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***

I was just getting ready to start Sunday evening prayers at one of our community’s hospitality houses when an unfamiliar brown sedan pulled to a hesitant stop in front of the house. I didn’t recognize the woman who got out of the back but I recognized the driver from a local congregation. The driver didn’t make eye contact with me as I walked off the porch toward the street. I imagined that perhaps the driver and his unknown companion would be joining us for prayers, so I was eager to greet them. But, as the anonymous woman closed the car door and I recognized the tears in her eyes for what they were, the driver departed without a word. With a familiar, sorrowful look, the woman sat down on the curb.

With a quick glance around the porch, I hoped to find somebody whose expression would show that they knew the woman or perhaps had some idea what had just happened. What I found in the faces of those who make up our little community was surprise and a creeping realization that this woman had been abandoned here by somebody who didn’t know what to do with her. For all of us, this was a tragedy; but for some of us, this was a familiar experience.

Sitting on the curb next to her, I coaxed her name—Kathleen—from her between sobs and looked back over my shoulder to see if anybody had figured out what to do yet. Kathleen and I were joined on the curb by Brandon. With his intimate experience of what it’s like to be “somebody else’s problem,” Brandon took the lead as I fumbled for words and understanding and Kathleen tried to catch her breath.

Like Job’s friends before they messed it up with their words and false confidence, Brandon kept silence and helped me to do the same. Brandon didn’t know what to do, he later admitted, but he knew how to be a witness to suffering so that one of God’s children doesn’t have to suffer alone. When Kathleen fumbled in her pockets only to find an empty pack of cigarettes, Brandon offered her one of his in a gesture that our shared life in community has taught me to call generous and merciful. With a shaking hand, Kathleen smoked her borrowed cigarette and began haltingly to tell a piece of her story to two silent strangers whom chance and a fast-moving sedan had compelled her to trust.

As Kathleen explained that she wasn’t from Danville and was, in fact, from High Point, North Carolina, I could hear quiet footsteps approaching. Another one of our community’s leaders brought Kathleen a glass of ice water and whispered to me that prayers would wait. While Kathleen began to explain that she had ended up in Danville in order to escape an abuser in North Carolina, yet another one of our leaders started up a conversation on the porch thirty feet away. There wasn’t anything special about the conversation, but so many of our folks know well from past experience what kind of story Kathleen was likely to tell. They also know how hard it is to tell when you’re worried that you might have an audience.

So, in the place of prayers, our little community talked about nothing much in particular and offered a grace that sounds like a low, inconsequential murmur. What our people knew—what they had learned from their own similar, hard experiences—was that you didn’t need to know exactly what to do in order to do something good. Sometimes we all are tempted to strive for acts of great, heroic love and not be satisfied with little acts of love. In pursuit of big solutions, we risk seeing people as problems.

Kathleen continued her story but interrupted every other sentence with an apology for being drunk. Kathleen seemed to hope that her many apologies would pry mercy from our unwilling hands. Brandon spoke for us both when he quietly reassured Kathleen that she was welcome, even if unexpected, and that we weren’t interested in judging her. With that tiny shred of confidence in our hospitality, Kathleen opened up and expressed her fear and anger to us. She was angry at her abuser. She was afraid to go back to High Point. She was angry at feeling abandoned. She was afraid because she didn’t know her way around Danville and didn’t have a place to stay or food to eat. She was angry at herself for leaving her ID in High Point, but she had done so because of the fear that had gripped her heart in her escape.

Then came the question I knew was coming, as Kathleen made eye contact with me for the first time and asked, “So, what can I do?” I had been dreading this imminent question because, like the driver of the brown sedan, I didn’t know what to do. Kathleen wanted to go back to High Point but was also afraid to go back. She wanted to stay in Danville but had no material or social resources here. She wanted to be sober but didn’t feel like she could be yet.

