a lot of trees in the desert. The Spanish is clearer. The food is spicier. Neighborhood roads are full of pot holes and unmarked speed bumps. Mosquitos are large and temperatures are ridiculously high. But the desert is also one of the most stunning landscapes I’ve ever observed. You can see miles and miles and miles without any trees obstructing the view.

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On my last night in Juarez, Lydia and I drove to a look out point in the Juarez mountains, which overlooks Juarez, the border, El Paso, and the Franklin Mountains in El Paso. It was stunning. The often cloudless desert sky was full of low clouds that evening, reflecting the pink and purple hues of the setting sun. Every night, we witnessed the most glorious sunsets, whether from the Franklin Mountains in El Paso, or driving back from Guadalupe National Park in Texas. Every night, we had amazing views of flat desert, brown and rocky mountains peeking up in the back drop, all surrounded by a wide and vibrant sky.

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Glorious sunset over Juarez (and El Paso)

 

All of our adventures included the most spectacular views. We drove out to Cloudcroft, New Mexico, one of the highest elevated cities in the U.S. (nearly 9,000 feet). We left Juarez with temperatures in the high 80’s (in the morning), drove two and half hours through mostly desert, and arrived in Cloudcroft where temperatures were in the 50’s. Cloudcroft is located in the Lincoln National Forest and the views are breathtaking. From the peak, we looked out over lush green forest. Further out is the valley where we could see White Sands National Park, and even further are more mountains. We left Cloudcroft and headed down the mountains to White Sands. A mere 45 minute difference and we transitioned from perfect fall weather to raging desert heat. We didn’t last long, just long enough to take a few pictures, take our shoes off, and run around in the sand before collapsing from heat exhaustion and thirst. The desert is not friendly to the stranger.

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Throughout the week, I found myself underestimating the extremities of desert life. We would drive for miles and miles without seeing any evidence of human life apart from the paved highways. No houses. No gas stations. Not even a McDonald’s. We consumed what had to be gallons of water. Always thirsty and never completely alleviating our thirst. We drove out to Guadalupe National Park, the highest peak in Texas. Sheer rock rising out of the flat desert plain. Even the lesser, “moderate” trails were tough due to the elevation and desert heat, but the views made everything worth it.

And everyday we enjoyed authentic Mexican cuisine: street corn (elote), freshly fried churros, roasted al pastor, homemade tortillas, cilantro, pickled onion, and gorditas. My taco loving heart was so happy. And I discovered a new love for nutella-filled churros and elote (crunchy non-sweet corn in a cup, topped with hot sauce, cheese, and butter). The food was absolutely amazing and delicious (one week later and I’m still craving fresh tacos and churros).

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But more importantly than stunning views and delicious food, was an amazing visit to my sister’s home in Juarez. Mission life can be challenging, lonely, and discouraging. It’s also important, rewarding, and necessary. Visiting our missionaries, participating in the culture, stepping foot in their communities, witnessing in person their acclimation, is an important part of supporting the work they do. There is often a disconnect between sending off family, friends, and church members to pursue missions or humanitarian efforts but still not really understanding the significance or motivation behind their sacrifices.

Lydia and I can relate in a lot of ways. Both of us lived abroad doing mission work for a time, learning a foreign language, adjusting to the culture, participating in the community. We’ve also experienced the loneliness that sometimes comes as foreigners in a country that is not our home country, struggling to overcome language barriers, at times being the only Americans at the mission or in our neighborhood. But we’ve also experienced the joy and beauty of cross culturalism and diversity; the holiness of breaking bread with people from different backgrounds, countries, and cultures, and being welcomed into their own communities and homes.

Monetary and verbal support means a lot to our missionaries. But I also know physically visiting encourages hearts in ways notes and donations can’t. I had the opportunity to witness my sister overcoming cultural barriers by loving on her children, neighbors, and coworkers. I heard her communicate with ease whether we were ordering churros, crossing the border, or chatting with her kids and neighbors. Even the desert life, which is hot and dry and difficult, is growing on her. She can recognize the issues in Juarez while also praising the people and valuing their dignity. I’m not saying it’s easy or that she never has difficult days – I know she does. But I’m also incredibly encouraged and just reminded of the things I learned during my own time in Colombia: that friendship and community is possible whatever the differences. I had conversations with so many people before I knew 30 words in Spanish. We’ve all been created with an ability to communicate. And through Christ, we truly can love our neighbors whether in Mexico, Colombia, or Augusta.

