why I (happily) live in a tent

You know those years that become lifetime markers? Where your story becomes divided into before and after? 2002 was that year for me.

Amongst a whole lot of changes, challenges and growth it was also a year of great loss. I miscarried a much longed for baby and then my marriage of 8 years ended.

As dramatic as it sounds, it really felt like I was “done”. My greatest hopes for my future – to be a wife and mother – were dashed. I’m 28 years old and I’m done. And, as if my own fears and doubts weren’t screaming loudly enough, others gave voice to judgement and condemnation. “Divorced people can’t serve in the church.”

Done.

Through a dear friend, God illuminated Isaiah 54 to my heart and rarely has a portion of scripture ever spoken so directly and powerfully to my very core.

It’s long. And there are many layers to the significance of all 17 verses and the context of the scripture in the greater biblical narrative. But let me highlight just a few (reading from The Message translation).

“Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.” v1

‭‭‬‬Boom! What?

“The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected,” says your God.” v6

‭‭‬‬🙋🏼‍♀️

So incredibly affirming and embracing. He sees. He knows. He holds.

Amidst all of the upheaval I was processing two big decisions – an apparent call into generations ministry and what to do with the large family home of which I was now in sole possession.

“More are the children of the barren woman…” at that time there were at least 30 who would come under my ministry umbrella! And God in His grace called me to nurture an ever growing gaggle of children and families that shaped a culture and focus for ministry in the context He placed me. Also moulding a lifelong ministry message and opening my heart and arms to some incredibly special little ones He has gifted to my life over the years since.

But, to the main point of this reflection – the Tent.

“Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” v2

‭At a time when it felt like my world and my dreams had been completely shrunk, God’s word to me was one of expansiveness and big picture dreaming. Spread out!!! Think big!! So, as I looked at this big 4.5 bedroom home – purchased with the dream of hosting a growing family but now just a home for one – God was shaping a vision for a different type of filling and a redirecting of my mother-heart to a different kind of loving.

Thus The Tent.

Make room. Make room for ministry, for meeting spaces, for parties, for storage; for a community trailer. Make room for guests, for those in need of emergency accommodation, for the convalescing, the international traveler, for the visitor and those needing a place to call home. Make room for dinner parties for 16 and takeaway on the couch for two. Make room for dreaming and writing, preparing and creating; for baking and making. Make room to embrace and to launch. Make room for tears, for doubts, for reflection, for grieving, for searching; for prayers. Make room for great joy and loud, loud laughter. Make room for deep learning, for growth, for failure and recovery. Make room for singing and dancing and trampoline jumping. Make room for babies and children, for youth and their leaders, for mentors and friendships, for family and colleagues. Make room for memories and moments.

Make room.

Stretch your tent curtains wide. Don’t hold back.

A vision for a physical location, but more importantly a mandate for a way to live. Make room. A desire for an ever-enlarging heart. For ongoing and greater generosity. For continuing openness even when wounding or grief would seek to close me down. For hospitality in its truest definition – welcome, inclusion, comfort and connection.

And now the Tent has relocated. But the physical aspect has only ever been one part. So even though this iteration is smaller (for now) the prophetic vision over it is still as large. The door is open, the kettle at the ready, the guest beds are made, everything is to be shared and my heart’s desire is to always be a place of welcome for all who would come.

The full text of Isaiah 54 (The Message translation) can be found here

why people at church don’t talk to you


A friend and I have been known to run an experiment. When attending a different church, she leaves me alone in the foyer (to go to the bathroom or something) and we see if anyone will talk to me. It’s damaging to my pride, self-esteem and sense of confidence in my personal hygiene to report that – more often than not – when she returns, I’m standing where she left me feeling forlorn and having had no interactions with others.

As someone who leads in a church and desires that our environments be welcoming and inclusive for all – I run this experiment not just as a test of the church I’m visiting but to remember for myself what it feels like. To experience that awkwardness of trying to posture myself to look open to conversations or interactions without making a fool of myself. And as bad as it feels, I remember that my experiment is only partly accurate because I’m a visitor. Others coming into churches come because they are looking to find Jesus! Some come because they are desperately seeking a place of connection and belonging – of home. While I’m only there for one night. So much more is at stake for them.

Whilst I have received feedback from people who have felt a little ignored or adrift in our church, it’s more likely that those who feel this most poignantly haven’t stayed around to tell anyone – they’ve just left. You may relate to this experience in your own church environment. You look around and others are deeply engrossed in conversations and excited interactions and you wonder why you’re not included.

 

The reason people at church might not talk to you is because they are exactly like you!

They are uncomfortable talking to strangers. As an outgoing, verbal, extrovert I am uncomfortable talking to strangers! Most people are! People don’t talk to you because, just like you, they are unsettled about talking to people they don’t know. How awkward will this be? What if we have nothing in common? What if I inadvertently offend or upset them with what I say? What if they don’t want to talk to me!? EVERYONE is processing these same questions.

They are comforted by their own friends. There’s safety and security in the knowledge of their connection to their group of friends. And in fact, they may well be worried that if they don’t speak to these people no one else will speak to them and so they don’t leave the circle for fear of feeling that isolation. We are all creatures of comfort and security. Stepping away from the known and into the unknown requires a bravery that we don’t always manage to summon.

Someone once said to me “I never realised how cliquey people were until all my friends were away one week and no one spoke to me.” She didn’t even realise the irony of what she was saying. She only noticed that everyone else stuck to their friends when the friends that she stuck to weren’t around.

They wrongly assess their social position. Frequently, the socially insecure assume that everyone else is socially confident. The quiet and shy ones assume that the noisy ones are more bold and self-assured (when, often, it is just the same feelings manifesting in different coping strategies). Those unfamiliar in an environment assume that everyone else is quite familiar. Those who are more connected don’t trust their social connections enough to leave them temporarily to reach out to others.

Ultimately, the human condition is such, that we are all looking for a degree of connectedness and are all at the mercy of one another to find that place of belonging and welcome. New. Old. Loud. Quiet. No one is exempt from contributing to the social dynamic of a community.

*** A common cry. ***

“What if I go up to someone and say – Are you new here? – and they say – No, I’ve been coming for 3 years.

OR what if you start your conversation a different way!?! (Genius, I know!)

“How are you today?” (Revolutionary, but effective.) “Are those your kids? Have you had a busy week? What’s ahead for you this week? How will you be spending your afternoon? Have you done the winter pruning of your fruit trees yet?” (Read – there are lots of other ways to start a question that don’t need you to guess how long they’ve attended your church!)

Or just a simple, “I don’t think I’ve met you before, I’m Kim!” might be enough.

The reason people in MY church don’t talk to you is because people like ME (and you) need to get better at it. We can do this!