I excused myself for a moment to make a few phone calls and see what our options were for making a place for Kathleen. After about fifteen minutes of phone calls, I still had very few options because there are very few places that pick up the phone on a Sunday evening. Discussing those few options with a handful of our community’s leaders led us to doing something we’d done before but which I still find relatively uncomfortable: making a promise and then counting on God to keep it. We didn’t know what to do, but we trusted that God did and then went about our business of little acts of love.

We convinced Kathleen to join us for an impromptu meal in the kitchen of the hospitality house. We hadn’t been planning on eating, but we didn’t want her to have to eat alone. Sunday Evening Prayer became sandwiches and a tray of finger foods that week. While most of us shared lemonade and tea, one of us made a reservation at a local hotel for a few nights. Between bites of egg custard left over from a meal earlier that week, we promised Kathleen quietly that we could do more nights of shelter if it took longer to find a solution and we scheduled a time the next day for us to sit down and figure out her options.

While taking Kathleen to her hotel room, I repeated to her out loud what the sandwiches and egg custard had said more subtly: “you’re not alone and you’re not a problem.” As I drove back from the hotel room, I had a short voicemail on my phone with an awkward apology from the driver of the brown sedan.

“I just didn’t know what else to do,” he told my voicemail with an apology tinging the corners of his voice.

“Neither do I,” I confessed to God, myself, and no one else in particular, “but I’m not sure that always matters.”

***
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This story was originally shared on March 1, 2017.

***

Deep down, I’m a worrier. I’m really good at it. I know scripture tells us not to be anxious and Jesus even directs our thoughts to the “lilies of the field” in the Sermon on the Mount, but I need help to get to that kind of trust most days. Even though I’m surrounded by a community of people who have pledged to share resources and needs and actively share their lives with me, I still worry. Even though our work has consistently been supported by donors like you, every January and February is an anxious time as I worry that this year will be different; that this year will be the year that it doesn’t happen. If I’m honest, I sometimes worry that I’m only as valuable or lovable as I am useful. I seem to have so many needs and even more fear of them not being met, even as I live in the midst of God’s blessing and miraculous provision. I seem to have everything I need, so why don’t I feel like it some days?

Perhaps, my struggle with worry is part of the reason I thought I misheard Marcus in the van. He is, after all, a fast talker and sometimes shifts the topic of conversation abruptly if he’s excited. This night, he was excited about some good work he had been doing in the neighborhood and was riding along in the van to drop people off after our big meal. As he told me about meals shared and the ways in which he loved his neighbors, he said something that I didn’t expect: “You know, I don’t need anything. I’ve got everything I need.”

I confess that my first thought was a judgmental one: “how can that possibly be true?” When we first met Marcus, he walked with a substantial limp because of a very significant injury to his ankle. He did as best as he could with it, but the injury meant that he couldn’t get the work to which he was accustomed and by which he had been supporting himself for years. Without a job and reliable transportation, it became very, very hard for him to make it to the doctor on his own. Because of his injury, his shoes didn’t fit and wore out even more rapidly. Before I knew Marcus by his name, I knew him by his walk and the plastic bag he wore over his steadily deteriorating shoe. How could this man not need anything?

As we began to share life with Marcus and help him to get to the doctor, he quickly became a regular at our meals. We first welcomed him into a hospitality room, but eventually helped him to move into an apartment of his own when his income became steadier and his ankle began to heal. The day after moving into his new home, he began offering hospitality of his own—welcoming folks to find shelter in his relatively meager accommodations. In response to God’s blessing, Marcus responded with grace and mercy. Marcus understands intuitively that loving God and loving your neighbor are intertwined. His ankle was still injured and he wasn’t yet well or stable, but he couldn’t wait any longer to be doing our Father’s business. Watching as he once again repaired his shoe with duct tape, I couldn’t imagine how this man “had everything.”

