A brown sign?

IMG_1869The struggle is real people. Real hard but real good. Giving thanks for a brown sign.

A brown sign? Why did I feel compelled to blog about a brown sign on Thanksgiving Eve? Well friends, here is a glimpse of what a brown sign has taught me over the past two days. This past Monday I was feeling super encouraged by the beauty of perfect timing.   That morning I found out our exterior sign at GraceFull was going to be installed late that afternoon. This was the same day that I was coordinating the community cooking effort for a free Thanksgiving meal that our former church sponsors with Denver Inner City Parish at College View. We plan in anticipation of sharing a meal with 400 and it has filled my heart with much joy over the past 5 years to be part of supporting this community building event from a place I love – the kitchen. I had made the hard decision that this was going to my last year in this role to be able to focus on GraceFull’s community going forward. It felt so perfect that this outward symbol of the beginning of GraceFull was coinciding exactly with saying goodbye to an important community in my life.

The anticipation in my heart of what GraceFull could become helped ease the sadness associated with this goodbye so late that evening after a full day with this event, I decided to drive by GraceFull to get my first glimpse of the sign that symbolized my new beginning. It was dark, but the outline of the sign was visible and that was enough. My heart was content with hope for the future. The story obviously doesn’t end here. The next day Avery and I drove over to the café late in the afternoon to rake the last of the leaves before the predicted snowstorm, and to be honest, being able to see the sign in the daylight was the biggest motivator – not the leaves.

We drove up and I was anxious as I rounded the corner to our parking lot. It was a big moment that I had built up in my head. The official announcement of GraceFull to our community. And……….. it was completely the wrong color. It was brown.

I have nothing personal against brown. It just wasn’t supposed to be brown. And it was definitely brown. So, Avery in her typical positive spirit said, “Mom, it looks so great!” I just took a deep breath, picked up the rake to distract myself from crying and said, “its not supposed to be brown.”

I won’t go into the whole back story of sign choice, but the color I chose was a shade of gray (see the color we painted the posts in the picture) to match the accent color we are using in the interior space.   So, I made a phone call and sent an email to the vendor in my best “I really dislike conflict” mode. At this writing, I don’t have resolution. My gut instinct was to ask them to take it down as soon as possible – I didn’t want people thinking I had no sense of taste. Their first impression was going to be a sign that had clashing colors and obviously didn’t match our logo.

Here is where I started to identify the lesson that was meant for me through this experience. It is the lesson that has hit me smack in the face multiple times over the past few months on this journey. I have a lot of growth to do around the ability to be vulnerable and fearing judgment in that process. It began with our Kickstarter campaign – I had to ask people for financial help. What if they felt like I should be able to do this on my own if it is that important to me? Why would they think this was worthy? Then it continued as my chef and I began digging into the work of food and coffee vendor selection, menu planning, etc. The obvious realization sunk in that at GraceFull each and every day I would be presenting food to people that have many opinions on what is good and what is not. Why would they think our food was good enough to spend hard earned money on? I was beginning to feel moments and even days of panic around opening myself up to judgment everywhere I turned.

Add to that the confidence it demands to make the level of decisions I have been having to make day in and day out almost every day these past 6 months. I do not naturally have that confidence. It has taken a lot of hard work and soul searching to begin to develop this belief in myself to not second guess every small decision, as I simply don’t have the time. Just a few weeks ago my husband gave me a beautiful compliment in conversation with friends that he has seen me grow so much in this area to be able to trust in myself compared to back when he met me over 20 years ago when I couldn’t even decide what to have when we would go out to eat. Now, here I stood, taking what felt like a HUGE leap backwards. I had invested a lot of hours in this sign design, even though it looks like a really simple thing. And it was totally wrong. It was brown. What did this say about my abilities?

Well, here I am just two days later able to be thankful for my brown sign. Here is what is so good about the brown sign. It has reminded to think about what the sign says instead of focusing on the color. It proudly displays our GraceFull name. There was so much intention in choosing that as the name for this vision. We are all about extending grace to each and every person that walks through our doors – whether we have known them for years or whether it is the first time that we have ever seen them. We will welcome, invite and love them whether they have the appearance of coming from an average middle class family or if they have been unable to wash their clothes for an unknown amount of time; whether that is due to lack of financial resources or simply mental challenges.

