Shannan Martin was one of my first blog friends. We were blogging before branding. Before Instagram. You know, back in the good ole’ days. Back when Shannan lived on a farm and I lived in town. Now Shannan lives in town and I live on a farm. And God has shaken (is shaking, let’s be honest) both of our lives up like a barrel of monkeys in the interim. Soon her second book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places, about this shaking will be be released, and I am so honored to have her here on to the porch, sharing a bit of her story with us.
Let’s Stop Loving on the Least of These
an excerpt from Ministry of Ordinary Places by Shannan Martin
St. Mark’s United Methodist Church was built in 1888, a small sanctuary with two sections of carved wooden pews bisected by a short center aisle. Natural light filters in through a massive, gothic-shaped stained-glass window on the east wall. Somehow, the space manages to be both traditional and unfussy. It grows dearer to my heart, more sacred, with each Sunday spent passing the peace and praying with all who gather. I love it.
Over the years, new additions have been grafted onto the building. You can’t miss the demarcations, each batch of brick slightly different than the one it’s cobbled against. First there was a foyer, then upstairs corridors of classrooms, a small library, and eventually a sprawling northern wing complete with a gymnasium-like gathering space and a commercial-grade kitchen.
Here, in Albertson Hall, the white-haired ladies, many of them friends for upward of fifty or sixty years, dutifully host annual rummage sales and cook funeral dinners for the saints as unto the Lord.
In keeping with our old-school Methodist roots, this is also where we hold carry-in lunches every couple of months. (I once entered my chicken and white bean recipe in a chili cook-off and didn’t even place. This is how serious my mainline brothers and sisters are about food.) Once, when the elementary school across the street was desperately in need of a new playground, we held a pie auction after church to help them raise the funds. From across the room, we outbid one another and talked a good bit of smack. (I walked up the alley toward home that day the proud winner of five pies, because in the scheme of life, I don’t want to have to choose between Caroline’s peanut butter pie and Maxine’s rhubarb.)
It was no surprise when a carry-in-style baby shower was proposed for Taylor, about to pop with her third son. She had made her way to us a few months earlier when her long-term boyfriend, Greg, began walking over from work release. Now, they were part of us, plain and simple. They shared their lives along with the occasional prayer concern during sharing time, their four-year-old son especially interested in laying claim to the microphone so that he could tell us again about the pizza place of his dreams where he one day hoped to work. Our small church body was itching to help meet some of their needs while showing them just how much they belonged.
The baby shower was an epic display of celebration, complete with miniature plastic baby bottle centerpieces and powder-blue streamers. By the time it was all said and done, it took three trips to get everything loaded into Taylor’s hatchback.
As some of us were cleaning up after the party, Mary began her usual off-loading of leftovers. “Shannan, would you take some of these baked beans home?” and then, a split-second later, “Oh, I almost forgot. Cory doesn’t eat beans.”
The faithful men and women of my church, particularly the older generations, continue to school me in the ways of loving with open arms, being patient with discipleship, and extending personal care and affection to the few who wander our way.
I find it difficult to express why her words were so meaningful to me, so I’ll just say that they stopped me in my tracks, and when I got home that afternoon, I went straight to my journal and wrote them down for safekeeping. I had no idea Cory’s picky eating preferences were widely known among our church family. I’m not sure how Mary came upon the information, or why it stuck with her. The only thing that mattered was the understanding that we are known. Exactly for who we are. All of us feels “least” in some way. Yet just like Greg, Taylor, and their growing family, we have been counted as worthy of time and attention by a small but mighty group of people who have felt the nearness of God and are eager to spread it around.
This is a snapshot of the beating heart of God, in close solidarity with us through the everyday details of life. He doesn’t just visit us when we’re praying or behaving. He doesn’t waste his time harping on the cobwebbed corners of our lives that would benefit from some broad improvements. He’s not our nitpicking great aunt who seems to come to town now and then only to express her disappointment.
He’s mad about us. He causes the light to fall on the best of who we are, nudging us shoulder to shoulder toward better things when we get stuck. What he wants most is to be near us. So that’s what he does. He stays close, pays attention, and, when necessary, settles in until we realize just how with us he really is. He is Jesus, God incarnate, inviting us to care for each other with the same tenderness and attention.
He is our friend Mary, making the world brighter in Albertson Hall as she wipes the counters with a soapy rag.
Shannan Martin, known for her popular blog Shannan Martin Writes, is a speaker and writer who found her voice in the country and her story in the city. She and her jail-chaplain husband, Cory, have four funny children who came to them across oceans and rivers. They enjoy neighborhood life in Goshen, Indiana, a place they fall more in love with every year.
You can pre-order her new book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places; Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around you HERE.