But perhaps the problem isn’t that Marcus was wrong, but rather that my imagination is too small sometimes to see God’s goodness in hard places. Even with busted shoes, Marcus was concerned that there were people we knew who didn’t have shoes. He wasn’t content to wait to help until everything in his life was stable. He didn’t need good shoes before he cared about his neighbor’s shoeless feet. He didn’t need a perfect home before he could open it to others. He didn’t need to be wealthy to be generous. He didn’t need to be full before pouring himself out for others. But, perhaps most importantly, Marcus trusted God and the community to which God had brought him to love and support him.

Marcus has everything he needs in part because he has learned to need less, but mostly because he has learned to trust more.

Nowadays, you’ll likely find Marcus at one of our meals or, even more likely, in one of the gardens at the Urban Farm (he’s a phenomenal gardener!). His ankle is much better now after consistently getting to his appointments and getting the medicines he needed to prevent infections. His shoes fit a lot better now and are in much better condition. He’s always eager to pitch in if there’s work that needs to be done and he’ll still talk your ear off. But, he hasn’t stopped giving or trusting; and, thank God, he hasn’t stopped teaching me the futility of worry and the pride inherent in believing that I’m only as valuable or lovable as I am useful. I’m learning that Marcus is right—he has everything he needs and so do I. Some days, I even believe it.

***
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***
This edition of our newsletter was written by Nicole Eanes. Nicole was hired in February as a Development and Administrative Assistant with our work. She’s getting more involved in our ongoing work after a while around the edges. Part of her job includes fundraising and when she meets her first goal, her job will expand to include more responsibility and deeper involvement. You can help make that happen by becoming one of our regular donors or making a one-time donation. 

***

My beginning with Grace & Main is a little messy. For months, I was interested but hesitant. I rarely showed up and when I did it was fairly inconsistent.  As I navigated graduating high school, moving to Uganda, and figuring out my faith – the friends I found with G&M were gracious listeners and welcomed my questions and frustrations.  They provided a safe space for me to draw circles around the things I believed and taught me to be gracious with the things I didn’t have figured out.

A little back story, I grew up in Danville and my journey has led me to a lot of new places. From east coast beaches to west coast cities all the way to a small mud hut in Northern Uganda. I’ve learned it’s fairly easy for me to pick up and move my entire life. For a while I thought this was a good thing and I think it still has some pros – but I’ve come to realize it’s easy because I struggle with feeling like I belong. It’s not that I have a difficult time making friends; it’s all the stuff after the initial interaction that I find difficult. So, for a while I kept moving around because when you move around the hard stuff doesn’t have time to show up.

You know, all the stuff that comes with time. The loss of friends and family members. The conflict that happens when you’ve just spent too much time around each other. The miscommunication and the anxiety that comes with busy schedules. All the ways life ebbs and flows and all the unexpected ways it knocks us off our feet.

I’ve learned in my short time here that community looks a lot like loving each other into who we’re meant to be. It’s asking the hard questions and being okay when there aren’t any good answers. It’s taking the long way home with Roland, one of the first members of Grace & Main, because the silence shared brings a sense of comfort. It’s road trips with broken air-conditioning and welcoming strangers into your home. It’s homilies and blessings and holding close to our faith that God is good even when that’s really hard to believe.

Being with the crew has made me realize that we have something different going on. We have a lot of good ideas and a lot of good intentions but it doesn’t stop there. We also have really big love and overwhelming amounts of grace. We don’t just think about good things – we empower each other to live good lives. All of this became explicitly tangible with the loss of our dear friend, Bruce. The days leading up to his death were long and emotions were all too real. But the love in the room was palpable. Until his last breath, Bruce was surrounded by the people he loved. We sang hymns and kept him cool with a cold washcloth and laughed as his cat, Boo Boo, laid by his side. In this moment, there was no pressure and no expectations – only the knowledge that life is really hard and also really wonderful and it’s better when we do it together.

