Mirrors

Shannan Martin // incourage.me

The day before the first day of school, my kids woke up with more fire under their feet than usual. After two months with nowhere pressing to be, we had an agenda, and it happened to be just a couple blocks down the street.

My 5th and 3rd graders made their own breakfast, laced up their sneakers, and circled me impatiently as I boiled water for tea. They begged to go early, and I set them free.

Over the next hour, the two of them rode their bikes along the buckled sidewalk to our little church at the end of street, then back again. Looking both ways before crossing, whizzing past new neighbors and empty rental units, they were shorter versions of the big-city bicycle couriers seen in the movies.

“They need pickles!”

“Do we have any vases?”

“We’ll take the buns down in our backpacks! We won’t squish them.”

By the time my six-year-old and I arrived, the nondescript fellowship hall was decked out in plastic tablecloths, tiny vases of flowers, and a spread of church carry-in fare that everyone should be so lucky to experience at least once in their lifetime. Store-bought potato salad and so-and-so’s famous rhubarb pie sat in wait while we paced. My kiddos, the ones who grumble over chores and search for shortcuts at home, marched dutifully from task to task, positioning cold cuts on faux cut-glass trays, artfully arranging hamburger buns like a celebrated catering duo.

Right at noon, the teachers filed in — their teachers, along with the others. The line for the buffet stretched out the door, and my heart was pulled with gratitude.

What more could I ask, than for my kids to be loved so well by so many?

The work we do as parents is significant and the stakes often feel too high. So many nights my husband and I lament over our mistakes. We default too quickly to guilt-mongering. We’re the opposite of long-suffering. We lord our authority. We offer grace too extravagantly. (Or is that even possible?)

The good news is, God never meant for us to parent in a vacuum. The even-better news is, His plan for all His kids involves a glimmering web of other humans, placed in close proximity of one another just so His glory could bounce around and land square in the eye of you, me, our children, the spatula-wielding widow, the retiree, and the hopeful souls who fill the brick school building across the street from August to June.

We do our part as parents, and our community helps to fill in the gaps.

That teacher luncheon wasn’t my idea, and I didn’t even bake a pie. All I did was wrestle myself reluctantly out of my yoga pants and show up.

But in these days, where we’re always looking for bigger and better, shinier and more production-ready, I’m beginning to notice the beauty of the small places, where a handful of humble hearts cobble together the best they have to offer, along with the most ordinary. You bake a cake, I’ll grab a bag of chips. You laugh at my first-grader’s jokes (you’re a saint!) and I’ll snip nearly-spent flowers from my yard and plunk them in a jar.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It seems love can be a cold ham sandwich, weak lemonade, and a once-gruff Army sergeant scooping mustard into tiny dishes. Service can be sweaty-necked kids taking orders and fielding hugs from gray-haired grannies.

At its very best, church can mean surveying the landscape with near-sighted eyes, identifying a need, and reflecting Light.

In a world that tells us small means weak, it can be tempting to fret about our place in God’s kingdom. Go ahead and sigh, because it turns out we weren’t made for world domination or national notoriety.

“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord — who is the Spirit — makes us more and more like Him as we are changed into His glorious image.” {2 Corinthians 3:18}

We were made to link arms and rub shoulders. We were created to make unremarkable sacrifices with great love.

We were made to be mirrors.

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  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Shannan,
    When I read this post, a part of me ached for a community like the one you describe. I once lived in a small town in my cross country journeys, but now I live in the sprawling suburbs where a lot of that sense of community is lost. I must admit I miss the hodge-podge potlucks at the church. I believe that God built into us a desire for that sense of community…it’s good for us and good to us. The earliest churches were held in homes. We would do well to work toward that model of the community of Christ. Beautiful post!
    Bev
    Bev

    • Diana Fleenor

      Bev (and Shannan),
      I immediately related to the ache you described. I agree with you that in the “sprawling suburbs” that sense of community can be lost. It is what I have experienced too. I also have that desire for community that seems to be much more difficult to find in the current circumstances that I’m in. My heart also aches from my now adult daughter who I see struggling to establish the community that Shannan described in this blog. Yet, as you said, Bev, “We would do well to work toward that model of community of Christ”. So, I’m praying for you, for my daughter and her husband and for my husband and I to pursue community even in the midst of the mountains we face. May we have the mustard seed faith to move the mountains!
      Thanks, Shannan, for sharing your inspirational story so we know what to seek in prayer and action. Thank you, Bev, for sharing your ache and aim to pursue community as such. Blessings to you!