If I am going to be capable of extending grace to all people, how can I not extend grace to a brown sign? Really? And my fear of people judging me for lack of visual taste and as a response wanting to take the sign down immediately – well, how tempting is it to judge people like this? Judging is easy.   Not judging is hard. I needed to do the hard work. I wanted to do the same thing with my sign that I often want to do with all the judgmental thoughts that creep into my daily mindset. I wanted to just hide it. I didn’t want people to see this fault that reflects poorly on me (or so I thought). Just because I could physically hide it didn’t mean that my internal fear of judgment was gone.

I still have so much personal work to do around the fear of judgment and being “good enough,” but for now the brown sign is still standing. Feel free to drive by and take a look at its bright brown beauty. I wanted this part of the story to be perfect and had it all planned to post the perfect picture on Instagram announcing the official beginning of GraceFull. This much anticipated external moment definitely wasn’t perfect, but I am beginning to realize it is better.  I can’t be perfect every day; if we’re really honest – most days. Our food won’t be perfect every day at GraceFull. Every person that walks in our door will not be perfect. And this is all ok. This is what grace is about. We believe that together as a community we are perfect, in all our flaws and strengths.

Maybe this blog post will go viral and I will even have to leave the brown sign. Highly doubtful, but regardless, the brown sign is part of our story and that is why I wanted to blog about it here. It is an accidental symbol of what we are about at GraceFull and what I am striving to try and live out every day in my own life. And boy is it hard, but it is good hard.

Don’t get me wrong. I still have a long ways to go. I am in the process of trying to fix the sign. We will see how that goes. Sometime you can also ask me about the odd brown chair that sits outside our house on our front porch. I’m beginning to wonder what it is about brown? Maybe next time my lesson could come through something purple. I really like purple. Until then, feel free to drive by and enjoy our brown sign and I hope it can be a little reminder to take a moment to be thankful for the grace that people have extended you in your own lives and the potential impact you can make in other’s lives by showing them grace.

Relationships

This past month I had a chance to introduce two friends that I love a lot over lunch.  I just felt in my heart they were supposed to know each other, even though I wasn’t exactly sure why.  So, they were kind of enough to indulge me and we had a great lunch talking about where we were in our lives and sharing stories.  As part of this conversation they asked me if I was going to blog for GraceFull and shared words of encouragement around that.  I’m sure my body language gave me away immediately as my gut reaction is to shrink back and cringe a bit when I think about writing for a public audience.  This really doesn’t make a lot of sense because I have always loved to write.  I am much more comfortable and effective when I express my thoughts through writing.  Too often in person I can’t get out all of what I want to say and it ends up in a jumbled mess or often with me in tears if it is an emotional topic (many of you who know me have witnessed this countless times).  I think better when writing words versus speaking them.  And when I start writing, I never have a shortage of words.  Brevity is not my strong suit, so consider yourself warned.  

So, here I am – blogging.  I’m not sure how often this will be happening.  I can’t say that I will be blogging every week or even every month.  I guess it will evolve as I have stories that are on my heart to share.  

What has been on my heart as a blog debut topic is Relationships.  I wanted to begin here as this is what life is all about for me.  Investing in relationships is at the heart of GraceFull’s vision.  If you visit our home page, we list our 5 core values and at the top of the list is that we will Invite, Welcome and Love all People.   Food is the way I love to love people.  I want to go past the invitation to making you feel welcome at our table;  to getting to know you so I can love you better; whether I have known you for an hour or a year.  In my heart, the offering of food is a way of offering love.  This concept isn’t new.  Sharing meals together dates back to the beginning of society.  Think about how we continue to show love today when big things happen in people’s lives – whether it is a birth, a death, an illness, a graduation, etc.  When I don’t know what to say I bring food.  When I want to help you celebrate I bring food.  It’s just universal to me.  Food sustains us, so the act of sharing food is sharing life with each other.