Some days, belonging feels certain and some days I still struggle to find my place because of my own insecurities. But as I continue to find my niche with Grace & Main, I’m thankful for the subtle ways everyone makes me feel like I belong. Through the blessings we say together each week, the meals we share, the late night conversations with my roommates, and the countless cups of coffee shared on the front porch.

All in all, I’m really thankful I somehow fell into belonging with these people. I hope you know wherever you are that you, too, are welcome here. There is a place for you in the vast Kingdom of God. There’s room at the table. And if you live near Danville, our table always has a seat for you.

***
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***

“Why not take it back to the house with you?” I asked her.

“I can’t keep these with me,” Ms. Parsons told me, indicating the cracked leatherette picture album she clutched in her hands. This album was one of five or six others in a file storage box opened between us. Nearby, Ms. Parson’s son, Ralph, was sorting quietly through some of the other boxes of things that they had stored in our warehouse space. Ralph was hoping to find a cellphone that they thought might still have some minutes on it. We’re thankful that a local business lends us a space in one of their warehouses to store things like donated furniture and appliances until we can find a neighbor who can use them. But, in the case of Ms. Parsons and Ralph, the warehouse was a safe place to keep their possessions when they were ejected from where they had been staying. As long-time regulars around Grace and Main, we were able to find them a place to stay in one of our hospitality rooms quickly, but they wanted to store many of their things in the warehouse to give themselves a little extra space in the hospitality room.

There we stood, surrounded by so many things held precious by Ms. Parsons—things like picture albums, quilts made by family long passed, and cherished childhood art projects—as Ms. Parsons lovingly told me story after story about the people in the sometimes-faded pictures. She showed me some of Ralph’s baby pictures, one in particular included the hands and knees of Ralph’s father, whose face and name remain a mystery to me. Ralph, at least ten years my senior, looked up from his search for a moment to blush and shake his head good-naturedly as his mom told me about the cute things he did as a toddler; the picture had faded with age, but the memory was as crisp as it ever was as Ms. Parsons, smiling, impersonated Ralph’s childish speech.

She showed me a picture of a black and white cat named Socks, of whom she had only a few hazy memories. She showed me pictures of first homes and first cars, both the ones bought before and after everything changed. Ms. Parsons showed me a picture of her father and talked for a moment about the way he’d enter the house after work and what his favorite meal was. Ms. Parsons told me all about her mother with an appreciation honed over decades of missing her. “She was a good Christian lady, I know where she is,” Ms. Parsons insisted with the same gravity as any preacher’s prayer: “acknowledge your servant, a sheep of your own fold.”

Finally sensing that it would be okay to ask, I continued my earlier question: “Why can’t you keep these with you?”

“I can’t keep these with me, “she insisted with grace and gentleness, “because they’re too precious.”
As she closed the album and placed it back in the box with a careful grace reserved for the priceless, I thought I was starting to understand what Ms. Parsons meant. Their preciousness made them vulnerable and vulnerable things often have only one fate in the lives of those who struggle with homelessness, hunger, poverty, and/or addiction: loss. These memories of hers were safe in this place she could not stay, entrusted to our care with a spirit of faithful love. “Well, thanks…” I stammered under the weight of what Ms. Parsons was saying, “…thanks for trusting us with your precious things.”

Ms. Parsons was smiling in response to my clumsy gratitude when Ralph popped up from the middle of the boxes to say he was pretty sure the phone wasn’t here. He thought maybe it was in the pocket of one of their winter coats back at the house. As we turned off the lights and made our way back to the car, I said, “You know, if you ever want to come back and look through the picture albums, we can do that. Plus, I really want to see what that quilt looks like some time.”

“Oh, it’s precious, too,” Ms. Parsons said, in what was likely an understatement, before adding, “I’d like that.”