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Exploring Charleston: Coffee, Food, and Activities

One of the things I love about Augusta is our proximity to so many interesting cities, like Columbia, Savannah, Atlanta, Greenville, Charlotte, and Charleston (just to name a few). We’re attempting to make the most of our time in the south and explore as much of the surrounding area as we can. A few weekends ago we drove up to Charleston for a spontaneous day trip. We did a lot of walking in the crazy South Carolina heat, ate some sandwiches at a local Laundromat/café and then headed back home.

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Last week we finally had the chance to do a little more than a quick and rushed trip. My husband was sent to Charleston for a weeklong class, so naturally I decided to tag along for a few days (thank you, Navy, for the complimentary hotel room). I polled my Facebook friends and spent far too much time on Yelp to make the most of our meals and outings downtown.

Charleston is known for it’s amazing culinary scene – we finally had an excuse to eat our way around the city and we were not disappointed. So I thought I’d put together my own little blog post about my favorite coffee shops, eateries, restaurants, and general fun things to do and see when in Charleston!

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Duck Fat Fries with Garlic Aioli from The Tattooed Moose

Coffee: Tricera & The Rise

Coffee – the most important start to any day. When we visited New York a few years ago, I failed to plan ahead and research local Manhattan coffee shops. We found ourselves in the city on Memorial Day, and surprisingly nearly every coffee shop we passed was closed for the holiday! Good for them for taking a break, but I desperately needed a coffee fix in the city that is presumably overflowing with coffee and bagels. I’ve learned my lesson and now do plenty of research before visiting any place new. Spontaneity is great, but it can sometimes mean settling for Starbucks instead of a delicious, local and quirky coffee shop.

My friend Thea recommended Tricera Coffee on George Street (right off of King Street). I had just parked my car about a mile away right in the midst of a thunderstorm (accompanied by a torrential downpour). Tourists and locals were crowding under overhangs, ducking into Starbucks and Chipotle. I was tempted, but continued speed walking through the rain (praying my phone would stay dry enough because I’ve lost enough phones to water damage), and finally made it to Tricera to wait out the rest of the storm.

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Saffron Latte at Tricera

Tricera is quirky in that the theme is triceratops and dinosaurs, but not in a weird, I-just-stepped-into-a-five-year-old-boy’s-bedroom kind of way. It’s hipster and reminiscent of the kind of coffee shop you’d expect at Jurassic Park. Their coffee is great, but reviewers raved about the saffron latte, which is amazing. It’s expensive but creamy and delicious and worth trying at least once.

The second coffee shop I visited was The Rise Coffee Bar at The Restoration Hotel. It’s a small space with modern/industrial design and delicious iced coffee. Be sure to order the Rosemary Rise Latte (I’m all about obscure herbs and spices right now).

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Breakfast: Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit

Brunch is my absolute favorite thing. When husband asks me what I want for my birthday, I always say I want him to take me out for brunch. Because of his schedule last week, however, we did not get a chance to experience a Poogan’s Porch or Hominy Grill classic Charleston brunch or breakfast. But I did grab a quick and easy breakfast on the go during some of my mornings of solo exploration.

My first breakfast (and newly discovered favorite biscuit joint in the entire world) was at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit on King’s Street (there’s now a second location at the Charleston City Market, which is open until 6 P.M.) I ordered the three mini biscuits (buttermilk, cheese and chive, and country ham). Words cannot adequately describe the perfection of these biscuits, so I’m not even going to try.

