Huddled Masses

The other night some of my class mates and I visited a church service. It is called Theophilus. One of my professors is the pastor there. They share space with an Episcopal congregation on the SE side of Portland. Each week, things began with dinner at 5pm. Round tables were set in a large communal room of the church. I ended up at a table with two high school guys, three of my friends from GFU, and two young women early in their careers.

Olivia was the most talkative. She is a graphic artist who had moved to Portland from San Diego. We began to joke with her about the weather…leaving year around temperatures in the 70’s, beaches and blue skies to go to the wet and often dreary Pacific Northwest. After the initial levity, Olivia told us that she made her decision very intentionally. In fact the climate was the very reason she moved here. “In southern California people are outside all the time and when it gets dark you really can’t find anyone. You wander around wondering, ‘Where is everybody?’ I wanted to come to a place where people huddle together when it gets dark and cold.”

I don’t think I was the only one at the table stunned by her assessment. It was quite amazing that someone from a place many of us dream of living – desires community and connection more warmth and sunshine. Olivia saw possibilities where many of us only see hassles.

When I get home next week the sun will go down earlier, the temperature will have dropped, and the rain will soon turn to snow. I’m not looking forward to it but I hope my random encounter will help me look at winter differently this year.

  • Hopefully I will complain a lot less.
  • Hopefully I will remember that seasons of life can grow as dark and cold as the seasons of the year.
  • Hopefully I will see the dark and cold as an opportunity to huddle together with people rather than as an excuse to stay alone.
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One for the Bucket List

I really never know what kind of adventures I’ll have when I come to Portland. That has become as much of the learning process as the formal education at George Fox Seminary. I’ve been fortunate to have made a connection with a family in Portland that is gracious enough to let me stay at their house. Tony and Aimee have a wonderful spirit of hospitality often letting people stay for a variety of durations.

Early in the planning process – one of the other housemates remembered that they would all be going to a birthday party my first night in town. “You should come with us. It will be great!” he said. “Oh, um, yeah, well, maybe,” I stammered hoping to get out of it somehow. But I didn’t. I confessed to Tony, “I feel like a party crasher.” “You are, haha,” Tony reassured me.

So we headed out to the NE side of town…to a couple’s home that I didn’t know…to attend a party I wasn’t invited to…to wish happy birthday to someone I had never met…and would probably never see again. The husband greeted us warmly at the door so I decided to act like I belonged. I smiled, I chatted, I met people, I listened to stories, I told a couple jokes, I ate some fancy food. Typical dinner party stuff.

The house was packed to celebrate Katheryn’s 30th birthday. (which one was she again?) Ah…the one thanking all of us “who mean so much to her” for coming. I shuffled my feet. After that she said, “We are here to celebrate.” She referenced losing a friend recently and went on, “We are not guaranteed tomorrow, but we have today. And the best way to celebrate my birthday is to celebrate the God who loves me.” A pianist and guitar player moved into place and we began to sing a mix of hymns and spiritual songs that moved all 40 souls in the house. And then the young husband toasted his wife and invited others to share words of affirmation to Katheryn. Her dad, colleagues, college roommate, and friends filled out the portrait of the person we were there to honor.

 

It was all very beautiful, very touching. I will never forget it.

 

And they will not forget me because I stood on their couch and took the group picture.

 

So here’s something for your bucket list. Just above writing a book and jumping out of an airplane, jot down, “Go to a birthday party of someone you don’t know.” You’ll be amazed and glad you did.