Grief Has a Voice (Are You Listening?)

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At the worst of times, in the worst of places, we hear the whisper.

“There’s something more to this,” it says.

“Lean in,” it implores.

We aren’t often told that the Holy Spirit and Grief are partners.

Mostly, we’re taught a narrative that they oppose one another, that we should trust the Spirit but keep the words of Grief far, far from our hearts, because she will surely tell us something we don’t want to hear. She will surely break us and we won’t know how to put it back together again.

But if we imagine Grief and the Spirit as partners, the voice of God takes on human flesh all over again, for Jesus's life was full of grieving.

He grieved as he left home, when his days of carpentry were over.

He grieved when he moved through the wilderness and into his calling.

He grieved from Gethsemane.

It taught him who he was.

And every season of shedding a piece of his identity only to take on a purer one required the work of Grief– holy work, indeed.

We are people who numb, fix, and manipulate pain.

But Grief has something important to say, whether we want to hear it or not.

I suggest we try.

Because when we realize that we are not the only ones who are grieving– that all of humanity grieves, individually and collectively– we understand how the Spirit works.

The Spirit, birthed from Jesus himself as a gift to us, leads us out of isolation and toward one another.

And when we get there, it doesn’t mean that Grief’s work is done, that we’ve arrived at a place of joy, with no more sadness or sorrow.

It means that we continue listening to what Grief has to say, and we do it together.

She teaches us to care for our enemies.

She teaches us to forgive.

She teaches us to let God mend our hearts.

She leads us out of racism, sexism, greed, bigotry, and idolatry.

She calls us toward wholeness, if we only let her do the work.

And the Spirit holds her hand along the way.

So my friend, next time you hear Grief whispering for you, pay attention.

She is a gift in a form we don’t always understand.

But her voice is universal.

We are a nation grieving.

We live on an earth that grieves.

We go to church and synagogue and temple with grieving people.

We share sidewalks and cubicles and turning lanes with others who grieve.

That’s why Shalom’s work is not yet done.

And for all the distortions of peace that come with our bodies and souls, Grief and Shalom are partners, too, teaching us that community always works alongside the moving parts of everyone.

And we’ve got to work through the pain to get to the other side.

“First the pain, then the rising.”

–Glennon Doyle Melton

So may we lean in.

May we listen.

May we grieve.

And may we journey toward Shalom together.

 

Amen.

Day 7: Individual & Communal Belief

{DISCLAIMER: These reflections are solely my reflections from my journey as a Potawatomi woman. They do not reflect the journey or stories of every indigenous person, and it should not be assumed that every indigenous person has the same experiences. Thank you for joining me here. May we grow toward unity together.}

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It is very difficult to separate culture from our internal faith in God.

Our theology, while individual, is also built around the communities we grow up with, the ways we’re taught to view God. I’ve noticed a huge difference between native communities and other American communities with the way life is viewed as individualistic versus communal.

In our Christian faith, we’re called to be communal, aren’t we? We’re called to the table, to share meals together. The Bible itself lives a communal culture of people historically, and it’s something that I think the American church can learn from today.

So where did things go wrong from that time to what we see today? Somehow, American culture was mixed with faith, and we ended up with institutionalized church gatherings, buildings, services that, though they try to reach communal living, are still often full of people living individually because our culture naturally leaves us separated and compartmentalized.

But then I remember that indigenous culture is built around community. It is built around families, clans, people groups, homes, community centers.

Because I don’t live where my tribe is in Oklahoma, I feel the tension of that. As I learn more about my tribe and other tribes’ ways of life historically, it draws me more toward communal living, which, in many ways, runs opposite the way many Americans live. We are a tired, busy, often impatient people who do not always stop to see.

I’ve been changing that slowly in my life over the past few years, and it’s hard. But I know it’s right because my ancestors did it. They lived for and with one another. They belonged to their clans, to their families, and they made a point of living communally.

So how do we do that today? How do we run against so much of American culture? 

I’ve found that when I live communally, inviting others into my home, making space for conversations, we become addicted to it. We realize our need to be with others, to clean our house for that meal so that others can be comfortable with us. And hopefully it encourages others to do the same.