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Donuts: Glazed Gourmet Donuts

Glazed Gourmet is arguably the best donut joint in Charleston (though it’s the only one I’ve ever eaten at, so I personally have nothing to compare it to). I love donuts, and I especially love unique donut flavors with a little more creativity than sprinkles or Bavarian cream. Glazed has the best flavors (I only wish I had time to sample each one): raspberry, blueberry cheesecake, honey bacon, lemon meringue. They do specialty donuts for things like the Eclipse and National S’mores Day. Glazed is located on King Street and is just a quick walk for the visitor center parking garage. Pair your donut with a cup of coffee and your day is bound to be pretty amazing!

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BBQ: Swig & Swine

Husband and I ate our first dinner in Charleston at Swig & Swine – a delicious BBQ joint with THE BEST mac and cheese. We split the three meat plate and tried the pulled pork, turkey, and brisket. Everything was tender and flavorful. He ordered banana pudding to go and said it was the perfect way to end such a delicious southern meal.

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Dinner: Husk

When we started planning our Charleston trip, a visit to Husk was definitely at the top of our list of restaurants we wanted to try (confirmed by several Facebook friends who recommended this fine establishment).

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I actually first heard about Husk while watching the show, “Mind of a Chef,” and was fascinated by the way Chef Sean Brock talked about the history of growing food. There is one particular episode where he actually makes his famous cornbread using pure, whole, and local cornmeal and ingredients. I remember thinking, “gosh, I want to sink my teeth into that!” After watching the show and learning more about the chef’s vision and love of food and pure ingredients, we were so excited to enjoy dinner at Husk and thankfully got reservations in the nick of time. The restaurant itself is like stepping back into time from the old house, to the two-story front porch (with the blue painted ceiling), the gorgeous wood floors, and giant windows. You’re seated and handed a beautiful menu, which changes daily. Servers bring rolls in classic Charleston sweet grass baskets. It’s magical.

We ordered the smoked country ham and biscuits (with house made pickles and dijonnaise) appetizer, served on a gorgeous wooden plank. Husband and I shared a sirloin steak with a side of the famous cornbread, and enjoyed a locally brewed IPA. Everything was thoughtfully executed and prepared. The whole point of Husk is to create food inspired by southern ingredients and dishes, and to show people that southern cuisine is so much more than fried chicken. We left with full bellies and happy hearts.

Activities

We didn’t visit museums or plantations or take carriage rides or buy souvenirs. We just walked with no agenda except exploration. I wandered in local bookstores and boutiques, sat in coffee shops, browsed the Charleston City Market for as long as I could stand the heat, walked along the Battery, waded in Pineapple Fountain, strolled through the French Quarter and along Rainbow Row, and made it out to Angel Oak five minutes before closing (just enough time to stand in awe, snap a few pictures, and get eaten alive by mosquitoes). There’s so much to do in Charleston and I’m looking forward to returning and possibly touring the USS Yorktown and maybe enjoying a food tour. At any rate, I can now say I love Charleston –the atmosphere, the architecture, the coffee, and the food.

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Friendship, Food & Fredericksburg

Friendship is a funny thing. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes friendships completely die out, never to be rekindled. Others may fade but remain significant. I especially appreciate the friendships that last – even without phone calls or Christmas cards or frequent visits. I’m learning to appreciate and give thanks for the friendships in my life that have truly endured through decades. Though they look different now (years later), though some are more “Facebook friendships” than real life friendships, they still mean the world to me.

This weekend, husband and I traveled to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to witness my middle school best friend get married. I haven’t seen her in at least eight years, and it’s been even longer since I’ve seen her family (seven siblings who are all grown now). It was a sweet time of catching up, rehashing old memories, talking about mutual friends and our awkward home school years.

I feel incredibly blessed that some of the best friendships I’ve ever had still remain in my life, even if it’s only through the occasional Facebook message or wedding ceremony.

When we moved from Boiling Springs to Burlington, NC, I thought my life was over. I was 12 and incredibly emotional, insecure, and terrified of starting over. As we said goodbye to our dear friends (who drove with us to help us move in), we said hello to a new family (the very same day) – who would later become my own family. The strange boy standing in the driveway with the oversized shirt and glasses would become my husband. Sixteen years later and that boy would accompany me to Fredericksburg to witness my dear friend (who helped us move in and said a tearful goodbye 16 years ago) marry the love of her life. Isn’t life funny? Everything comes full circle. And though friendships change, I never want to forget the gift that friendship is.

