The benches are rusting.

It’s been three years since  we put the benches in the grassy area of our cul-de-sac. Before we had them, I would watch my neighbors chat for a few minutes at their mailboxes, but never for long. They have lived here over 40 years and simply didn’t have the energy to stand.

But after we bought those benches, the ladies in the cul-de-sac began to linger. I watched as they would meet at the benches and sit for hours. Sometimes I would sit with them. As they talked about their grown children, we watched as mine rode their bikes in circles around us.

They’ve been neighbors for decades and have always had things to talk about. But now, they had a bench to sit on together. Now I could join them, listen and ask questions – what they remember about the war, what they like to read, the weather.

It isn’t that they didn’t want to be together, but before it wasn’t so easy. Now, they had a bench to sit on. It didn’t give them something to talk about; it gave them a place to do it.

Last month, over 6,000 of you gathered in homes, coffee shops, churches and parks to celebrate in real life friendship – both new ones and old. In the keynote many of you watched Friday night before the worldwide meet-up day, I shared this story of the benches we put in our cul-de-sac.

Hostesses around the world opened their homes or made a little space in their day to invite those of you who live nearby to meet in real life. In other words, they made a bench for you.

People want to talk about things. They want to relate and live in community and converse and be together. Sometimes they just need a bench. They need a place to get the conversation started, a platform that allows them to linger and find one another.

But then what?

It’s been a month since (in)RL and I hope some of you have stayed in touch with people you met at your various meetups. But there’s a good chance many of you didn’t. There’s a good chance some of you went and simply didn’t connect with the women who showed up.

There’s also a good chance many of you didn’t go at all because you are emotionally allergic to small talk and large groups of women.

Gathering for (in)RL is one kind of bench. But it certainly isn’t the only kind.

I wrote a post on my blog, Chatting at the Sky, about why I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog. My intention was not to get a lot of subscribers for numbers sake. My intention was to invite readers to subscribe because I see my blog as a bench.

I write because it’s my way of seeing and sharing the world and I hope people will see something hopeful in the words, something that perhaps calls courage out from places within that have been forgotten.

My blog is a bench I hope you want to sit on.

We hope the same thing for this space here at (in)courage.

But not everyone will see it that way.

The day I wrote that post, I received a few emails from kind readers who honestly admitted they didn’t feel like part of my community at all. I have too many readers (I can’t possibly know them all), too many comments (I can’t possibly respond to them all), and though they appreciated my writing, they simply see things from a realistic perspective.

They were right in one sense. And if I wrote a blog to become personal friends with everyone who reads, well then you might say I’m a miserable failure at building a bench.

The reality is, I can’t personally connect with everyone who reads. I write and try to communicate honestly, I try to make these online spaces a comfortable place for people to come and connect in the small ways a blog will allow.

But my expectation of the benches I am building through writing books and a blog is not to make thousands of personal friends. Writing online can become this kind of community for some, but it isn’t always.

That doesn’t mean a blog or an (in)RL meeting aren’t still benches. It simply means those can’t be our only benches.

It’s one thing to gather around a bench someone else is building – a blog or an in(RL) meeting or a small group hosted by someone at your church. I don’t want to deny the courage it takes to attend these things.

Still, sitting on a bench may not be the only thing we need.

Because often times once you get there, you realize it isn’t what you hoped it would be.

You realize it’s harder to connect than you thought it might be.

You realize that people can be seriously hurtful.

Sometimes the benches get rusty.

This is the hard part. This is looking deep within ourselves and asking hard questions. We have to admit what we need and what we most long for. We have to grieve our disappointments and be honest about how others aren’t meeting our expectations.

And we also may need to consider something else.

Instead of asking what you need, begin to consider what you have to offer.

Is that a scary question?

Do you believe you have something to offer?

Do you see a need for a different kind of bench in your own life?

Are you waiting for someone else to build it?

What if they’re waiting for you?

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  1. 1

    Thanks for the benches. I appreciate this safe and friendly place to meet. Keep it real, keep it transparent, cover it with love. We all need that. Blessings.

  2. 2

    Thank you, Emily, for encouraging me in my endeavor to build a bench through my blog and in other tangible face to face opportunities in my life. So many times we look for what we can receive, but just like in gift giving, it so often is much more gratifying to give or to offer of ourselves. Great post!
    Blessings,
    Bev

  3. 3

    I just love how blogging (the written word) works the soul inward & outward (as to the need)

  4. 4

    The questions you posted were some of the same questions my Meetup friends asked me when I asked their input for blogging. My (in)RL Meetup was awesome — we are a truly blessed new community. Thanks for your post this morning!!