Then we can think of the possibility of really going to the neighbor’s house to borrow a cup of sugar. Then maybe it’s possible to rake someone’s yard or take them flowers or ask how their father’s cancer treatments are going.

Somehow, when we begin to live communally, we begin to look more like people who love. And when we look like people who love, we become people who love. Then the world starts to change. Then America starts to change.

Indigenous cultures have a lot to teach about this. And instead of believing that it’s silly or impossible, we believe that it’s possible and necessary.

Today, my book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places comes out! I’m so excited to tell you that you can buy it online, but it’s ALSO going to be in Barnes & Noble, so if you’re like me and you enjoy walking through a bookstore with real-life books lining shelves in front of you, my book will be on those shelves with a host of my heroes next to me.

I’m sharing a snippet of the book with you today, because there’s an entire chapter of the book dedicated to community, to what it means to live a life connected to others. I hope you enjoy this story from my life, and as you read it, challenge yourself to consider the ways in which you can begin to break down the habits of individualistic living to pick up the habits of communal living.


 

The Early Church

You think because you understand one you must understand two, because one and one make two. But you must also understand and. —Sufi saying

In our early married church-going days, we attended a little nondenominational congregation, grace-based in belief and charismatic in worship. For community group, we spent the evenings in Justin and Kari’s home with their four kids.

I’d sit in the kitchen and watch Kari do what she does—scrub the sink clean, speak to me about what it means to walk in the Spirit while making dinner for all of us and cleaning out the coffee grinder. She taught me how to eat dark chocolate and sprout raw almonds, how to drink wine and laugh.

We could hear Justin playing guitar in the living room, and worship permeated our air, blending with the smell of that ground coffee.

I learned a new language of community with these people. I learned family and meal-sharing—how to speak about being a parent without actually being one.

I just watched them most of the time, and it was a blessing to be brought into their kind reality. I didn’t take it lightly. Kari showed me what the all-encompassing role of mother and wife and church leader and friend and psychologist and rock climber looks like.

It’s been years since we’ve been with that community, in that particular home, but I can picture it still. I can see the blue and gray hues in the front room and see Uriah and Avery playing chess with Travis at the kitchen table. I can smell the brewed cup of coffee that Justin just poured and hear Rhoen screaming as he runs through the house, laughing. Cana is hanging off her dad’s arms, gymnast that she’s always been.

And I see our little church, hands lifted in worship, bodies swaying to the rhythm of music and Spirit.

I remember the way we prayed together, the way we sought God together, the way we screwed up together and tried our best to take grace anyway.

On Sunday mornings long before church started, I worked in the kitchen with and Bailey, the breakfast crew that would bake cinnamon rolls and rearrange messy drawers and brew the coffee for everyone to drink throughout the service.

That community was where Travis and I learned to lead small groups, with our whole selves thrown in, just like our friends Justin and Kari before us. They live in a new place now, and I try to picture their family space, the adventures they go on every day, the way they face life and work and worship as a family.

And when I scrub my kitchen sink, every single time, I think of Kari and that church, that community that birthed us into our marriage and carried us for a few short years before we moved on to a new season in a new town.

That early church and those early people poured life into us, helped us shape the soil we would let ourselves grow out of, letting our roots reach down past the mud to get to the water-source.

One season, years and years ago, long before us, the earliest church shaped another group of people, people who learned to care for each other and share their possessions and speak of soul-things. Maybe they ate almonds and dark chocolate and drank coffee, too.

Maybe they cultivated their soil the same way we did, tending to the roots that would one day be fruitful and grow a world that longs to know and belong to God.

Hallelujah for that early church and the many generations of community that have come after her.

 

Holy Spirit,

I wonder how it felt for you to blow through

that place all those years ago,

like a caged bird suddenly sweeping its wings

freely across the world outside.

You were already around,

already present,

but something new happened there

and something steady and good

took place from that day on.

You became a kind of tangible thing

that they’d always longed for

and were probably afraid to know.

But there you were,

and today you’re still sweeping by,

still invading and speaking

and bringing so much

good that we could

never understand it all

with our human hearts.