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Downtown Fredericksburg

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Fredericksburg, please go. Please. The area is beautiful and we welcomed the break from hot and humid Augusta (the evenings are already cool up in Virginia!).

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We spent Saturday and Sunday morning walking around, meandering through historic streets, taking in the beautiful architecture, and scenery. According to the official website, there are more than 100 boutiques, antique shops, book stores (my favorite thing), art galleries and studios just in the downtown area! Downtown Fredericksburg is on the Rappahannock River, which is a short walk from the city center.

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Another perk – parking was a breeze (and it’s free). We’ve visited enough cities in the last year where parking has been incredibly stressful and expensive (New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, etc.), so I pay attention whenever we visit downtowns with free and easy parking!

Food

Brunch: There are so many amazing restaurants in Fredericksburg, but unfortunately we did not have the time (or money) to try all of them. My belief is that you can’t really experience a new place without experiencing the local cuisine. Thanks to the recommendation of some friends (and Yelp), we decided to eat brunch at FoodE, a rustic farm-to-table eatery located on Princess Anne St. in downtown Fredericksburg. The restaurant is housed in a historic building with gorgeous hardwood floors, high ceilings, and giant windows. And if you’re lucky (like us) you may be seated in the vault.

Menu recommendation: Chicken & Waffles (moist and tender, perfectly seasoned and crispy – absolute perfection)

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Donuts: Donuts are my love language. I love donuts – I rarely eat donuts but I love them. And when I visit a new city and learn that there’s a local donutery (donutery?) creating their own versions of delicious and creative donuts, naturally I want to visit and sample them myself! We enjoyed a late breakfast at The Sugar Shack (on the outskirts of downtown Fredericksburg) Sunday morning. Fun fact: there’s a coupon on their Yelp page for a FREE house donut (you’re welcome). The donuts are fluffy (not flat and sad like Krispy Kreme donuts- sorry Krispy Kreme fans) and delicious paired with coffee or a Yoohoo.

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Coffee: My sweet friend, Lindsey, introduced us to Agora Downtown Coffee Shop & Used Books. Coffee and books are two of my favorite things, so this was instantly a favorite little discovery. The shop is quirky but cute and artistic, with local art displayed on the walls, and shelves of books and pottery for sale. It’s a great place to sit and talk, sip an iced latte, and relax.

An amazing weekend with friends and delicious food. A new city, and new adventures.

On Thrifting: An Essay

My future dream home is one filled with beautifully cultivated treasures and furniture pieces that reflect a good eye for interior design. One where people say, “Wow! Where did you get that coffee table?” (for instance) and I casually respond, “Oh, I found that in a ditch and slapped some paint on it and now it looks like a million bucks!”

Side-of-the-road Good Fortune

I’ve always envied people who have side-of-the-road good fortune when it comes to discovering gently used cast offs. I know several people who have literally found beautiful pieces of furniture (that just need a little TLC) in ditches and garbage dumps! As observant as I try to be, the only non-garbage items I’ve stumbled upon have been mattresses. Lots and lots of mattresses. So of course, I keep driving.

But during the past couple of months, I’ve decided it’s time I learn how to become the thrifter I’ve always secretly wanted to be. I’ve been deterred from thrifting for various reasons: a) It’s time consuming b) I have never (seriously, never) found anything that I’d actually label a true treasure c) Thrift shops smell musty and everything is covered in a layer of grime d) All the cool stuff is already taken e) Does anyone under the age of 85 (besides me) donate to thrift shops anymore? f) There are some things that cannot be upcycled no matter how creative you are, which is probably why the only things I ever seem to find are really old Christmas decorations and outdated bed frames g) I fear I lack “the eye” for finding treasures amongst the junk.

Thrift Shop Competition

After reading the “The Nesting Place” by Myquillyn Smith, I was encouraged to stop putting off projects and making excuses, and start visiting our local thrift shops on a regular basis. I tried to visit places without any expectations – realizing I probably won’t find anything but I definitely won’t if I don’t try.

