The honor of invitation

I was sitting in a holy place. Metal chairs, a few tables, some windows. From a mounted television screen pictures from a wrestling match flashed, and the vending machines in the corner made their constant hum. But here in this understated room I looked at my brown leather sandals and half wondered about taking them off, knowing full well I was near holy ground. Underneath all this ordinary was a glorious expectancy, and I could hardly contain my eager joy.

I’d seen the text not an hour earlier. “Water broke. She is on her way!” I practically danced through a quick shower, leapt around the house announcing the news, and skipped to the car, camera bag in hand. When I explained to the woman at the front desk why I was there, I couldn’t quite understand why she didn’t jump out of her seat to celebrate with me; the miracle of it all was certainly not lost on me, even if she was quite accustomed to women giving birth just down the hall from where she was seated.

Sitting in my chair in the waiting room I couldn’t quite form prayers into words, but my mind and heart were nevertheless filled with an inexplicable assurance—life was birthing new life, a miracle was taking place. And I was struck with the honor of that invitation—to wait, to be near, and to hope and wonder with her.

You and I may receive a handful of truly remarkable invitations in our lifetime, a request from a loved one or kindred spirit into one of those thin places that is significant in their story and therefore in our own. And with each remarkable invitation, I wonder how many everyday, nonchalant invitations might precede it? Hey, want to have lunch? Want to grab a cup of coffee? Want to meet at the park? Want to talk more about that dream of yours? In the ordinary—around the table, along the walking trail, over the glass of wine—we find the connection that will lead us into the sacred.

I can’t even remember the first time I invited Tiffany over for dinner, or perhaps we met at the park to let the kids play. A mutual friend had invited her to the women’s retreat where we’d first met, then I’d invited to her apply for an open position at the school where I was teaching, and the rest was history. We were soon living in the same neighborhood, working at the same school, and worshipping at the same church. One invitation turned into a dozen invitations, which turned into invitational living. There’s a kind of freedom in a friendship when you’ve extended and accepted enough invitations that you already know you’re welcome, they already know they belong.  

That kind of community, though, only happens with other kinds of invitations. Want to watch my kids for me so I can get a break? Want to stay with me after the party and help me do dishes? Want to sit with me and listen just so I can put my feelings into words? And all the while we’re asking unspoken questions. Will you do life with me even when it’s crazy and messy and my kids are cranky? Will you hold my story and trust my heart and give me grace even when I’m falling apart? Will you see me? Will you be there? And through the inviting and the responding, the giving and the receiving, in the back and forth we create something beautiful—friendship that can hold space and grace for each other, belonging that feels like family.

The next text came from her husband and was straight to the point: “She’s here! Please come in!” Before I knew it I was at Tiffany’s side, a fresh miracle lying on her chest.  Dark new eyes were staring up at my friend, seeking out the face that went with that voice she already knew, and her skin keeping warm on the body that had held her for 37 weeks. I took out my camera and asked the moment to just stay still, my breath catching and then releasing in smiles and tears.

The honor of the invitation that day makes me wonder if all invitations aren’t a little like being invited to a birthing room. We’re asked to enter into another person’s story—their beautiful, messy, hard, glorious life. Whether it’s a Tuesday or a birthday or a doctor’s visit day—when we’re invited in, may the wonder and honor of that invitation never be lost on us. Who knows what miracles we just might witness?

Lauren Goldbloom makes a life as a mother of six, wife of one, and neighbor to many. She practices the art of neighboring around her big dining room table, where there’s always room for more friends and more stories.

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