Still, sweep by us

and into us

and make us

wholly yours.

Amen.


 

Staying Rooted in an Uprooted World

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Have you ever noticed that the tops of the trees sway wildly when it’s windy?

I took the boys to one of our new favorite spots in Atlanta, a walking trail with a lake and two picnic tables where we sit and read, where we thread fallen leaves onto pine needles  and make habitats with sticks and dirt.

Last week, my oldest found an arrowhead there, and so it is, in many ways, sacred space to us. It is our getaway right outside the city.

We’ve been watching the new Magic Schoolbus series, and there is an episode about architecture and the Big Bad Wolf–they are trying to design the perfect house for the Three Little Pigs that won’t get blown down. When the kids and their teacher realize that the trees are the answer to their problems–that their rooted trunks do not easily break in the wind–they apply the circular tree design to their house for the Three Little Pigs play and it is a success.

You see, they discovered that the way the trees were grounded during the storm was the answer. Most of the trees were steady and safe, despite harsh winds.

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These days are full of acute, concentrated heaviness. We mourn and long, we hope and despair, constantly and all at once. That is, of course, the human condition, but it is exhausting, and it often leaves us feeling listless and unsettled.

And so, we have to find rootedness. We have to be grounded in something.

And if you’re a Christian like I am, the American church doesn’t feel like the safest place right now.

As a Native American woman, the church isn’t always the best place for me to find God. Because I’ve realized that the church is also out there. It is in the wilderness where I am grounded. 

A few days ago when I took my boys back to our favorite spot and watched the trees quietly sway, I listened. I listened as acorns fell from the heights above us. I lay on the bench of the picnic table, once again in awe of a created world that I get to belong to, tend to, learn from. I felt rooted again.

It was in a similar place that I was brought back to my identity as a Potawatomi woman a few years ago, on a walking trail. In that moment, when God reminded me of who I am, opened up my world, and lifted a veil that had been covering my eyes, I saw everything clearly, and I found that even though my journey is difficult, its beauty outweighs its heaviness, and it brings me to a rootedness that I’ve never had before in my life.

The answers have always been outside, whether we notice or not. They are in the trees and the dirt beneath my feet. Somehow, the wilderness allows us to ask questions of life, of God, of ourselves, of each other, and whether we find the answers we’re looking for, what grounds us to this earth and to this journey is that we belong. We are held steady in the chaos, rooted even though things are broken.

And the wilderness does not discriminate. The trees do not look at me differently than they look at you. The lake lets you see your reflection on her face, and the ducks still float by gracefully. The acorns still fall from the trees, the squirrels still bury their winter food in the dirt, and the bees still search for honey and sting anyone who gets in their way.

But when we become a part of that, when we get to sit in the company of a created world, we see ourselves.

We remember that we are small, created things, made to belong, to be interconnected, and that is the grandest mystery, isn’t it?

That in itself is all I need, and it’s all you need, if only for a moment of re-charging and remembering.

So when the brokenness of the world makes you tired, run to the forest.
Remember how small you are.
Watch the leaves change.
Listen to acorns fall from the heights.
Let the wind and the water talk to you about what it means to heal.
Let The Creator show you the benevolent, secret places.

And root yourselves again. Dig your heels into the dirt and remember that it is okay to long for wholeness, and it is better to seek it out where it can be found.

So let the wildernesses– the rolling hills, the forests and the lakes, the rivers and the rocks, be your guide. Let them bring you back to yourself, to that still, small voice that has always called us rooted in an often uprooted world.


 

 

My book, Glory Happening: Finding the Divine in Everyday Places is out for PRE-ORDER! You can order your copy here.

Can’t wait for you to read it and find your own stories in mine.

 

When The Good Things Become Visible

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Mno waben. Mno waben.

I held my three year old son in the early morning light,  held him in the middle of my room as he stumbled in after waking up from his night of rest.

We are learning our language, the language of the Potawatomi people, words that were carried for centuries by word of mouth and then put down on paper in a readable and writable language.