For so many of those with whom we’re building our lives, the preciousness of a thing is such a tremendous liability. When you’re living life with so little margin of error, one stroke of ill fortune—a missed paycheck, a too-high utility bill, an unexpected medical expense, getting laid off—threatens to break and ruin all that you hold dear and precious. The value of a thing becomes a vulnerability when the world seems to have nothing but hard edges. When there is so little buffer between you and the world, you must often choose between yourself and what you call precious. This is the hard bargain that is ever-present in the lives of so many of our dearest friends. This is the hard bargain that no one chooses, but many must make.

Yet through it all, we must remember something: it’s the same hard bargain into which Jesus entered. When forced to choose between his own life and what was precious to him, Jesus chose what was precious—people like me and you. With faith so fragile it should be wrapped in bubble wrap, we are called to trust that God doesn’t call the precious vulnerable, but rather calls the vulnerable precious and calls us to go and do likewise.

***
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This month’s newsletter is written by Jessica Hearne, a Grace and Main leader and founding member, Jessica is supported in her work in our community by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, where she is “Field Personnel.” You can read more about her work and find ways to support her directly here.

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“The garden crew is back together again.” I look up from where I’ve been scrubbing a tablecloth and see what Sal is talking about. We’ve just finished our annual Grace and Main community Christmas dinner in the fellowship hall of one of our partner churches. There were ninety-six chairs set up when we arrived, and earlier this evening nearly every chair was taken. Most folks have already headed home, with to-go plates in hand full of delicious pork barbecue, smoked and donated for the third year in a row by a police officer friend who works in some of our neighborhoods. Some of our more outgoing friends are still sitting around tables, drinking coffee and enjoying each other’s company on this cold December evening, the longest night of the year.

Since people finished eating, I haven’t been paying much attention to what was happening around me. Instead, I have been focusing on the work that is still ahead: returning this fellowship hall to the state it was in when I arrived this afternoon. One of the biggest challenges is these tablecloths. They are the disposable kind that you can get in the party supply section at Target or Walmart, but they had been set out by the church housekeeper in preparation for the Christmas Eve fellowship that was coming up in just a few days. We were invited to use them, and they add a nice, homey touch to our dinner, but I hadn’t anticipated how difficult they would be to clean. When Sal spoke, I was carefully holding one side of a tablecloth while gently wiping the food crumbs off with a damp towel onto the floor. I’ll have to see if I can get someone to sweep, I thought.

As it turns out, I didn’t have to ask. I looked up from the tablecloth to see Sal and Jamal already with brooms in hand. They were working their way through the tables behind me, sweeping up my mess and what was left from folks who had been eating. I turned around, and there I saw Robert and Jonny moving some tables back to where we found them before dinner. Most of the dishes had been taken to the kitchen by our guests as they finished eating (we like to use real dishes whenever we can as a way of showing people that they are valuable to us), but Tim was there collecting the few dishes that were left by folks with mobility troubles or kids in tow. Finally, I looked into the kitchen, and there was George stacking dishes on trays and running them through the industrial dishwasher.

The garden crew is back together again. Sal was right. The people that were helping with the clean-up after one of our biggest meals of the year were the same people that I had been meeting every Thursday since the beginning of the summer to work on our Urban Farm on the north side of town. Some had started coming because they enjoy working outside, others to take advantage of the produce that we were growing. Many of them had claimed their own garden beds to cultivate, growing some food to take home and giving more than half of it away to their friends and neighbors. We had been meeting, working, laughing, and learning together for half of the year, finishing every workday with a trip to the grocery store so that folks could pick up a few extra things to go with their produce. As the season came to a close, we were already making plans for next year. Every time I see Stella now, she tells me about how she can’t wait to get back into the garden. Each week Tim, our resident amateur photographer, posts a new set of garden pictures to his Facebook page, with captions that demonstrate his longing to be back outside. And George and Sal remind me constantly to call them whenever we start having our planning meetings. These folks started as volunteers, but have grown, over the summer and fall, into a group of planners, organizers, and leaders.

