In my last post, I argued that many churches fail to celebrate occasions that aren’t “fridge-worthy”: marriage, parenthood, missionary service, and other traditional events in the lives of adults. Many of your comments anticipated this more cheerful conclusion to the tour of the fridge. Today I hope to complete my inventory, suggesting along the way that many churches, men, and women are stretching their attention and imagination to include other milestones in the lives of men and women, young and old, single, married, widowed, and all in between.
Alongside the wedding invitations and birth announcements, one of my favorite fridge-adornments is a picture of my lifegroup, the small church group I participated in during my first three years of graduate school. As my wise friend Lindsay noted in her comment on Part I, small groups tend to be much better at recognizing and celebrating the sorts of events don’t make the big-church headlines. My experience in a lifegroup certainly confirmed Lindsay’s observation. In addition to our weekly studies, conversations, and prayers together, in addition to our committment to walk alongside one another through trying times as well as easy days, we celebrated the important passages in one another’s lives. Sometimes that meant a baby shower. At other times, it meant a special time of prayer and blessing for a young woman leaving for graduate school. Once, a group of my lifegroup friends even helped me christen a spinning wheel I had just purchased. (Yes, that’s right: a spinning wheel. I’ll write more on the importance of this eccentric hobby in a future post, but for now, you might want to check out the poem I mentioned in my last post.) This celebration, complete with prayer and pink champagne, was, in its merry little way, an affirmation of the values I was attempting to establish as the foundation of my life and work.
More important that the affirmation I received from my lifegroup, however, was the way it challenged my understanding of what qualified as an “important” life event. I began to realize that when we celebrate weddings and babies and ordination, we not only acknowledge a holy choice someone has made, we also recognize that a person’s fundamental relationships have changed. A man and woman who have had a baby are changed. They have new names--”Mama,” “Daddy”--and the birth of those new identities is part of the celebration.
My time in a lifegroup taught me that my fundamental relationships can change even without a dramatic choice or event. As I watched my friends seek ways to support one another, I realized that this group was more than a study group, or even a prayer circle: it was a gathering that modeled relationships unlike any I had seen before. We became friends, to be sure, but not casual friends, not friends linked by common interests or background. We were, in a sense, like a family, but with freedom--many members came and went over those three years-- and an ever-fresh (sometimes painful) awareness of our kinships with one another.
There was no ready word to describe the kind of bond I experienced in that group. Instead, I found honesty, kindness, wisdom, sorrow, and laughter enough to push my imagination beyond words and into love.
I wish that group could have thrived for my entire season in graduate school, but even in its quiet dissolution, my lifegroup taught me that if I only think in terms of “romance,” “blood relation,” or “formal ministry,” I cheat myself out of countless, yet-unnamed bonds of love.
And so the picture remains on the fridge. It reminds me of my first night with that group--the night I walked into a room of strangers, and found they had saved a chair for me. The memory of that night is as precious to me as the memory of my baptism, and nothing--no wedding feast, no baby, no ordination--could ever mean “You are home” in quite the same way.
The next important token on my fridge is a picture of Nelson, the boy I sponsor through Compassion International. Like the grins of my lifegroup, Nelson’s shy smile reminds me that a holy imagination can create strange but beautiful bonds of love. I am new to sponsorship, and so I am still marveling that I now have a relationship with a little boy on the other side of the world. I may never see him face to face, but I know he wants to be a policeman when he grows up. I know his mother--just a year older than I am--has four children, and was abandoned by their father several years ago. I know he receives the letters I send. I know that each time an envelope with the Compassion logo arrives, I feel like it is my birthday. I know I love Nelson, but, again, not with a love that has a name in the world’s hasty, narrow vocabulary.
Sponsor a Child
Finally, my fridge boasts a blessing from one of my favorites, Julianna. When I moved into my current apartment, she penned a blessing for my new “lighthouse” perched on the Brazos river. This dear friend believed that setting up household in a new place was worth a blessing, and because she believed, I did too. Her words are not from any known ceremony or liturgy (“May you have warmth enough for bare feet and chill enough for baked goods…”), but when I read them aloud in my kitchen, the place felt a little more like home.
Can you share a time when someone celebrated an event, decision, or relationship which was important to you, but which was not a traditional cause for celebration? Have there been times in your life when the ordinary labels (e.g. daughter, sister, friend) have been insufficient to describe the relationship you have with a person or group?