Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community


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All of these would seem to be issues and problems rather than gifts, but as we allow God to redeem our failures, doubts, griefs, and restlessness, we can receive these things as gifts to spur us on to greater growth and deeper relationship with Him and with others. For in brokenness, our woundedness is best addressed, our fears are calmed, our shame is lifted, and love is extended. Self-discovery is found in self-denial which allows us to be free and whole people? Betrayal A powerful meditation on betrayal and forgiveness.

Heuertz in his simplistic solution, that we all just act like mature people and get along but not misbehave. Heuertz seems to sy that we should just exercise common sense and grow up. Sometimes not saying thank you when a meal tab was covered by a community member or failing to express gratitude for well-prepared meetings caused some of us to judge each other as entitled or ungrateful. In a contemplative posture, we are able to receive the pain as a gift filled with healing and lament. I think I liked this chapter best of all because it spoke to my temptation to devalue and become tired of the daily-ness of my life and my calling as a mother.

Most of real life is undramatic. Stay when things get hard. Stay when we get bored. Stay when we experience periods of unhappiness. Stay when the excitement wears off. Stay when we fail or are betrayed. Chris Tomlin had a tour stop in Omaha, so we took him out for lunch. Our community gave him a Sari Bari blanket as a thank-you gift for the advocacy work he had done on behalf of the women. He was kind enough to invite me to his show later that night. The energy was great—an electrifying light show with huge video screens and amazing music. Toward the end of the night, Chris dialed things down and set aside his guitar.

He stood alone center stage, with a single spotlight shining on him. Behind a microphone, he gently held up his new Sari Bari blanket and began telling the sold-out arena the story of the Sari Bari women. He shared about the aliases the women took as means of coping with the horrific abuse they experienced every day. As he reflected on how the women each had chosen her given name to put on her work, he searched for the signature tag on his blanket. I began to sob.

Discovering the Way of Community

For much of her life, Mukti has been held captive in the small prison of her brothel room. Forced to have sex with as many as ten to fifteen men a day, she has been called awful, unspeakable things. But that night, somewhere in mid-America, her name was spoken of with honor and respect. Love was extended to her, and her story of grace and restoration was an invitation to worship. A few weeks later I was back in Asia and recounted the story for the Sari Bari project director.

Especially when the unexpected happens. Freedom is beautiful, but, like all things, it has a dark side. This is often the case with those who have been institutionalized, incarcerated, or systematically held in bondage for long periods of time. Their captivity ends up becoming an experience of security. In such situations, we all desperately need one another. Each woman who lives into the gift of her freedom needs the others in her community.

Every day the Sari Bari community comes together to create beauty. The blankets they stitch are vibrant, colorful works of art. Some of the little patches are intricately sewn so that the pattern of the quilt lines up perfectly with the pattern on the patch. Generously added to some, sparingly on others, these little patches add a gorgeous layer of texture.

One day while with the women, sitting on the floor of one of the Sari Bari community centers, I was admiring their work and pointing out the patches, trying to communicate how beautiful I found them. Upendra, one of the English-speaking staff, overheard my fumbling attempt to get my ideas across and helped translate.

He laughed out loud when he understood what I was trying to say. He explained that each finished blanket is washed before being packaged.

Unexpected Gifts : Discovering the Way of Community

Even more ironic, the women hate having to go back and repair their work. The patches are time-consuming and tedious. As is the case with us. In our own freedom, we still go about making mistakes, disappointing ourselves and others, living with guilt, shame, regret, or fear that the consequences of our worst moments will catch up to us.

Every community is, at one time or another, plagued by failure. We all know that. So why are we surprised when people fail? Why are we surprised when people fail? In my own community we routinely find ourselves wading through the murky waters of failure, navigating our way forward in grace while trying to retain high standards. The very things that make us great at what we do often have a shadow side.

Many of us find that disturbing, yet if we are to receive the gifts of our vocations and benefit from the best of what our humanity has to offer, we must acknowledge our propensity to make great mistakes. That we keep on. More than that, though, we need to know how to respond when failure comes. Too often in community, our response is less than grace-filled. Painful parts of my past and present seem to haunt me, and I let myself think that God still looks on with unfavorable resentment.

To be in community, you must be authentically human. Being authentically human means you will fail. These assumptions also have a great deal of power over how we accept people in their failures. Peter Rollins writes about this in terms of our trajectory from belonging to belief to behavior. When a child is born into a family, she belongs; she is part and parcel of the home. When she is a vulnerable baby, there really is not much she can do to separate herself from the parents who conceived or adopted her.

As she matures, she begins to adapt to the expectations of her family, learning to behave appropriately and live within the rules of her home. When she disobeys she may be punished, but she still belongs. However, even the most accepting communities, especially those who use family as a metaphor for what they desire to become, turn the belonging-behavior-belief continuum around. To belong to many communities, especially Christian communities, requires a commitment to belief. Though disagreeing on subjective beliefs such as issues of faith should lead us to deeper levels of trust, disagreement too often introduces exclusion in many religious communities.

