There is always a sock left behind. Or a shoe. Or burp cloth.
Something is ALWAYS left behind. And sometimes there are so many people that show up, we’re just not sure who these items belong to. But we don’t mind.
And how does a child get into their parent’s car only wearing one shoe? I have no idea….
But this is how it ends every Friday night.
That’s the key….consistency. We never miss a week.
And that is where the blessing lies…we’re never disappointed. Never ever.
I was skeptical at first. I really was. But I was just going along with Brandy’s crazy idea. It’s her fault, really. And I love her all the more for it.
Here is how it all began….
Brandy read some article online about how this family opened their home once a week for a free meal to anyone who wanted to come. They made the same easy meal each week and all kinds of friends and “who-are-you?” people showed up at their door.
“I think we should try this to develop our own kind of community,” Brandy said.
Um….what? Aren’t you an introvert? Who are you and what have you done with my wife?
And here we are, five months later…living out community in a fashion I never thought possible. We love it. I love it. Our kids love it. Our community loves it. (For more on what my wife was thinking, check her blog for an upcoming post.)
Every Friday, here is what we do…
Every Friday night (did I mention EVERY FRIDAY?) at 6pm we open our home to anyone who wants to come for a free meal, some fun, maybe a drink, and real community. We’ve never missed a day, including the Friday immediately after Thanksgiving, after Christmas and even New Year’s. We serve a super cheap meal that is always the same…bean burritos with various fixings. It’s always the same so as not to be too costly, take too much work and is fairly safe for nearly everyone to eat. Sometimes there are cookies…sometimes not.
There might be drinks…there might only be soda…or water…or soda water. It just depends on whether we have anything to offer. Sometimes others might bring drinks for sharing. Sometimes they’ll bring lemonade for the kids. Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they’ll bring paper plates or extra cups to help us defer the costs…although it is very minimal for us to produce this each week. We rarely ask for people to bring something, but we’ve made it a point to never charge for anything.
Aside from cleaning all the toilets and picking up the dog poop in the backyard, we barely even clean the house. Our purpose is not to show off our neat and tidy house…not that it is EVER really neat and tidy (we do have a gaggle of kids after all).
It’s like when your family comes over and you make no special preparations because…well, they’re just family. You got nothing to prove! This is my house. Here it is. Sorry the dishes are not done and the floor is a little messy. You’ll have to wipe the crumbs off the chair before you sit down. Sorry, I didn’t have time to shower before you came over…nor did any of the kids.
We have nothing to show off. Nothing to offer people but a warm hospitable place with a free meal and good conversation. We have no agenda. We have nothing to sell. There is no catch.
What happens on Friday night?
Some Fridays we’ll get fifty people (including kids). One night we had only one family show up…they have a gaggle of kids too, but they’re still only ONE family! Never has a Friday gone by that no one came. Some nights the conversations between people can be very easy going, casual, very surface, slightly humorous.
Other nights they can be very deep, very hurting, very exciting, very spiritual.
But isn’t that how life is anyway? One day, everything is just blasé, boring, nothing to even tweet about or post on Facebook. Then the next day…bam! You got fired! Or your wife had a baby! Or your friend got diagnosed with cancer. Or you got that job you had been praying for. Or your brother found Christ! Everyday can bring new news, new challenges, new excitement…or maybe it was just another day. This is how the conversations go on Friday nights…sometimes only between two individuals…other times news and banter is shared with everyone! The conversations range from child-rearing, to church, to sex, to movies and books, to work, to school, back to child-rearing, to vaccines, to HIV, to Christianity, back to sex again, to marriage, to chocolate wine, to cooking, back to sex again (on a really good night!), to past experiences, to prayer, to homosexuality, to finances, to terrorism, to porn, to autism and other special needs, to babysitters, to adoption, to large families, to hopes, to fears, to dreams, back to child-rearing.
The kiddos play…
With very few rules (cannot go upstairs, only two on the trampoline at a time, no losing Little E, and no blood), the kids just run around and play with each other. The trampoline is a favorite…usually resulting in a lone sock at the end of the night. Our kids have come to look forward to Friday nights as much as we have…as do many of the other regulars. Indeed, even our children have invited their friends and classmates to bring their families. There is typically no agenda for the kids, although we did plan ahead and did pumpkin carving in October and gingerbread houses in December.
