Friday, December 4, 2015

The Hard Truth About Real Love


We met on Wednesday evenings, at the park just a stone's throw from our front door. Without fail, those afternoons found me frantic, scrambling for hot dogs and buns and oh, maybe I'd better buy a watermelon and those cookies we baked turned out a bit misshapen and hard, but we'd better haul them over, too.

We wanted, no, needed the company of each other, food and two hours to be not-alone were our only agenda. And if we needed this, we figured our neighbors must, too. So we gathered in our mid-week ordinariness, grocery store containers of deli salads open along the weathered edge of the picnic table. An invitation. Come on over, grab a plate.

Our time was designed around an element of surprise, but the hard truth is, I'd always prefer a clean list of names ticking down a sheet of paper. I like knowing how many forks will be needed, how much lemonade. I worry about not having enough, and I worry even more about ending up with too much. What will we do with all this food? It makes for pricey left-overs, if you choose to look at it that way. And I often do.

Heading up the hill one evening, I saw them there on the park bench, two women who struck me as wearisome dinner companions. It would be too much awkwardness for so late in the day and besides, what if we didn't have enough chicken?

Lodged in the pit of my stomach was a stone I couldn't shake loose - I will never outrun Olivia. I wonder and write about the love that would compel me to those at the fringes. I want that love. I do. But she is everywhere, and for every step I take toward her, there is at least one where I veer off to the side and hope she doesn't notice.

There are days I mean what I say, but there are others when I want to run back to when it didn't even cross my mind. The trouble with trying is the persistent failing.

Returning might be the only thing I did right.

We gathered last summer on Wednesdays, ate potato salad and pie with plastic forks, asked questions and listened because we're new to each other; there's so much to learn. The kids ran wild. We welcomed the ones who showed up, the smudged-eye teenagers, the young men who filled their plates then sat with their backs to us. Once, thanks to the most impossible misunderstanding, a text invitation accidentally went out to a complete stranger, a town a way, and he came.

All the while, I felt the hand of God at our backs, nudging us further out. I heard his promises, that trusting the haphazard way of Jesus would always be worth it, and that he would turn our hearts toward him if we dared to find his face in the storied eyes of our neighbor.

It's December now, and my doubts haven't wrung themselves out. My part in the scheme of Emmanuel still feels paltry sometimes, like a day-old tease. He came to be with us and hoped we'd follow him into this withness that cuts to the heart of things.

I want to believe breaking bread and passing plates can really be communion, God's love kissing dirt.
It would be so much simpler if I could remove myself from the equation, because I can't seem to stop defaulting to the ease of sitting with people who make my kind of small talk.

In his book Red Letter Revolution, Tony Compolo writes, "My only defense is that I'm not as unfaithful today as I was yesterday." 

This is all the hope I can muster, to grow in faithfulness degree-by-degree, while the burgers go cold and the slaw warms, everything feeling upside-down and cockeyed as we sit in the fellowship of sweat-stained saints and the night closes in.

This is the tension of living somewhere between the one long life we were given and eternity. We wait, smack dab where the green meets blue. Maybe the kingdom of God is exactly the way Silas used to paint a landscape - a thick band of grace between two thin streaks of sky and grass, our mess tethered to Heaven by the wide promise that we can't ever screw this up enough to miss what matters most.


10 comments:

  1. I love this SO much! Wednesday dinners at the park! Do what's in front of you!!!!

    We are new to our neighborhood and hardly see our neighbors, but I keep going and knocking....cookies, dinner...pumpkin bread...and we are hosting a "gathering" (come and go...or come and stay) in a couple of weeks. I can see that this is all foreign...even in our middle class place. BUT....I'm doing what's in front of me!

    Thanks for cheering with this post. I hope you can hear me wildly chanting your name and encouraging you to keep running!

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    1. Oh, I hear you! Thank you so much for hollering me on. I'm doing the same for you!

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  2. What an encouraging post to live and love where we are, even if it's out of our comfort zone.

    God's continued blessings on you ~ FlowerLady

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  3. Hi Shannan, I just watched this beautiful christmas music video that my church made. It's about the redemption that can be found in prison. I thought of you and your husband. Thought I'd share ....http://www.mormontabernaclechoir.org/content/motab/en/articles/infant-holy-infant-lowly-video.html

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  4. "I want to believe breaking bread and passing plates can really be communion, God's love kissing dirt." Yes, and yes. Here in Argentina there's even a word for this: sobremesa which means "over the table" and it refers to the long conversations and relationships built over lengthy meals. Most Argentine homes don't even have a living room, because life is lived around the kitchen or dining room table.

    Many years ago our nephew, who was single and fresh out of college, began hosting a weekly "come one, come all" meal. He'd fix a pot of soup or chili or pasta and make a salad. Initially those who came were a lot of other young singles. Eventually he married and they moved (several times now) but the weekly meal continues to be a common thread to their life, no matter where they live: city, small town, country... The current "regulars" are an eclectic group of people who often bring along somebody new who finds a place at the table. We managed to go one of those times we were in the U.S. and loved the easy camaraderie, the casualness, the welcoming spirit. Someone had brought along an exchange student who found an eager audience for her stories (I think it made her less homesick for a short while). So I completely agree with you: breaking bread and passing plates can really be communion!

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  5. If we could only all be more like this we could/would get back to our Creator. These are such scary times, and if we don't we are on in big, big trouble.

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  6. I love everything about this ...thank you for sharing!

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  7. We just invited neighbors over for the first time for dinner tomorrow. This post encourages me that we, just doing our thing and living love to others, can maybe be enough in the grace of Jesus. Thanks so much, Shannan! ... can't wait for your book. :)

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  8. "The trouble with trying is the persistent failing.". oh.so.true.
    my human-ness makes me crazy!

    I'm constantly trying to encourage myself that he's strong only when I'm weak.
    It's the only thing that makes sense to me in my continual failing.

    "My only defense is that I'm not as unfaithful today as I was yesterday." yes.

    thanks again for a post that makes sense of the struggle somehow.

    xo ellie

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  9. Love you, and that particular book of Tony's, and this:

    "All the while, I felt the hand of God at our backs, nudging us further out. I heard his promises, that trusting the haphazard way of Jesus would always be worth it, and that he would turn our hearts toward him if we dared to find his face in the storied eyes of our neighbor.

    "It's December now, and my doubts haven't wrung themselves out. My part in the scheme of Emmanuel still feels paltry sometimes, like a day-old tease. He came to be with us and hoped we'd follow him into this withness that cuts to the heart of things."

    I feel like that so much, like this approach I reside in is paltry, haphazard, more of a bedraggled storm than a plan. But maybe the wind and the grace is enough to lift a few damp faces to see the eyes of a God who carries us home to Him. I hope. Always I hope.

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