(Note: I know many people are anti-tattoos and I’m okay with that. This is not intended to be a place for that debate.)
I thought about canceling because my husband was overtired, our youngest daughter was arriving home at some point, and I
Really, I thought about canceling because I was feeling insecure, Ancient you’re-not-enough thoughts knocked on my door. You’re not interesting enough, not wealthy enough, not pretty enough, not smart enough, not funny enough, not expressive enough, not cultured enough. The gentle tapping on the screen door of my soul morphed into a heavy fisted, persistent pounding. I opened the door, briefly, and
shouted squeaked “Go away.”
I have learned that when I don’t want to do something, I should.
Some friends from Thailand were visiting Colorado, and they had invited Scott and me to join them for dinner at their hosts’ house.
I am I used to be of the safe-familiar ilk, and an awkward Marie shows up when I am confronted with meeting new people.
But letting go of fears has been my mantra this past year, so I encouraged myself with some thoughts from Brené Brown, thoughts about courage, that it starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen. I reminded myself of the Scriptures telling me to not be afraid, and the importance of gathering with others. Awkward or not, I was going.
Turned out our friends were running a little late, so we meandered the neighborhood a bit while waiting. I was struck not only by the sheer enormity of the houses, but also the way the mountains in the backdrop were even larger, grander. It was a beautiful, affluent neighborhood. I wondered how much we would have in common with the strangers – the home-owners – who were our gracious host and hostess through our common friends.
A couple of hours later, we crowded around the table on their deck, 7 adults from various locations and lifestyles – and one charming 3-year-old, with bright eyes and long flowing hair, who was more interested in the dogs that lounged around than the mouth-watering, traditional Thai food her parents had created. We devoured a meal with spices that I had never even heard of. And we shared stories.
The funny ones, the difficult ones, the stories of struggles and triumphant. We talked about kids and grandkids and jobs and ministry.
Before we passed back through the sliding glass doors that led into an open, spacious living area, we had connected. We hugged and said our goodbyes beneath vaulted ceilings that showcased a kitchen with a massive island, dark wood cabinets, and gleaming appliances – a kitchen so very different from mine in its appearance, yet so very much the same in its use. On the drive home I pondered three thoughts from the evening.
We were connected by a common friend. One of the stories we shared with each other was “How do you know D?” Our answers were very different. I realized that apart from D, Scott and I never would have met this couple, yet we were blessed by their hospitality, their generosity, their humor, and even their struggles. In Hebrews 10:24-25 we are told to not stop gathering together and encouraging each other. We need community, and we need to share our stories, our lives with one another. In Christian churches, studies, and fellowships we get together with others that also, by grace, call Jesus friend. Going to church, I realized last night, is not enough. Lately, I’ve been slipping in and out of a new church, not really visiting with anyone.** Slipping in and out keeps us from blessings. We must be courageous enough and bold enough to share our unique stories because these are what bind us. We can begin with our testimony. “How do you know Jesus?” The answers will be unique, but at the end of the day, He is the One that makes us family and connects us.
We may look different, sound different, but we are the same. At first glance, I saw a couple of tattoos on our host. For some reason, I automatically assumed he’d had them, you know, forever. But we swapped stories, and I learned that like me he had once said he would never get a tattoo. And with the telling of our different tattoos stories – his first one came late in life, after the loss of a loved one, mine was intended to minister to others but later became a lifeline reminder for my own self – we shared bits of the heart.
Yeah, we were different, outwardly. But much the same inwardly. His beautiful, tall, blond-haired wife, who also got a tiny tattoo when he did, wore her simple clothes and jewelry with the ease of a model, a bit antithetical to my pygmy-esque, gray-haired granny look. But the words of her heart could have come straight from mine. Her struggles? They’ve been mine too. Her faith? Same. Her kitchen, though vastly different in appearance from mine, was also used to feed hearts and souls. And despite having to stand on tiptoes while she leaned over, our hug goodbye was genuine.
Truth is, Unless we make ourselves vulnerable, and are willing as Brené Brown advocates, to show up despite our imperfections and differences, we will miss out on the blessings of community, of learning how to encourage and be encouraged by others. When we courageously show up, we will discover that our differences are not as important as our similarities.
Believers aren’t exempt from sorrow, battles, illness, pain, or trauma, but we have a common joy that can lift us up through it. We mustn’t keep our stories to ourselves, regardless what chapter we are on.
Different is sweet. Originally, our friends were going to come to us but there has been a bit of chaos at our house lately, so when D said, “Hey, why don’t y’all come here? A break away might be good for you.” in his prophetic way, we readily agreed. He was right, it was a good break. We barely stopped talking while dessert was served, but I still savored every bite of the sweet rice with coconut milk and mangoes. It was a dessert completely different than what I would have served if they had come to us. The entire meal, the authentic Thai, was a delicious treat unlike anything we could have created ourselves. Different is good. Different teaches us and stretches us. Different grows us. And different can be so sweet. Because in the end, different is merely a showcase for the same. Same hearts and desires, same hopes and dreams. Same faith.
So let’s not give up on the gathering together because when we join together, we are blessed by each other’s differences, each other’s uniqueness, and ultimately each other’s sameness.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 NKJV
Grateful for the joy,
Marie-Ellen with a 🙂
**Reasons why we are at a new church will be for another blog post – but it was NOT because of any issues with teachings or people.