Monday, November 21, 2016

inspired friend. inspired idea: a gratitude gathering

in a country which seems--especially of late--a whole lot more hostile than it does hospitable, what does it look like to be neighborly?

remember the sesame street song, "these are the people in my neighborhood?" written the year after i was born, i grew up watching it performed, episode after episode, and even owned a copy of the record which, throughout the 1970s, i probably played a few thousand times on my fancy, little record player. (so cutting edge, i know).

but in 2016 what does it mean to live in neighborhoods and to really know our neighbors?

and, even more so, what does it mean to be thankful for our neighbors?

in light of this week of thanksgiving and my november inspiring women series, i want to tell you about a little something that is happening in the neighborhood of peachtree corners. my dear friend, karen, is a part of it. and where she won't let me focus on her as inspiring (though, i assure you, she is) i will, instead, dedicate this post to focusing on her inspired idea!

last week, while speaking as part of a hospitality panel at a women's event at our church, i was asked to share my definition of hospitality. and because--like in almost everything--i steal the ideas of others, i shared the words of shauna niequist from her book, bread and wine: a love letter around the table. (a book, by the way, i highly recommend).

shauna defines hospitality as this, 
 "the heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. it's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment." 
so here it is: last week, while i was preparing to talk about hospitality, my friend, karen, was actually preparing to do something about it in her house. she, in fact, was living out exactly the definition i had shared (i.e., stolen) from shauna.

karen's idea: to gather neighbors together and focus on gratitude.

karen would describe her street, sapelo trail, as pretty social: ladies-nights-out, halloween parties, progressive dinners, christmas cookie exchanges and even poker evenings. over the years, they've had some good fun and made some good connections.  about a year ago, a few of the women even began a bible study on their street. what's more, karen would also describe the street as pretty diverse: the women represent different races, religions and walks of life. truly a blending of people. for after all, what else is a neighborhood, but a beautiful blending of different people? 

and though these women have been growing in their connections with one another, recently, karen was prompted to plan an evening where they might become even more meaningfully connected. not just an event sipping sweet tea or wine on the porch (though that can be terrific, too), but an intentional time to share, dig deeper and to know each other even better as neighbors.

with her (inspired) idea in mind, karen invited the women of sapelo trail to her home for "a gratitude gathering." 

and on a sunday evening in november, many of these women came together to uncover gratefulness and blessing in each other as neighbors.

one year we planned a hoedown together!
again, i know karen doesn't want me to focus on her, but if i was going to focus on her for a quick
minute, i'd have to tell you she does this kind of thing really well. she's truly a hostess-with-the-mostess kind of gal. i don't mean grand and over-the-top in her entertaining, but gracious and incredibly topnotch in her thoughtfulness. she has a servant heart, a willing spirit and a tremendous talent for creatively, resourcefully and beautifully pulling details together. over the years, she and i have partnered on several events, and i can tell you first hand, God has gifted her well. 

karen is a decorator, a designer, a do-it-herself diva, yes! but mostly, she sees herself as a daughter of the Servant King, who, because of Him, is inspired to love and serve others well. when a woman takes her talents and mixes them with the tender things of Jesus, it's truly inspiring to see. that is my friend, karen.

and, whether she likes me to publicly declare this or not, she absolutely inspires me!

the evening's theme was "gratitude." karen shared her own journey toward gratefulness and how keeping a gratitude journal and recording her even most basic, simple blessings was a part of that rich journey. encouraged to do the same, each woman received a little journal to take home with them.

"gratitude for the seemingly insignificant --a seed--this plants the giant miracle." ~ ann voskamp

in addition to this conversation about gratitude, the women gathered around different tables in karen's home where she had prepared not only food, but also questions for fellowship at each table. questions which were designed to allow these women to know and understand each other even better.

the questions:

* what "little things" are you thankful for today?

* name one aspect about the way you were raised for which you are grateful?

* what is something or someone you are thankful for?

* share a time when you experienced something hard, yet it brought blessing.

let's face it, hosting an intentional evening like this takes time and energy and at least a morsel of courage. but when i asked karen about why she decided to pour herself into this kind of gathering she answered this
 "all women desire connection and want to feel significant.  my desire in hosting “a grateful gathering” was to provide a setting for meaningful conversation where these ladies would feel loved. i wanted us all to go a bit deeper in our conversations, but i wanted the evening to be comfortable, welcoming, and non-threatening."
to gather. to be grateful. to go a bit deeper. 
to be appreciated  ...

isn't that beautiful? inspired? inspiring?

what if we all opened our homes to gather our neighbors--including those who are different or think different or follow different religions/politics/or whatever--what if we were intentional in our gathering and purposeful in our gratitude. what if we gave thanks together and declared our tables a "safe zone," places of "warmth and nourishment?" what if we chose to be more hospitable than hostile?
i know my friend didn't want one shred of credit or any accolades for this gathering she hosted. she truly does serve others out of the most humble of hearts. but i did want to share karen's inspired idea with y'all. maybe it will, especially in this holiday season, ignite a spark in you to think about your home and your neighbors and your table a little differently.

this thanksgiving, my prayer for us all is that we would be willing to gather together in a spirit of gratitude and grace.

friends, i don't have the quick and easy answer to our country's crisis, but maybe spending less time listening to the nightly news and more time loving our neighbors could be at least a small step in the right direction of healing.

perhaps a sliver of hope is found when we are willing to give people not a piece of our mind, but a piece of our heart ... like karen and the women of sapelo trail. 

be inspired.

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