      • Penny

        Dianna,

        I agree with you completely and understand what your daughter must be feeling.

        Penny

    • Candy

      I often felt the same way, until I invited my own group of women over to share, fellowship and now eat together.
      Be the friend you want!
      Candy

      • Penny

        Candy,

        You are very fortunate to have found the friends you have. Unfortunately not everyone is like them.

        Penny

      • Diana Fleenor

        Yes, Candy, I agree with you that it is good and right to invite others to share in fellowship like you have done and suggested.
        Personally, however, I have a barrier that has come upon me through an illness. It requires others to make life style changes so that I can function. Disabling symptoms (pain, cognitive dysfunction, digestive problems, fatigue, etc.) occur when I am exposed to even the slightest fragrance (among other things). Therefore, others would have to take the time and effort to rid themselves of these scents for me to be able to truly partake in the fellowship. This is something very few people have the time or patience for. Thus, the mountains I referred to in my situation.
        However, I am praying daily for the Lord to make a way and there are a couple of people at a local church who are attempting to make themselves as scent-free as possible for us to have visits at least occasionally. For now, I continue pursue community via online and by phone.
        Candy, I am so glad that you took the initiative to invite this group of women over! May the Lord bless you in your community!!

        • Flower Patch Farmgirl

          I’m so sorry to hear this heartache, Diana. I’m grateful for the few that are taking the time for your sake. YOU are worth it!
          I also find myself wondering if there might be others with your needs somewhere nearby? Seems like that could make for a pretty fun and powerful connecting point.
          Much love to you today!

    • Penny

      Bev,

      If you lived closer to me you would be more than welcome in my home.
      Take Care,
      Penny

      • Flower Patch Farmgirl

        I really love seeing THIS little community of caring, happening right here. :)

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl

      Honestly, this is probably the thing that most keeps my heart pulled to the city. I still ache for a stronger/”better” community, but I don’t really have excuses here, where I cross paths with people in my neighborhood many times a day. A friend of mine in the suburbs once commented that with attached garages, it can be nearly impossible to even SEE neighbors. One more reason to keep the garage so messy that we can’t park in it! ;)
      Community can be hard work, but the effort is usually rewarded.
      Thank you always for your kind encouragement!

  • Kristine Brown MTY

    Beautiful Shannan. This reminded me of something similar we have in our East Texas town. There’s a church in town that provides a full breakfast for the new teachers each year at the start of teacher inservice, complete with free school supplies! It’s such a blessing, and brings us together as a community. Your words here are so true – God called us to these moments right in front of us. Blessings!

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl

      Love stories like these! Thanks for sharing.

  • Penny

    Shannan,

    Your post was really heartwarming, you are very fortunate. It would be wonderful if all communities were like your’s is.

    I thought mine was for the number of years I have made it my home and raised my family. Recently when I opened the paper this was quoted,
    “You are not from here, you don’t care.” I know it wasn’t meant directly towards me but since I’m not from here either my sense of belonging has been shattered. Regardless I will stay until I’m meant to be elsewhere.

    Thank-you for sharing such a wonderful memory with us….
    Penny

    • Diana Fleenor

      Penny, I feel your shattered heart in my own as I, too, have struggled with the sense of belonging. I do believe that the Lord is bringing healing to this loss in my own even though I continue to struggle to establish a close knit community of strong believers around me. Through His Word, the Lord continues to touch my heart with words encouraging me to cry out to Him in my loneliness. I’m asking Him to move the mountains that keep Christian community at bay in my life, I am praying this for you, Penny, right now. I hope the following words will bring you hope and the ability to persevere in prayer (they have help me so much)…
      “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16). “God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing…” (Psalm 68:6).