The words carry so much in themselves. The stories, the imagery, the use of body language to tell the tale– this is how the world has worked for centuries.

We continue the tradition today.

It will take a good long while to be comfortable in speaking the Potawatomi language. We sit down at the computer and we recite the words again and again, hoping they stick.

We aren’t quite learning through immersion, but we’re trying to immerse ourselves, anyway. So in the mornings, I try to say mno waben, good morning to both of my boys.

Mno waben. 

Literally, it means that good time when things become visible.

So I wake with my sons and we proclaim that it is good for things to come into the light. It is good for our lives to become visible to the light of day.

We spend so much of our time running.

We run because we don’t know how to slow down.

We run from our pain, our worries, our sorrows.

We run from the things that make us uncomfortable.

We run from intimacy, from vulnerability.

Sometimes we run from God.

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But in the morning, we wake to find that things are made visible– and it is good.

It is good that we lay our souls bare to the light.

It is good that we say hello to another dawn.

It is good that we journey into an awareness that we are not alone, and therefore, we are invited to know ourselves, to know each other, to know God, to know this world that we inhabit.

What if, when we wake in the morning, we call each other into the light? What if we beckon each other into a kind of living that says, you are good, and it is good to become visible, to become known, to be seen.

I think our days would fall into place a little differently.

I think our interactions with each other would be a little gentler.

I think the way we see ourselves would become a little clearer,

and maybe, just maybe, we’d finally stop running.

We’d embrace the light.

We’d lay ourselves bare at the dawn of the day, and carry the light of a benevolent world into our every encounter.

Mno waben, friends. 

Go now into the visible light.

 

 

The New Church Revival

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A few weeks ago someone on Facebook invited me to their church revival, an event with a picture a little white, midwest church.

Now this revival could have been a lot of things, but judging from the atmosphere of where I grew up, it was probably centered around a little hellfire and brimstone, a little fear to get people to the pearly gates.

That’s the God I used to count my tallies toward, the guy with a white beard, the Zeus-like man who closely resembled King Triton from The Little Mermaid. 

I’ve shared here before about the hurt that I carried from that view of God.

Seven years later, I’m still shedding the skin of that pain, still trying to re-configure the image of God for myself– and in reality, all I can come up with is great and loving Mystery.

Richard Rohr calls it benevolent love, and that’s exactly it– some sort of out-of-world goodness.

The purpose of a revival is to bring out a heart change, to renew the soul and point all lives toward Heaven.

But somewhere along the line we’ve lost something, maybe misunderstood Kingdom.

Jesus is as much here as He is there; the Mystery of God is as much present as it is future-eternal.

And so maybe we need a new church revival, the kind that transforms communities out of the overflow of love instead of fear.

Maybe we should revive ourselves in a different way–

a revival in the way we tip our waitresses and support local farmers;

a revival in the way we participate in protecting and restoring the environment;

a revival in the language we use toward those who are different than us;

a revival in how we care for the broken and marginalized;

a revival in the animosity-talk of church and national politics;

a revival in the way we value our children and their role in the church and our families;

a revival in how we define ourselves as human beings instead of separate nations scattered around this earth;

a total revival in the way we see the extreme love of Jesus for every living creature.

We’re asking why people leave the church again and again, and maybe this answers a sliver of that question.

For years, the revival has been a weekend or weeklong event, staged to bring a dramatic change to a community– and we’ve certainly seen it happen.

But this kind of work, this re-defining of the church, a re-defining of ourselves, our language toward each other–

this may take a while.

And the good news is that we are not abandoned, waiting for the sting of armageddon.

We are present to the Kingdom of Jesus, to shalom, to this benevolent love, and that is the restorative-revival-life that we are meant to lead everyday in our lives.

Hallelujah for the lifelong revival work.

 

The Glass Half Empty Is The Glass Half Full: the sweetness of community

There’s something known to be proven in my experience of being in community.

If people gather together in a space and are asked to share their story over a bowl of chili, something holy will happen sooner or later.

You find all these connections between yourselves, and somehow the whole world brings itself to your corner.

Our church launched Koinonia Groups this week, and ours met for chili in our little place.