Maybe it’s an Augusta thing, but thrifters here are cut throat. I have visited several Goodwills, Habitats for Humanity and Salvation Army’s, felt that rush of excitement when my eyes land on a decent dresser or side table or accent chair, only to be immediately discouraged by the “sold” tag. There is seriously an ever growing “sold” section at my local Salvation Army (would people please just come pick up their furniture so that I won’t be constantly reminded of the happy thrift story that could have been?) This has happened repeatedly over the past couple of weeks and the only things left are hideously shaped lamps, teddy bear portraits and old workout VHS’s.

Disappointments

The other day, I walked into a Habitat for Humanity that had clearly recently received a giant donation from some sort of office that had finally ditched their 80’s style furniture (there were at least 15 tables and probably 30 maroon office chairs). I scanned the building, quickly past over the orange sofa and mildewy recliners, and settled on a gorgeous antique side board (probably the only beautiful piece in the store) and of course it was sold. I felt like I had been robbed, which is completely ridiculous because five seconds before, I hadn’t seen or even dreamt of this sideboard. And for all I know, it could have been a $500 side board or some astronomical figure that was way out of price range. I’m realizing very quickly that just because something winds up at a thrift store does not mean it will only cost a dollar (especially if it’s on consignment). But I digress. Anyways, the moral of this story is that thrifting is a competition. And it’s one I’m currently failing at (thrifted finds so far: one hardback book in excellent condition – $1.00, one wooden bowl – $1.00, two dining chairs, which I can’t decide whether I love or hate – $8.00/each).

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The truth is though that I am very picky when it comes to thrifted treasures. Having moved several times over the last two years, I lean more towards a minimally decorated home rather than one teeming with thrifted tchotchkes (though I secretly desire to be a free spirited bohemian with a thousand plants and random junk that all flows together in a beautifully, cluttered, yet cohesive way). Packing is easier when it’s just the essentials and I’ve made enough trips to Goodwill with donations to prevent me from mindlessly purchasing anything in the near future.

How to be a Good Thrifter

To be a good thrifter requires a great deal of patience and perseverance. It means having a game plan and not giving up because there’s always going to be junk and ONE day I will land on a piece of junk that isn’t junk to me. One day, I’ll be the cut throat thrifter who spots the side board or cupboard or accent table first. One day soon, I’ll withstand the extreme Augusta heat long enough to browse the flea markets and haggle for a ridiculously great price (that I can later incorporate into a story about how this such-and-such-piece is worth $10,000 and only cost me 20 bucks!).

The right brained, super creative part of me has accepted this thrifting challenge. I may not possess a lot of experience right now, but I’m working on it. My home is (quite literally) a blank canvas, just awaiting treasures that my husband hopefully won’t roll his eyes over.

To quote Smith, “I’ve finally figured out that almost no one is living in their dream house. And I don’t know anyone whose life has gone exactly like they would have planned. You make the best choices you can at the time with the information you have, and then you deal with the consequences, and that’s the part where your life happens.”

For the love of grits

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“It’s easy to impress me. I don’t need a fancy party to be happy. Just good friends, good food, and good laughs. I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I’m content.” [Maria Sharapova]

There’s a coffee shop in town that serves the best grits I’ve ever eaten – and they’re only $5.99 a bowl.

Now I know shrimp and grits is a staple southern coastal dish, but this particular bowl is even better. Its simple, cheap, surprisingly creamy. Hot grits, topped with melting pimento cheese, crumbles of real bacon (note: not bacon bits), avocado and Cholula hot sauce. The combination is absolute perfection.

Something happens when unappetizingly cold, mayonnaise-y pimento cheese melts into hot grits. The bacon adds a whole level that only bacon can add. And the avocado makes it healthy. Just kidding – it’s not healthy. But the calories are worth it. It’s the definition of comfort food.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve found that this is no ordinary menu item. And certainly it’s no ordinary grits bowl. It’s a bowl that brings people together in mutual murmurs of awe and admiration. It’s a meal that leads to full stomachs, copious cups of coffee, and good, deep conversation.

