"Gather: to come together; bring together and take in from scattered places."
I love that: "take in from scattered places." One of my goals for 2015 is to gather. The best lesson I took away from the past year was learning that for me, gathering my family and friends around a table with food and drink and maybe a deck of cards is really important to my happiness and my ability to focus on the present (enjoy the moment - another one of my goals for 2015!). I like to cook for people, I like to hear people's stories, I like to see people smile. Gather.
Last year I read a book called "Bread and Wine" by Shauna Niequist. In her last chapter called "Come to the Table" she writes,
"This is what I want you to do: I want you to tell someone you love them, and dinner's at six. I want you to throw open your front door and welcome the people you love into the inevitable mess with hugs and laughter. I want you to light a burner on the stove, to chop and stir and season with love and abandon. Begin with an onion and a drizzle of olive oil, and go from there, any one of a million different places, any one of a million different meals.
Gather the people you love around your table and feed them with love and honesty and creativity. Feed them with your hands and the flavors and smells that remind you of home and beauty and the best stories you've ever heard, the best stories you've ever lived."
Did you see it? Gather. That word kept coming back to me, and so I took it to heart.
I made soup and invited people over to share. I contacted friends and met them for coffee. I started meeting up with another preschool mom once a week to walk a beautiful wooded trail in town. Will and I joined a small group at our new church and we met to share a meal and encouragement. We invited friends for dinner. I made chicken pot pie and took it to my sister-in-law's house to hang out with her and her crew. I invited Will's family over for Christmas Day.
And you know something? It was a total stretch for me to reach out every. single. time. I'm not usually the one making plans. I'm usually the one who waits for other people to reach out to me and then I go along for the ride. But I realized that if I felt nervous about it, maybe other people did, too. And if I wanted to build a sense of community and deeper friendships, I was going to have to be the one to suggest the plans. So I sucked up all my insecurities and pushed aside my wishes for perfection (people really don't notice the dust...or if they do, they don't tell you!), and I invited and inquired and you know what? People said yes. They came over and we ate and we talked and we had fun and I didn't care about what didn't get cleaned or what might have been a little overcooked. Or we met at a coffee shop and we sipped tea and lattes and we talked and we had fun and I didn't care that I was still in my workout clothes or that I just realized that a small person had wiped their nose all over the shoulder of my sweatshirt. Gather.
With the practice I got last year, I'm feeling ever so slightly more confident for my plans to gather in 2015. I started the year by planning a monthly "Family Night" for Will's family. As many of them as are able will come to our house for pizza and games this weekend. Will's cousins and I had been going out for "girl cousin dinners" whenever we could make it happen. This year we're setting a specific monthly night to pick a different restaurant in the city to eat and drink and catch up on life. In addition to our monthly small group meetings, we're going to start a girls/guys night where we split up the couples for poker or movies or talking. We really love our new friends and are hoping to spend more time with them. I'm keeping up with my coffee dates and have a long list of people to call and invite for dinner. When someone at church emailed us about opportunities to serve, instead of getting the information via email, I invited her and her family to come to our house and tell us over dinner. Gather.
The great thing about getting together is that you don't have to be good at it. You don't have to cook a fancy meal or get every bit of dirt off your dark hardwood floors that are beautiful but show every single speck of dust. You don't have to have enough wine glasses (juice glasses work just fine) or use your best china. It's absolutely fine to invite people over and order pizza. If you want to make a salad, cool. If not, that's cool, too. And it's also ok to ask your guests to bring something. Share the cooking responsibilities. If someone offers to bring a salad or dessert or wine, say sure! You can even go out for dinner! Gather at a restaurant! Genius! The important thing is the gathering, not the details. So if you've thought about inviting people over but think it's just too hard, or if you've been meaning to get in touch with someone but think you don't have time, or if you really want to make some new friends but are nervous about reaching out, I'm telling you right now to go for it. Just do it. If you're like me - someone who practically got hives at the thought of cooking for other people and inviting them into our messy but well-loved and lived-in home - take heart. If I can do it, you can, too. Eat, drink, and be merry. Gather!
Just one more thing before I go:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
“Faith is taking the first step even when you can't see the whole staircase.”
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.