Some of us are vegetarians and some are meat eaters; some drink our coffee black and some load it with cream; we like tortilla chips or we don’t, but we all like Miki’s chocolate cake.

When you’re seated in a circle, looking each other in the face, it’s pretty clear that the choice is to engage or disengage, open up or close tight, be vulnerable or stay inside yourself where no one else can reach.

Our church is going through a big transition, a big growing pain that hurts for some more than others, hurts for everyone in different ways.

And in the overlap of sharing these stories, of finding our commonalities and differences, we see the soul perspective.

The importance of sharing with each other is to understand each other. If I know your hurt, if I know your history, I understand your needs, I understand your reactions, and appreciate your perspective without having to agree with it.

And there, the church has some growing up to do, because we do not honor the story or the story-teller.

When the glass if half empty to you, it’s half full to me; and when I’m all tired out, you hold me up then and there, and it’s a constant cycle for the rest of our lives and into eternity.

This is about more than the optimist and the pessimist, about more than a personality type. This is the church being the church.

This is people being people.

This is what it looks like for honor to beset honor.

And there we find something that is nectar to us, a full soul-meal, a sort of communion in our coming together and serving one another.

Koinonia.

If we are to take seriously the work of loving each other, we should take seriously the work of hearing each other. And if we take seriously the work of hearing each other, there is nothing left to do but give thanks for the benevolent journey we walk together every single day of our lives.

So get out the bowls and cook the chili, friends.

Put the chairs in a circle and speak life out of reverence for each other’s lives, and see what happens.

 

 

Day 12: Lent for my Moment of Silence

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Every week at our church, our pastor engages us in a moment of silence.

You can hear the occasional cough, a child asking what’s going on–

You can hear human breathing, our hearts beating out a steady rhythm.

In the big sanctuary service yesterday, all of us were gathered together,

and I saw the dust particles carry our prayers into the air,

up to the ceiling,

under the pews where we sat,

right up to and against the stained-glass windows that surround the space.

And Pastor Dale quoted the old spirit-words, “It’s me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.”

Lent, then, is about our breath,

about our stillness,

our waiting,

our calm,

our trying to be quiet.

And it is about doing that together, claiming as a body of people

or as a community of friends

or as a blood-related family

that we will listen for God’s voice together,

especially when we are so unsure of everything else

nowadays.

May we learn the sometimes-awkward and precious art of

practicing quiet together,

of facing our palms to the sky

to remind ourselves that we are to receive

something good when we are postured this way.

And so we all breathe together,

Jesus,

You knew us yesterday,

You know us today,

You know us tomorrow.

We breathe You in

and out

and pray that our air

fills with You

every moment

until Kingdom come.

Amen. 

day 6: Lent for my Neighbor

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Ashley and I met at a breakfast place and sat at a table by the window.

The air outside was chilly for Georgia, but with Ashley, things always seem warm.

She’s the friend I laugh with, the friend I cry with, the friend I ask questions with.

So we split some hash browns and drank our coffee with cream and sugar.

We talked life and community and what it means to love people.

This is what happens when we are together–

communion over a biscuit with ice water,

church at the two-person table in the winter sunlight.

Lent is for our alone moments,

our quiet and calm seconds.

But Lent is also for our cackling with a friend,

for our crying with people who see all of us,

who understand that we are human flesh and miraculous spirit, too.

Lent is for the neighbors we spend our moments with,

the one in the apartment next door,

my dear neighbor sitting across the table from me.

And so, again,

God is bigger than I imagined yesterday,

and I can never say that He wasn’t right

with us where we needed Him most.

Admitting We’re Lonely: the unknown shape of friendship

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There’s a difficult truth I’ve been trying to swallow lately, and it is that this past year has been really difficult for friendships and relationships.

Community certainly looks different in each season of life, but when the days are long and I can’t think of a friend to call when I need an extra hand–

well, that’s a tough reality.

It’s certainly not that there’s no one to love us, it’s just about the manifestation and availability of that love.

In this city, I’ve met a handful of women who live just out of reach– an hour is a long drive when you have two toddlers in the back seat.