Troy and I have the opportunity to open GraceFull in a wonderful home that has many great stories of its own simply because of the power of relationships.  I wanted to honor that story by sharing it with you because GraceFull is a personal example of the fruit of investing in relationships.  It was back in February that I first visited what was then the Serendipi-Tea Shoppe with my friend who was also my realtor.  Little did I know then the ups and down that were to happen in the months following, but thankfully I know now that the story has a happy ending.  To try to make a long story short (or at least shorter!), after a few more visits and then falling in love with the property I was abruptly told that it was no longer on the market.  The disappointment in my heart was significant.  At this point I hadn’t had the opportunity to talk with Jean who was the owner for more than about 5 minutes.  

As I find is often true, God’s timing was perfect and the day after I received this news I was scheduled to fly out to visit a dear friend that had moved with her family in the past year to pursue their dream of starting a new life on a family farm in the midwest.  I often refer to her as my “partner in crime” as we have so many great memories together of loving people in the kitchen.  It was a weekend for my soul to heal from what felt like a great loss of something that was meant to be and there was no better place for me to be right then to ask questions of my heart, search for peace and to be re-united in the kitchen with such a dear friend.

I came back from the weekend with a refreshed spirit feeling like there was more to be invested in; an investment beyond what I was hoping for in my own heart, which was a home for GraceFull.  It was a personal investment that had been missing and that I  selfishly needed.  I never had the opportunity to hear Jean’s story, nor had I been able to share mine with her.  Things felt incomplete.  It wasn’t about the real estate transaction.  It was about our hearts.  So, I requested permission from her realtor to write her a letter.  In this letter I shared the story of our family’s background and my vision for GraceFull.  I also asked if she would be willing to have tea with me so I could hear her story.  I felt that after having a chance to invest in hearing each other’s story that things would work out as they should; whether that meant her reconsidering selling the property or not.  My daughter Avery and I dropped the letter by the tea shop although Jean didn’t happen to be there that morning.   A day later she called and accepted my invitation and later that week Jean and I had the chance to invest in each other over tea.  Three hours later we had shared our hearts and heard each other’s stories.  She was able to hear my vision of continuing to use her shop as a gathering space for the community and to invest back in the community.  I also had the opportunity to hear how so much of her heart was invested in the space where she had pursued a dream of opening a tea shop with her husband who she then lost very suddenly to cancer just two years into her dream.  I walked away that day feeling complete.  We had had a chance to begin a relationship even though I wasn’t sure where it would lead.  

As this post is already becoming a novel, I will skip the rest of the details that followed in purchasing the property over the next 4 months before we closed on June 26th.  Finding a home for GraceFull became a reality because of the potential that relationships hold.  People are created to be listened to and valued.  If we go through life trying to survive on our own or not wanting to let people in, we are missing so much of the amazing richness that others can bring into our lives.  With that said, relationships are not easy.  They are hard work.  Some can be super fulfilling, others can be incredibly draining and messy and leave us broken, hurt and angry; and some can be both depending on the season that we are in.  Whether the relationship is easy or hard it impacts us and when we are impacted there is growth.  As I write this I am both celebrating and mourning some relationships in my life.  I am celebrating with my sister and brother-in-law that live in Russia and just received news that after years of investing in a relationship with two special boys that they finally have formal approval as their foster parents.  I am also celebrating 20 years of marriage this week to an amazing man that I am so lucky to have as my husband and that has stood beside me through all of these years which have definitely lived up to “for better or for worse.”  But I also have those relationships currently that I have neglected investing in because they are at a hard point and I don’t know what the next step should be or I am too afraid to take it.

To some extent we can and should choose our relationships, but I also believe the opposite to be a difficult counter truth.  Yes, we should be very intentional about who we choose as our life partner for example, but on the other hand I think it can be an incredibly healthy and challenging thing to not always screen who we allow into our daily lives.  I have already met so many people incredible people on my journey to open GraceFull and I can’t wait to welcome everyone that walks through our doors and begin investing in new relationships over a good meal.  The invitation is always there. You are always welcome.  We will love you well.