      • Penny

        Diana,

        Thank-you so much for your prayers and kindness, I am deeply touched.
        I pray that you will be accompanied by people like yourself in your life.
        All the best to you,
        Penny

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl

      What a disheartening quote. I’m also an out-of-stater (not to mention out-of-towner!) and this would discourage me, too.
      I can tell by the way you share your heart here that you’re a wonderful addition to your community. And I KNOW there are people in your area who would agree with me. Praying you find just one of them soon. Maybe today?

    • Chelsea

      Penny , do you live in Plain City, OH? I ask this because because I have seen some comments like this in our small town.

    • Beth Williams

      Penny,
      I am deeply saddened by the comment in the paper. It was obviously written by an insensitive uncaring person who is only thinking of him/herself. Prayers for your shattered heart. I wish people would use their words more carefully! Prayers for a sense of peace and contentment!
      Blessings my friend!

  • JeanneTakenaka

    Shannan, I loved this post. And the reminders you offer that we’re not meant to walk through life alone. We are mirrors of the Lord’s love . . . where we are. And where we are is exactly where God wants us reflecting His love.

    This line: “His plan for all His kids involves a glimmering web of other humans, placed in close proximity of one another just so His glory could bounce around and land square in the eye of you, me, our children, the spatula-wielding widow, the retiree, and the hopeful souls who fill the brick school building across the street from August to June.” This spoke to me today. Thank you!

    • Flower Patch Farmgirl

      Ah, thank you, Jeanne!
      Hope the sun is shining on your face wherever you are today.

  • http://www.msmoozy.com/ Debra @ Msmoozys Open House

    Shannan, This is a great reminder! I am constantly struggling where we live right now but I know God has a purpose for me to be here. I know the people around me I question all the time for their morals and the way they raise their families but I am being humbled even if I don’t like it….LOL I am learning to accept all kinds of people. I don’t have to agree with the their ways but learning to share love and hope with them, being the person that God wants me to be. Learning slowly and I hate how shallow I sound when I talk about it some times but I guess acceptance of everyone is Gods way so I have asked Him to soften my heart to His ways. I hope that makes sense…..LOL Ok sorry for rambling. ~Hugs~ Thanks Shannan for sharing this really important lesson with us all today.

  • Deena Marie

    Always enjoy your blog Shannon. Your discriptions and word pitures make me feel like I’m living next door and having tea on the porch with you. Love your heart and can’t wait to here how you fill the days with the kiddos back to school. Enjoy the weekend. Shalom

  • http://martysmoosetracks.blogspot.com/ Marty

    Love this post so much! And this line: At its very best, church can mean surveying the landscape with near-sighted eyes, identifying a need, and reflecting Light.” YES, YES, YES! Beautiful reminder that ministry doesn’t have to be BIG to be effective for the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t require that we travel long distances to countries far away (altho it could). It could be right where we are. Survey…identify…reflect. :)

  • Bonnie Stafford

    This reminded me so much of the small town and small church I grew up in. We had then (naturally and organically) the kind of “community” that so many churches are now trying to conjure up. I grew up interacting with people of all ages. If any one of those adults had corrected me, it would have been just as if one of my parents had done it. What a great way it was to grow up! Segregating everything by age group robs EVERYONE of that needed intergenerational interaction. The youth need to know middle-aged people. Children need to know senior adults. Then it truly becomes a family. I still live in the same small town and belong to the same small church. But things are so much different now, and not all for the better. Thanks for this, Shannan. I could almost see your kids peddling those bikes!

  • Beth Williams

    Shannan,

    I grew up outside a big city and usually attended large churches with two morning services. When I got married my husband took me to his country church. I wasn’t sure I would like it as it is small and filled mostly with older people. Crazy thing is the people in that church are super friendly! The first day I was at church someone came by and said hello & made me feel welcome. Since then I have made a lot of connections with people of all ages. Some of my best friends are at that church. We get involved in the community with a free pancake breakfast once a year, help with local missions, and do our best to be faithful and loving congregation!

    Loved this: God’s plan for us involves a glimmering web of other humans, placed in close proximity to one another. I totally agree!! We need to mirror Christ and put everyone together. Do not separate by age. That way young people will grow to know and love middle aged and elderly people!
    Blessings :)