It’s odd for me to feel alone, because I’m one of those persistent types who doesn’t mind asking again and again for a coffee date with a friend or for some help with my boys.

So I admit how tired I am,

I admit that this season has been hard,

I admit that I’d like a friend to bring me a vanilla latte and help me scrub my kitchen floor,

and I’d like to do the same at their place,

because that’s what friendship has always meant to me.

It’s hard to have to re-define things, to have to lose things and grieve for things–

I’m still grieving for past friendships, still wishing I could have a piece of that community and this community, but that’s not how life flows.

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Shauna Niequist says it like this:

“I believe that faith is less like following a GPS through a precise grid of city blocks, and more like being out at sea: a tricky journey, nonlinear and winding, the wind kicking up and then stalling.” 

My friend Dawn is releasing a book about friendship this month, and if you find yourself where I am– or anywhere else for that matter– you could use the kinds of stories that are found there.

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It did exactly what it needed to, and from the moment I opened to the first page, I began the hard task of looking and being honest about where I find myself right now, what I feel when it comes to the people who make up our family here in the city.

So I read and I wonder and I do all that’s left– what should have been done first–

I pray.

I pray for someone who’s on the other side of this who can help me,

or someone who is daily in this kind of experience, this

particular kind of loneliness and can understand.

An online friend told me about an app that lets me talk with friends far away with a walkie-talkie, a message there and a message back, whenever we can make time to do it.

And suddenly I realized what void it filled.

Suddenly I realized that God was giving me an outlet, a place to process out loud with a friend in another state, a chance to ask for prayer, to speak words out loud, to gain understanding.

The tension broke on Sunday morning when I told our little community that I am lonely, and they responded just as I thought they would, with a deep and sincere love, the kind that the young church tried to live by.

It is not that my life is void of friendship.

It is that friendship is an unknown shape to me, and suddenly I’m asking to find out what that shape is, exactly.

It’s a walkie-talkie button and a picture.

It’s a quote journal and a card.

It’s telling the people who love you most that you need them,

that you are feeling the things you’re feeling.

It’s a playdate any chance we can get one,

and it’s refusing to let go of the memory of community,

refusing to let go of the dreams of future communities that will

surely come for me one day.

When we say out loud that we’re lonely,

someone will hear,

and that other lonely person will say, “me, too,”

and maybe if truth spreads out

far enough,

that unknown shape will become the shape of

bodies and souls enshrouding each other in

safety

and

comfort

and

help.

Just maybe.

 

 

When Your Home is Not Your Own

home is created when a living space is cultivated and cared for, treated with grace.

And these places of peace are also often where people come together, where comfortable conversations happen, where stories seem to gather–

walk around and notice photos from here or books from there or special keepsakes that hold an entire world inside them.

And we come to realize that our homes are not our own, but the gathering place of all the life that we’ve seen and all the people we’ve spent it with.

Above my kitchen sink, there are two pieces hanging:

one is a small picture from my mother,

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and the other, a cross given to me by my former pastor and dear friend Julie.

 

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And at my bedside table, a gift from Ashley and a globe from Meg that states, “Don’t be like the rest of them, darling.”

 

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That’s my favorite.

In the boys’ room hangs a giant canvas of artwork from each of their showers, written prayers that rest over them as they play.

There are books from Christmas gift exchanges;

coffee mugs from our favorite trips;

a little brown clay pot made by my friend Matt in high school, and I still can’t figure out how I ended up with it all these years later.

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Do you feel it now?

How this cacophony of memories brings community constantly to us?

And in someone else’s home sits something you made, bought, gifted with care, and it tells them a story every time they see it.

Let the weight of what you’ve been given settle in.

You are not alone, and if you look around, the evidence speaks.

Our homes are collections of life’s memories– some lost and replaced by something new, some as old  as the first day it was placed on the mantel.

Let home be a memorial, a sacred place where histories come together to mingle

and thrive.

Let home tell your story back to you,

and take those stories with you into every other home,

into every other relationship so that

Kingdom comes

and keeps coming

through these little things

that surround us daily.

Amen.