observations of community

In the span of six days, I have had the opportunity to visit two different food establishments… and I had two very different experiences. My mind has been turning these things over and over ever since.

Last week, while my children were at school for the morning, I went to a fairly new local coffee shop to sip a warm drink and read a good book. I also happened to take notice of the space and the people around me. Scattered about the room at small tables, were people who had obviously come in together and were visiting over food and drink. There was a TV on the wall, with the volume turned low– some people were catching up on the news that was broadcast there. Others were alone, engrossed in a book like myself, or concentrating fiercely on their computer screens. The atmosphere was intimate, private, small, quiet… even the colors were earth-toned and added to the muted feeling in the room. I actually went there specifically because I wanted to “mute” my life a little bit, even just for an hour or two. I wanted to crawl into my own private space and have some reprieve from the chatter and activity of my daily life as mom. It was perfect for that.

This morning could not have been more different! Ben and I had spent an hour running some errands and I decided on a whim to treat him to a mother-son brunch date at a local restaurant. The place I happened to pick has a long history in our area. It has changed management a few times over the years, but remains one of the “places of choice” among the older generation… and it’s known for good food. When we walked up the ramp to the restaurant entrance, Ben remarked, “Wow, mom, this place is fancy. Look at the flowers on the carpet. Look at the lights, mom! Wow!” I smiled– this place is NOT fancy, but why not let him think so? It made him happy. We were seated and I began looking around myself. There was a lot of light, Ben was right. And the colors were bright– pale blues and off-whites and even some sprinkles of pink here and there. As I mentioned earlier, the clientele tended to be older although there were some young moms and dads with little ones in tow. Quite a few customers wanted to chat with myself and Ben, asked him his age and what special occasion had him out with his mom on a Tuesday morning. The folks who were leaving and arriving had lively and friendly conversations with many of the staff, especially one worker who was carefully sorting creamers and jellies for each of the tables. He had a 40th birthday coming up and was handing out flyers to that effect. He was getting more hugs, handshakes and smiles than I could count. His downs syndrome was all but invisible. As I observed the love in the room and felt it brushing up against even me, I let the busy errand-running morning float away and took a deep breath. This was family; maybe not biologically but certainly at heart.

When we left for the car, the contrast popped into my mind. These two places– both serve coffee and food, both employ servers and cooks, both have tables and chairs where people gather for conversation, both had lights and doors and bathrooms and paint on their walls, cash registers, kitchens, you name it. There was even a sense of community at both places, certainly so (and I do not mean to sound critical of the first establishment- I love it there!). But it was different at the second restaurant… so obviously different. It’s almost beyond my ability to describe in words, but I’ll say this: if I was lonely or feeling unsafe or needing some grounding in the middle of a chaotic life, I’d go to the second restaurant. It sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it was like a reunion in there, almost like the church pot-lucks I grew up attending. Is it just that there were some older folks in there, is that why I feel this way? Or is it that the folks who go to this place, regardless of their age, hold some secret to grounded and family-like community that the folks at the newer hip coffee shops know nothing about yet? Is technology the difference– there was no TV and I didn’t see anyone with laptops at the second place? I’m not sure. But I know that when I need a mute-button for my life, I’ll visit the first. When I need family, I’ll go to the second. Just my observation of community.

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to the 10-acre wood

For the last month or so, we’ve been living a curious journey. I wanted to write about this sooner because it has been the source of some profound reflection for me… but it includes news that my husband and I wanted to share personally with some people before I shot it out through cyberspace.

For many reasons, my husband and I had decided that this house we presently live in would be our permanent home. It’s not perfect. The location isn’t perfect for a family that loves the mountains as much as we do… but it’s home. It’s where we dove into ministry together; it’s where my mother died and my father spent two years living with us; it’s the home we brought our babies to after they were born; it’s where we’ve learned the art of hospitality, of sharing our home with others because this home belongs to God. Not to mention (and this is really the kicker), both of us despise– and I do mean utterly despise– moving. So we took on the stress of a major project, revamping the backyard to our liking, and we were at peace. Well, peace is relative, isn’t it? This past summer was not easy for either myself or my husband. The exhaustion and mess and busyness of adding the pool project on top of everything else took its toll (and it still is… we’re not done yet).

But… then God spoke. Do you know what’s coming? You got it. Something new is being born.

Out of clear blue sky, we were given an opportunity to buy 10 acres not that far from here. 10 beautiful acres in the woods with a babbling creek and all the wildlife and spaciousness we could want. Even though I verbally said “no way” as soon as the opportunity presented itself, somewhere deep inside I felt the urge to see it. I felt a drawing.

But it didn’t make sense. We love our neighborhood. We love our house. We’re creating a whole new living space in our backyard. Our roots are here. And what about our strong calling to hospitality and missional living among our neighbors? How are we being Jesus if we’re hiding out in the woods? Yet… God was drawing me… He was there as I walked the grounds, speaking to a deep place in me… Interesting, as I thought of grieving the loss of the place where I spent the last days with my mother, I felt her walking with me by the creek in the 10-acre wood, bird-watching and noticing beauty everywhere.

Small steps. We started exploring the possibility more and more– crunching numbers, making inquiries, talking about all the issues involved. I kept whispering a prayer, “close the doors, God, if this isn’t you. make it clear, please. make this clear.” Dreams. I started day-dreaming about ministry possibilities. What would it look like to be hospitable here? What could ministry look like here? I thought about all the monasteries and convents that invite people to come away and be with God. A retreat place. Yes… maybe a small retreat…

I spoke with my spiritual director not long ago about all of this and how crazy it seems. She said, “But Kris Anne, all I see on your face and all I hear in your voice is anticipation. You feel it, that God is, in this very paradoxical circumstance, calling you to another conversion. The extrovert called to the woods! Conversion of your known way of being and known way of living into a new way! You’re already open to the possibilities, aren’t you? Embrace the surprise and the unexpected, Kris Anne. Hear the call, whether or not it works out with this property.” Embrace the crazy? Ok… I might learn something, and it might be joy!

It is not official yet, but it looks like we will be living in the wonder of the 10-acre wood come this spring… maybe not until summer. The next few months will not be easy. We’ll be in the middle of more projects and preparations… but it’s a beautiful paradox to me. What a wonder it is!