  5. 5

    Emily: this morning’s post took my breath away. I am moving from Chicago back to my home in Atlanta. Though I regret leaving my new city behind, I realized perhaps God was calling me back-to serve. My parents, 86 and 85 and in deteriorating health, live in an assisted living and sit on benches on the porch-and your phrase brought a picture of them to mind-and tears to my eyes.

    The truth of the matter is that there are always people out there waiting for us-especially when we feel most alone. The trick is turning your focus to their needs. That elderly neighbor upstairs is waiting for your call. Your parents might need a visit-or there might be a friend who’s going through an especially bad time with chemo or other challenges. Thank you for once again opening our eyes to the possibilities of life. Brava!

  6. 6

    Oh this is such a beautiful post Emily! I’ll be sharing this with our (in)courager ladies today – they are some awesome bench builders :) I think the thing I realized after your video in (in)RL is that I already had “benches” – we’ve since renamed our weekly Google Hangout book study group “bench friends” and have been more purposeful about making it happen!

    • 7

      Same here, Crystal! Definitely need to be more purposeful. A friend who had come to the inRL thought I would be hosting something like that every month…and I thought, why not? So…we’ll see what happens… :p

  7. 8

    I love this because its so true. One bench doesn’t always fit all. We all have our own needs for community that aren’t always the same. Finding the right bench can be difficult. I have found that with God’s help I have found different benches but only bc I have been open to new things. I hope that the women reading this will take heart, pray, and be open to new benches.

  8. 9

    I love this because its so true. One bench doesn’t always fit all. Finding the right bench can be difficult. I have found that with God’s help I have found different benches but only bc I have been open to new things. I hope that the women reading this will take heart, pray, and be open to new benches.

  9. 10
    Jennifer M. says:

    Your bench story was terrific, in it`s annalogy to a friendly meeting for Fellowship . I have found ; alot of women are afraid of talking about the Bible, simply because, they haven`t taken the time to read it until they understad it`s teachings . Please you needent know every verse ; but YOUR OWN interpretation of it MAY help another grow , in there understanding . The bottom line is FELLOWSHIP in GOD and his Son JESUS CHRIST . I tried to do a home Bible Study , and the Pastor interfered causeing it to fail miserably , but I still keep the fellowship, I had wanted to grow, just by being at church or with an open email address for all , with of course NO thought of judgeing other`s viewpoint . Jennifer M.

  10. 11
    Kathleen Morrison says:

    You have inspired me to return to my habit of inviting the neighbors on my street to sit on chairs in my backyard just meeting each other and making our street a gentle place where Jesus is invited to dwell, It is a street of Muslims and took years before they would come. I thought nothing was happening but your writing moved me to share the immense love God has given me in any way possible. A bench, indeed! Thank you, Sister.

  11. 12

    Thank you for making a bench for me to sit on, free to just listen and ponder (thanks to your guilt-free comment-or-not post). And ponder I do, as I fold laundry, put away dishes, reflect on conversations. The Lord is using His work in you to work in me. My heart is growing, and skeches of benches small and large are beginning to take shape. Thank you SO much for sharing your bench.

    I am currently reading the book Desperate. In it Sally Clarkson has a quote in chapert 2 on “building benches” that stuck with me when I read it last week: “I have had to start almost every group of which I have ever belonged.” Her point that this is okay. That this is normal. That validation and yours today has gives me even more courage to continue building my benches. “Go forth and build!” :)

  12. 13

    “…*to* which I have ever belonged.” :)

  13. 14
    Colleen says:

    Emily,

    I love your books, I love your blog and the bench you are providing…..I submitted something to In Courage about an experience of forgiveness….

    I have subscribed to many new blogs because of the bench that you have provided…..and it is wonderful. I learn from the experiences of other sisters in the Lord. This does not take the place of face to face friendships, but it does provide a means to learn, share, write…..

    Keep doing what you are doing Emily….God has blessed you with a beautiful gift!

    Everything is Grace,

    Colleen

  14. 15

    Yes! And the last line of this post sums it all up. Thank you!

  15. 16

    I loved this post. A couple years ago (at age 63, believe it or not), I put out “a bench” (a.k.a. my blog) with the help of my graphic designer son.
    http://www.abranchinthevine.com
    It’s been a wonderful journey…but I get discouraged sometime, b/c it seems there’s a “game” you need to play to reach subscribers. And I don’t have the energy for it…does that make sense?
    Anyway, the interesting thing is that although I teach writing, I’ve never enjoyed writing myself. But now I believe it’s God’s time for me. I come from years of teaching the Bible to women as well as homeschooling and helping homeschoolers. So I guess, my next bench (beside my blog) is to finish my ebook/Bible study book on prepositions of Scripture…tentatively titled: The “Prepositions of His Presence: Exploring the Lord’s Relationship with Us.”
    Thank you, Emily, for the opportunity to sit on your bench with you and share. Blessings as you provide more benches for women to share.