So although community should be the place where we address our failures, communities often reject those who fail. Shortly after graduating from college, Caleb, a close friend I looked up to, made some awfully messy mistakes. Allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced from both men and women. There were also accusations of financial misappropriation. Questions even emerged about the authenticity of his faith.

From all sorts of random places and people, his trail of shortcomings caught up to him. Rather, they brought their concerns to me. How did I respond? The more information I received, the worse and worse things seemed. I compiled the accusations, neatly structuring them in topical order, starting with the lesser sins and ramping up to a heartless crescendo of judgment toward his most humiliating failures. I signed my name and sent the letter off. At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing—the right thing for him and the right thing to appease my own value commitments.

Now, though, I look back on that letter with profound regret. It was one of the worst things I could have done to him.

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I failed my friend in his failure, in his most vulnerable moment. I demonstrated fidelity to a set of behavioral expectations rather than taking the opportunity to love. Fast-forward several years, and I suddenly found myself bumping around the bottom of my own life, my own failures. I lost my way. I gave up on the notions of my ideals.

The standards I had held against others crashed down on my own head, and in the rubble of my life, I was broken.

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Thankfully, friends rushed in to help me. People in my own community reached out, lifted me up. To my great surprise, grace was offered as I confessed my failures and did my best to find a way forward in them and through them. They talked me through the pain. They were patient, giving me time to grieve, confess, and mourn the consequences of my mistakes. When I was at my lowest, they climbed down with me and helped me up. In true community, failures give us the chance to choose people over principles. Years earlier I had thought my principled stand with Caleb was justifiable. But suffering the consequences of my own failures illuminated in deeply personal ways the real failure I had made years before, opting to cling to expectations or a love of my sense of moral conduct over the basic human call to love one another.

When I held my expectations over Caleb, I demonstrated a love of my set of beliefs and acceptable behaviors—making rules the subject and people the object, using rules as a standard for belonging. Those are forms of emotional manipulation and abuse. They are punishment, not discipline. Discipline is restorative and redemptive; punishment is dangerous and retributive. We add to the shabby scaffolding of fear that keeps those closest to us from feeling the safety of confession.

I was wrapping up a breakout session at a large Christian music festival. The venue was a large circus tent; close to four hundred people had come to hear me speak about one of my books, Friendship at the Margins. The first hand that shot up belonged to a young man, probably thirteen or fourteen years old. I anticipated what his question might be, but I—along with the rest of the crowd—was stunned when he made a brief and direct statement: The vibe in the tent shifted. My talk had been on mission among populations of desperately poor people, so his confession seemed disconnected from the flow of the breakout session.

Side glances darted in his direction, some communicating disgust or disapproval. I looked the student in the eyes and thanked him for his honesty. And I meant it. I told him it had taken a lot of courage to share that with so many. I offered to find someone there for him to talk with, and after the session we did exactly that.

But even now, several years later, my heart goes out to that kid and so many others like him.


  1. Account Options;
  2. Institutions of American Democracy.
  3. La Ley Del Éxito (The Law of Success) (Spanish Edition).
  4. Ouvrages sur lAtlantide (French Edition).
  5. Books we must have though we lack bread.;
  6. Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher L. Heuertz.

Why does it feel easier to share our personal failures with strangers rather than our closest friends? We need support in our failures, and we need our communities to be safe places in which to find it. Yes, during the darkest moments in my life, even when surrounded by lifelong friends and tried-and-true community, I have felt the loneliest.

Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community by Christopher L. Heuertz | Semicolon

I have felt unsupported. My deep feelings of isolation perpetuate the fear that if I share my most vulnerable struggles, be they tender wounds or rough edges of my soul, the confessions will only lead to rejection. In community, I have been surprised by grace. Grace in community brings us closer together, not in a way that creates unhealthy fusion but in one that validates the human struggle we all face. It takes a mature community to create the safe space where a culture of confession is celebrated, where being honest is the expectation.

And we learn that confession is the first step of truth telling in that painful dance of transparency.

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Confession is hard, both making it and hearing it. It invites the possibility of forgiveness. Communities that practice failure are communities that know how to forgive. Truth telling means that we acknowledge the consequences of our mistakes.

Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community

But communities that forgive work toward wholeness and restoration. Restoration is one of those messy paths toward illumination. When we reduce restoration to formulas and checklists, it becomes another form of idealized failure. And, if stay, especially after things get tough, these inevitable challenges can become unexpected gifts.

And I think staying in community is also marked by very ordinary and routine rhythms. In addition, I think a lot of us idealize what we mean by community. Somehow we imagine this cosmetic version of community that only highlights and celebrates the best of us, while in true communities the worst of ourselves inevitably emerges—offering our community and ourselves a chance to learn to love and accept.

Fundamentally I believe the divine imprint in all humanity carries with it an existential yearning towards one another, we need each other and we were created for one another. Being in relationships and friendships and community is essentially human —beautifully human. Your email address will not be published.


  1. See a Problem?;
  2. Démocratie précaire (CAHIERS LIBRES) (French Edition);
  3. Armed Action.
  4. Military 2 (Discover Series).
Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community
Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community
Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community
Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community
Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community
Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community
Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community
Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community
Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community

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