Their leadership is being demonstrated in the aftermath of this dinner. I didn’t ask Sal and Jamal to sweep, but they took the initiative to help. George jumped at the chance to help with the dishwasher, getting there even faster than our regular dishwashers. Tim is collecting dishes in between his picture taking, handling both roles with joy. The camaraderie that started in the garden is still cultivating beloved community in the cold of winter, when the ground is nearly frozen and the sun is mostly hidden away. I look at Sal and say, “Yeah, I guess the garden crew is back together, huh.”

“I can’t wait to get back to the garden,” he replied with a smile.

***
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***

Tasha has been sick off and on for quite some time. Many days, Tasha can be found on her front porch carefully considering the distinction between having trouble breathing and urgently struggling to breathe. Even with oxygen tanks, some days are too difficult and she ends up going to the emergency room if she can get a ride, or calling an ambulance if she can’t. Some nights, Tasha wakes up gasping for air, no longer wondering if it’s “bad enough” to go the hospital yet and simply rushing there by any means necessary. It’s so hard to think about long term solutions, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

After prayers one Sunday, a group of us went to visit Tasha in the hospital. It had been a hard weekend for her, but Tasha’s first words when we showed up were surprisingly apologetic: “I’m so sorry I couldn’t come tonight,” she said, “I really wanted to be there.” We assured her that it was no problem and that we completely understood, even as we took her hands in ours. Tasha’s husband, Carl, admitted sheepishly that he had slept through the service after a couple of long days and nights in the hospital. We patted him on the back and told him he had nothing to worry about. After all, this was the man who once walked over 140 miles one week to be with his sick wife when he couldn’t find a ride the hospital she was in. It’s so hard to make it to prayers, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

As a group, we settled into what we do best: talking, mostly about little things but occasionally about big things too. We talked about the hospital food until Tasha felt like talking about her health or something else that was more pressing, but slower to spring from her lips. It’s strange how an aimless conversation about the relative qualities of cornbread can prime the ears for listening and the mouth for talking about seemingly relentless illness. Tasha offered the dessert from her dinner tray, a single piece of white-frosted, red velvet cake, to Roland, our community’s “Minister of Prayer.” Roland had insisted on coming to the hospital, even though last time we went there it had been to visit him when he was recovering from a surgical procedure. As Roland ate the cake with companionable gratitude, Tasha waded into her own fears about the future. It’s so hard to start talking about things that really matter, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

She promised, again, that she was going to quit smoking. She acknowledged freely that years of cigarettes were likely a part of her failing health, even as she admitted that she had tried before and failed to quit. “But we can do it this time,” Carl insisted. Carl, who is no stranger to the bonds of addiction and the freedom of recovery, offered a renewed hope that some might call naïve, but we’ve learned to call loving. It’s so hard to think about recovery, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

“Yes,” Tasha offered with a touch of resignation at the edges of her voice, “we can.” She continued, “I really want to, but it’s so hard!” We nodded our agreement and held space with Tasha so that she knew she could continue to talk and we’d continue to listen. Over the years, we’ve learned that so much of life in community—a life that is truly shared—is about patient silence as those to whom we’ve pledged our lives and time find the words to wrap around something larger than all of us, but not more powerful than the love of God in us. “This time I’ll do it,” Tasha promised us. We’ve found that community thrives in the fertile soil of trusted promises and generous forgiveness. But, it’s hard to make and keep promises, when it feels like you can’t breathe.

Tasha was tired, but she wanted us to pray with her before we left. Before Roland could begin his prayer though, Tasha wanted to go through her own prayer list and all those who rested heavy on her heart and mind. She wanted to pray for Todd, and Todd’s mother, of course. She wanted to pray for her cousin, who had just lost a daughter. She wanted to pray for the church she attended some Sunday mornings as they searched for a pastor. She wanted to pray for a friend on the street who had struggled with addiction and mental illness and was said to be sleeping outside again. She wanted to pray for a young family that had moved into the neighborhood a couple blocks north of her and especially for their daughter, who rumor said was very smart and a good student. She wanted to pray for my daughter, too. She wanted to pray and give thanks for her marriage and for Carl’s love for her. Finally, she wanted to pray for the strength to quit smoking.