  16. 17
    Barb Frost says:

    Just a prayer for someone else on that rusty bench, for whatever that lady needs, whether it is a smile or a brief word of encouragement that God is still on the throne and that He knows their tears and the desires of their hearts, even when they cannot express them-

  17. 18
    Beth Williams says:

    I listened to In Courage alone at home, when I had time. This past weekend I went on a women’s retreat with some women of our church. The 2-hr. van ride there and back is a kind of bench for me. I got to really know some of the people better. Also the overnight stay with my pastor’s wife was awesome. We stayed up a little and talked about stuff. Got to know each other better.

    Thank you for your benches of blogs, books, etc. You are a wonderful writer & Christian lady@

  18. 19

    Poignant while pointed. Thanks for the tough questions at the close. Yes, these are the ones that are often too painful to ask…too revealing. Yet, when they’re answered honestly, tend to give you all the answers. Thanks for providing a bench this morning on which to think, revel, question then rest. Beautifully done.

  19. 20

    I enjoy reading your daily thoughts–they are inspiring and a blessing.

    I have wondered though what is the age group of your small groups?

    Thank you and blessings!!

  20. 21

    I LOVE this… I love the benches that you offer and I strive to do the same thing… on my blog, online and in(RL)!

  21. 22

    Just when I think this story can’t get better it does. I love those benches and your blog and you.

  22. 23

    Glad to know you are Greensboro, I am from Winston-Salem liveing now in Texas for 6 yrs., I miss NC so very much!

  23. 24

    I love the benches you’ve built, Emily, and the ones you all have built here at {in}courage. One of the things about a bench is this: Sometimes, the bench-builder is sitting there with you, but quite often it’s another person who stopped by to sit for a while.

    I think, for instance, about the benches that I’ve built through an online writing community on my blog. I am not able to visit every storyteller who links to the community. However, when I visit others’ sites, I take great joy in seeing how these other writers — who first met on the #TellHisStory bench — have become friends. They are sitting on the bench together, and I don’t always need to be there directing the conversation… On a much larger scale, I have seen that happening over the years with Ann V’s gift-counting community and now with Lisa-Jo’s Five-Minute Friday.

    I think that’s what you all have done so well here at {in}courage. You’ve set out the benches. Sometimes, you’re sitting with us; but when you’re not “right here” the other women who gather here still have each other.

    Keep at it, sister. Your benches matter to God, and they matter to people. (And they matter to me.)

    ~ Jennifer

  24. 25

    Emily, thank you so much for this. Your “bench” story inspired me to be more intentional about building the friendships I have, and to initiate more often. And honestly, sometimes initiating hurts — I invited some of my oldest friends to do a Bible study, and all but two said they had other priorities right now. But I’m hopeful that God will use this smaller group to open up our hearts more. I also invited a newer friend to have a bi-weekly playdate, and am so excited to have that “mommy” time with her — and I think she needs it too. :) Not to mention, our inRL Minnesota ladies have created a Facebook group as our “bench”, and have already gotten together once in person again! Thank you so much for sharing your words — God is building friendships in so many ways through your “bench”. :)

  25. 26

    Wonderful bench story…and yes, thanks for placing them in just the right place for lots of different people. There seems to be a welcome sign on this bench here at (in)courage and at Chatting at the Sky. This is exactly what we set out to do at http://www.CirclesOfFaith.org…we want to be a place that says welcome, that makes space for others to share their stories, and a neighborhood resource for like-minded women (though not always…). We looked around here in the Northeast and didn’t find anyone building the same bench and so we did it. It is scary…uncertain…and awesome!!

  26. 27

    Hey Emily,

    I was with Tsh a couple of weeks ago. We had some good chatting sessions about blogging. I’ve been blogging for 2.5 years and also love it. My motivation is ministry to women and connecting them to God. In the process I’m learning that I also love writing.

    Tsh pointed me to your blog as a good example of look. I had visited before and had liked your look but never thought about how it was different from mine (which I also liked).

    Also LOVE your ideas about place (I think that was something else I just read of yours). I am planning to blog on that soon. Might I use your bench as an illustration?

    Hope to hear from you, sue

  27. 28

    Fabulous! What a wonderful, thought-filled, challenge for us all. Emily, I don’t know you, but I always love your posts and do feel connected to your community in a kindred spirit kind-of-way. Building benches is what love to do. I have a lot of benches out there. But, it is impossible to sit on every one at the same time. Thank you for creating a “fluid bench community” at your blog where people can come and go as they need.

  28. 29

    Strangely enough the questions you ask were part of what I did this morning during my quiet time: go over the gifts, talents, and passions God has given me and ask questions of how I can use them. Until my college graduation, the opportunities to serve others and be in community were already in place for me, but now I’m in a transition phase of learning what the post-grad life of serving Jesus looks like. I suppose its time to build my bench.