As spoons scrape the sides of our grits bowls (getting every last bite), and locally made bread dips into the stringy pimento cheese and bright green avocado slices, as we slightly crunch freshly fried bacon, we also find ourselves listening to one another. Sharing our hearts. Talking about our new town (since so many people in Augusta are transplants themselves). Asking questions. Swapping stories. Sometimes shedding a tear or two.

It’s only been a few months since I made this delicious discovery, but now I recommend it to everyone. When meeting up with acquaintances for coffee, I suggest the grits bowl.

Grits and conversation – two of my favorite things.

 

Never give up on community

Several months ago I wrote this post about our experience “church shopping” here in Augusta, which was written from a heart of love and concern. But also (if I’m being honest) genuine longing and loneliness. I craved community and fellowship. I desired friends. I desperately wanted to be known and know others.

Last summer was long, hot, and lonely. And I remember thinking, just three more years and we can get the heck out of this place and hopefully land in Colorado or Washington – some place with no bugs or humidity.

But slowly, things started to change. And little by little, community began to happen. I guess it started in small ways. Like in the first month when my husband’s sponsor, a young and single sailor, came over for dinner (our first guest in our new base house). And in June when we sheepishly went to our first FRG meeting – fighting my own insecurity as a brand new, unknowledgeable Navy wife. In October we went to our first military ball, and in November, we found our church (which we officially joined in December).

Relationships here took time to cultivate, community took time to discover, the loneliness took some time to dissipate.

When you move a lot, there is a temptation (even as an extrovert) to keep people at a distance and avoid deep connections and meaningful relationships. That’s something husband and I talked a lot about in those initial weeks and months here. There was the question: what’s the point of investing when we’re just going to move and start all over again in a few years? But really what a mistake that would have been. We would have missed out on countless blessings, beautiful friendships, and significant opportunities. I absolutely love this reminder from Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be ALL there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

We are not even guaranteed tomorrow, let alone three years from now. But we are here. Today. Right now. So we should be ALL here, investing, giving, serving, loving the people and community we find ourselves in. How easy it is to give up on the search for community when it’s sometimes hard to find. But then again, community isn’t always what we expect it to be. Sometimes it’s the homeless man downtown who engages you in conversation, or the barista who remembers your order, or the mailman, or the waitress, or the grocer, or your neighbor. Community happens wherever there are people, and sometimes we can be completely shocked and happily surprised to discover community in the most unlikely of places.

Over the past couple of months, we’ve been blessed to be in fellowship with some amazing people. The Lord led us to a church where we’ve seen Acts 2 played out everyday. Community is not only happening within the walls of the church, but outside. Down the street. In the neighborhood. Person by person.

My heart is full of gratitude as I’ve been reflecting on the Lord’s kindness. My perspective has changed dramatically. Though I still long for travel and adventure, we’ve found a home here. The place I was so discontented with nearly a year ago, is now precious to me. I’ve been reminded to never give up on community.

God desires His people to be in community, to have fellowship and work towards common goals, breaking bread together and opening our homes to one another. It might not happen right away. You may have to fight for it, extend invitations and even be rejected. But don’t give up on it, because through community comes ministry. Through hospitality comes a genuine display of love for others (though they be strangers or old friends).

 

A New Home for the New Year

Last Thursday we did something kind of crazy, a little surprising, and incredibly exciting.

We bought a house!

After living in base housing for eight months, we decided to break our lease and move across town (same city, different state). It’s been a chaotic few days (our fourth move in less than two years). We’ve discovered junk that has somehow, despite my best efforts, continued to accumulate. Boxes are strewn around the house in jenga-like towers, clothes remain in piles waiting to be hung. The house is a mess but we’re home, and so incredibly thankful for God’s provision.

Over the past year and a half, we’ve felt a little like gypsies moving from space to temporary space. But we’ve learned a lot about appreciating the space we occupy – even if it’s not our “dream home.” We’ve also learned we don’t need much to be welcoming, loving, and giving to whomever may walk through our front door.

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Eventually everything will be unpacked and organized, but for now here’s a little peak of our new home!

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