With her community around her, Tasha found that she could still pray, even when it’s hard to breathe.

So, we prayed. Roland lifted all of Tasha’s requests and more in his prayer as we anointed our sister with oil blessed at prayer that afternoon. We marked Tasha’s forehead with the sign of a cross and the prayers of those who loved and missed her. With a few parting jokes, we left so that she and Carl could get some rest. “I didn’t miss prayer after all,” she called to us over the quiet hiss of the oxygen, “you just had to bring it to me.”

***
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This story was originally shared on March 1, 2015. It was also shared by Red Letter Christians in May of 2015.

***

We disabled our doorbell when our daughter was born, because with her birth we instantly became conservators of a precious resource: baby sleep. Since we live in a hospitality house where many gather, rest, and take shelter, not having a doorbell was a challenge at first, but we have all become fluent in the language of knocks. There are the loud, hard, pounding knocks that describe numb hands or agitation. There are the soft knocks on the storm door that whisper anxiety and timidity—perhaps a sister who’s not sure if what she’s heard about this place is true. There are the insistent, rapid knocks that seem to scream loss or desperation. There are the rhythmic knocks—“shave and a haircut” being the favorite by far—that promise a friendly conversation and maybe a cup of coffee on the porch.

Our household—both families and those staying in the hospitality room—fall easily into a game of guessing who might be at the door by the knock we hear. Some of our brothers and sisters have knocks as distinct as their personalities. I’ve learned another important thing by learning the language of knocks—something important about myself:

I don’t always want to answer the door.

As covenanted members of Grace and Main, we have committed ourselves—both individually and as an intentional community—to opening our homes to the folks God introduced into our lives. But, after a while, hospitality ends up meaning much more than spare bedrooms and open chairs at dinner tables. As we made our home and life in a place with the commitment to be open to who and what God brings us, we’ve found that hospitality also means opening our lives to others and their stories. We’ve had so many great stories that begin with a knock on a door—stories of lives changed and overflowing redemption and resurrection. We’ve also had our fair share of heartbreaking stories that begin with a knock. After a long day or right after the baby has gone down to bed, the stories of heartbreak are what feed my imagination when a knock announces a visitor.

In the practice of hospitality, we’ve learned that it can feel like a holy opportunity to prepare a hospitality room for another guest to join the house and, simultaneously, a frustrating imposition to have to answer the door yet again for another brother or sister while you’re trying to dust, make the bed, and clean up the baby’s toys. In the space of a breath, our quiet confidence and faith can turn to anxious doubt and “what ifs” when we hear a distinctive knock that promises one of our brothers or sisters who has relapsed or threatened someone we love.

Yes, we’ve learned to speak the language of knocks and found that we don’t always like what it has to say about us.

We’ve also discovered that it’s not just our sisters and brothers who wait for us on the porch with hopeful expectation in their hearts, but the Gospel waits for us there, as well. With each knock comes a summons to hear the good news that God is at work in this messy world and that sin is being undone by love—sometimes gloriously fast, and sometimes agonizingly slow. Each knock is an invitation to place our faith and trust in God and be born again. Each knock is a call to prayer, inviting us to pray to the God of the widow, orphan, stranger, and outcast. Each knock is an occasion once again to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight. Each knock is a chance to welcome Jesus into our lives once again. With some knocks, we welcome Jesus into our home in the guise of a friend. With other knocks, we find Jesus waiting on our porch, looking like a stranger.

The folks waiting at our door certainly want us to answer their knock, especially when it’s frigid. We don’t always want to open the door, but we do it—not because we are “good people,” but because salvation is on the other side of our storm door, knocking and waiting.

***
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