  29. 30

    This is such a fresh perspective on how we are called to be in community – and what exactly our place within it, is. I loved this, Emily! The bench idea was already so inviting. Add to it the question of which bench (I) should be building, and it makes for one awesome encouragement (and challenge!).

  30. 31

    So true. We are a consumer society, waiting for something to give unto us. Our souls need to give unto others. Thanks for the encouragement!

  31. 32

    Emily you make God happy. Keep writing ………..thoughts out loud, good deeds done. Inspiration for the lonely. Thanks. Teresa

  32. 33

    Maybe while we (I) get busy building a bench for others to enjoy I will find what I need along the way. Thank you for the words.

  33. 34
    Caroline says:

    Your blog is definitely a bench I enjoy sitting on. It’s a lovely bench!

  34. 35

    Loved the Bench – I’m in the process of assessing the rusty benches, the ones needing a new coat of paint and most importantly the new benches I’m building!
    I hadn’t quite thought about the analogy until I read your heart-felt writing. Thank you!

  35. 36
    Heather L Powell says:

    Below is something I wrote after reading this & sent to my small group. Stepping out in faith to share with you all . . .
    Bench Flooded By Water:
    By Heather L Powell

    Jesus stood and spoke: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Does anyone believe in me? Then, just as Scripture says, streams of living water will flow from inside him.” John 7:38

    “I will bless any man who trusts in me. I will show my favor to the one who depends on me. He will be like a tree planted near water. It sends its roots beside a stream. It is not afraid when the heat comes. Its leaves are always green. It does not worry when there is no rain. It always bears fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7 – 8

    I recently heard of a simple Bench building community. The story is of neighbors who knew each other by sight and sometimes chatted by mailboxes. Then one day, a bench appeared. The bench became a natural spot to sit and watch the kids play and ride bikes. Gradually those who had brief chats by mailboxes would find themselves gathering at the bench to share life’s joys and struggles together (sometimes for hours). Neighbors who had known of each other for years actually grew to know each other thanks to the neutral ground of a bench. The bench created a bridge to community.

    Oasis (DivorceCare) was a bench to community for me. Every Monday night, we’d tentatively open up and share our wounds, our hopes. I am grateful for the glimpse of God’s redemption in each story, even in the anguish and heartache. My Thursday night Small Group gives me a similar safe place to grow and be healed by community.

    Earlier today, heavy hearted and lonely I stopped for a short break in my workday. The outside called to me. I wanted to hear the birds and wind in the trees. With only a few moments, I started down the walkway longing to be wonderstruck by God’s presence. Craving His peace. I noticed water had flooded the area along the path from the recent storm. I prayed, “Lord, will you flood me with Your Spirit, Your Goodness as a result of the storm of unexpected divorce in my life? I long to be saturated by You, Your Living Water, Your Grace, Your Hope. Flood me Lord. Don’t let this pain be in vain.”

    Halting abruptly, I chuckled as I saw a bench around the bend with rushing water surrounding it. Recalling the recent story of the Bench, I was wonderstruck by the sound of the water, the sunlight reflecting through the green trees and this glorious bench appearing to float in the water. My soul sighed within me. I couldn’t go any further unless I was willing to get soaked.

    You are my Community – God places the lonely in family. I miss the family I once had. I miss my husband and miss being a wife. That dream has been shattered. But I have you, friends near and far whom God uses to mend the broken pieces of my heart. I admit, right now . . . I need you in my life. The independent side of me cringes as I acknowledge this need. I prefer to be strong, capable. Truth is: I have been hurting but if I believe & trust in Him, streams of living water will flow from me and I will not fear the heat or worry because I will be firmly rooted in Him. And if we are purposeful in seeking Him, intentional in building community with each other —- I believe we will get soaked as we are flooded by His Living Water.

    It takes risk. Have you been lonely lately? Thirsty to know He sees you and believes in you? He believes in you and me enough to die for us. Will you meet me at the bench rising above the storms of this life to spur each other on?

    Let us not forget about one another as we move forward. It takes effort. Reach out to Him, extend a word of encouragement to one who needs it. You are Beloved of God. I am too. Breathe. Look around, be wonderstruck by His Love for you. It doesn’t have to be earned, it just is. You are His.

    • 37
      Valerie Hohenberger says:

      Heather, you have written such a wonderful story! I am sorry that you have been hurt, feel lonely, or alone. You are also an encourager! God surely smiles when He sees you and how you are pointing others to Him!

  36. 38

    Love this analogy! ;)

  37. 39

    Stumbled onto your site this Sunday morning and was blessed by the sincerity of your folks who participated. I will return to this bench, I think. I felt a kindred spirit or two. Bless you all.

  38. 40

    Simply.Love!

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