As a result of my kid’s desire to bring their friends, we’ve met a few couples and their families that we otherwise would never have met. Now, at least one of those families is coming often…they didn’t have anywhere for community until now.
The families who come…
Speaking of regulars….we have a few families that do come very regularly, others come sporadically, others only once or twice. Some of the families homeschool. Some don’t. Some have toddlers while others have grown children. Some of the couples are very young and some are…I’ll just say, “older.”
The range of people who come is quite diverse, but we have come to realize our community is attractive to two particular groups. It is most attractive to large families. Having six kids myself, I understand this fully. We never get invited to anywhere. Simply put, most people don’t want to invite Brandy and I over for dinner since the assumption is that when you invite us two, eight show up! Many large families cannot accommodate another larger family in their house and small families are just not accustomed to the noise we bring. I’m not complaining, it’s just a fact. Other large families get this…and they’re happy to be welcomed into our home. The other group is single moms. As the sole provider and worker and parent, they just need a break, but they often cannot afford the money or time to get away and relax. When they come to our house on Fridays, their child can just run around in a safe place with other children and mom can have some fun interaction with other adults.
At this point, my Christian friends are reading this to learn about what kind of evangelism we do and how we’re sharing the Gospel. Well…you just read it. That’s all there is. There is no Bible study. No preaching. No worship. No organized invitation to church. Certainly, Brandy and I believe these to be important and we do these throughout our daily lives. But like the rest of our week, our evangelistic methodology is based on living real life…by opening our home to anyone, on a regular basis, sharing a meal, and sharing in conversation about life. That is evangelism at its heart. Living life together. Living in community. Sharing life together. We share Christ through our lives. Get to know me first and as we live life, hopefully you’ll be able to see Christ in my actions and words. For twenty years of marriage, Brandy and I have tried to live this way, although…admittedly…we have failed miserably at times.
Concerned at one point that we were not being intentional enough in sharing our faith during Friday nights, I consulted with my friend, Jeff, about how we might be able to make it more evangelistic, more purposeful. His response was striking.
“Before people trust Christ, they have to trust you.”
His wife followed up with, “Listen to the conversations. Listen to what people are sharing with each other. As with many things in life, the conversations frequently lead toward spiritual things. Let it be.”
They were right. The diversity of those who come proves their point and it has grown beyond our dreams. Many are Christians and intensely dedicated to their life with Christ. Some are agnostic. A couple are atheist. Some are gay. Some are confused. One thinks God hates him and some struggle with financial debt. Some are hiding their past and some are struggling in their marriage. One wants to be a pastor. One couple has a parent on his death bed. One person secretly struggles with suicidal thoughts while one couple just celebrated the birth of their child. One celebrated finishing college at the age of 39 while another just went back for further studies. One woman is a stay-at-home mom but would rather work while another works full time but would rather be a stay-at-home mom. One man recently had the job change of a lifetime educating young children and another works in child welfare and has to suppress the memories of working with battered children.
Few communities are as diverse as this one. None are as exciting…and real…and needed.
And I think Jesus would come…
I think Jesus would show up, eat a bean and cheese burrito, have a glass of wine, and share in the conversations. I’m convinced Jesus would sit at the table and mingle with my community. He would jump on the trampoline with the little kids and then look up at the stars in wonder with the toddlers when it got dark. He would sit and play chess with the teenagers and then ask for help on Minecraft from the tweens. And he would either join the ladies in a Wii dance-off…or join the men who are laughing at the ladies. I’m not sure which. Indeed, Jesus IS sitting at our table and mingling with OUR community. I hear conversations about Jesus, God, and religious things almost every week. It’s amazing.
When someone has the courage to share something they’re struggling with, Jesus is right there giving a hug to the hurting person through the Christians that are present. When people show up and exclaim their great joy about something exciting that has happened, I can hear Jesus’ big belly laugh through the crowd. Friday nights are fun. It is loud. It is real community. It is real evangelism. It makes people want to come back.
And there is more…
There is more to share, but I will write it in another post soon. There is more that goes on during the week that Brandy and I never share on social media. It is part of our combined effort to create community, meet the needs of those we have come to love, and to share Jesus by simply living life.
Community can be messy. It can be tiring. It can involve lost socks and bumped heads and spilled beans.
It can also bring life…real life…real community.
What are you doing to create community? And will you be joining us this Friday?