Home is Where Your Altar Is

I have been thinking a lot lately about the work of today and how I identify it.

Discerning the work for today—that where I am my most powerful in revealing the love of Jesus and bringing God glory, that which leaves me blessed and fulfilled, that which responds to the call to obedience and sacrifice, the choices we make before repentance as a next step is our only possibility—isn’t easy.

Even if we identify what we can do living out of obedience and uniqueness, (instead of in service to the idols of approval, power, and comfort) we see that there is more work than we’re able to do.

For me, there are more people to love, more things to teach, more words to say, more prayers to offer, and more sacrifices to make than I can do in a day. Today’s work is too much. I get overwhelmed when I look at it.

Then I get discouraged.

But we are promised that we won’t be given any more than we can actually handle. And the Giver knows our hearts and capabilities better than we do.

The work God has for us to do happens in time—it is for today—but it also happens in space. We can narrow our list by what we have to do today and where we have to do it.

I noticed this week a couple of signs I’m working in the right place. They’re ways God generously equips this messy, haphazard saint.

Where God has given me work to do, He also gives me a desk and a kitchen to use.

These are not metaphors.

These are literal desks. Literal kitchens.

The two things I most dearly miss about spaces in Florida are my kitchen and my desk. Though I lived alone, I had all the tools to gourmet-cook for an event and enough space to do it. And all my tools were red. I had a French press and a garbage disposal and these beautiful white dishes that sat in a wrought-iron wrack… a wok and red mixing bowls and chef’s knives and basil growing in the window.

I had red cloth napkins with my initials on them.

I used them every day.

I had teapots and matching teacups—everything I needed to make teatime guest feel like royalty.

In my classroom at the boarding school, I had a truly beautiful desk. In fact, when I was trying to decide which of two jobs to take, it was seeing this desk and this workspace where I knew I was home. The previous teacher left it for me.

When I was trying to decide whether it was time to leave the boarding school, I went back to my room midsummer to find that the administration had removed that desk and replaced it with an IKEA monstrosity, “in the name of classroom uniformity.” There was no staying after that.

My classroomI spent my first year in California regretting the move and the timing for it, but I kept coming back to that desk. When nothing else seemed good about my timing, I could point to that concrete fact: my desk was not there anymore.

When I started working for the church, I got to use a well-worn oak desk that belonged to the pastor of  (then) 35 years. It was his first desk. His wife helped him choose it when they entered ministry together. I cleaned it, drained a bottle of Murphy’s Oil Soap on it; I put the iMac on it and enjoyed the ironic contrast of the shiny computer and the vintage desk.

A hero and mentor of mine, a shepherd through some of my deepest transformations as a Christian, I counted it a privilege to be writing and working on Community and communication from his desk.

vintage_Abess_desk_2_massiveHe would probably think that was silly.

You know what else I had working for the church? A huge kitchen.

And the keys to the cupboards.

I arranged an Easter lunch out of there my first year—called in crock pots of bbq chicken and pork—for a good southern lunch. I learned who “my people” were in this new church that day, too.  People who turned out to be some of my closes friends at the church were the ones who spent that Easter afternoon in that kitchen washing all the dishes for hours and packing up the 12 full baskets leftover.

I made tea for my college students from that kitchen. We’ve made innumerable cookies there.

Chocolate Chip cookies

When my primary work moved from the church to the university where I was doing campus ministry for the last two years, I also got a kitchen and a desk. In fact, I got a mansion. Campus ministry is housed on the second floor, and by a miracle, I had nearly free reign of it.  There was a kitchen with a tea kettle and an oven and a refrigerator. Again, countless cookies baked. Countless cups of tea. Countless prayers offered over them.

Some of my favorite dinners ever were warmed in that kitchen while I got to pray with the other leaders.  Any dinner that affords that kind of communion—prayer and laughter for a common cause—is my favorite. That kitchen meant we could eat together before we worked together.

When it came time to write and study for my Divinity degree, I did my writing at wide  desk by the window in one of the student lounges. The desk was always empty when I needed it.  I could stay in the mansion, at that desk, later than I could in any library. And I did.

tea&bibleSome of my favorite conversations happened as I turned from that desk to talk with drop-in students. Preparing for an exam that featured Creation doctrine, I got to talk with an Environmental Studies major about how much God loves this planet—he and God have that in common—and God loves him, too.

The point of my time at that desk was to be ready for that moment.

When I started my new job, I begged God for a classroom of my own so I could have a desk and a chance to offer hospitality to my students. That didn’t happen.

But I did get a workspace to use.  I put up pictures of my people and lined up my books.

I also got a kitchen to use. It’s back by my primary classroom and the chapel. It’s quiet.

Brewing a pour-over cup of Equator coffee during the break on Friday, I noticed this pattern of desks and kitchens.

I noticed the way God faithfully provides what I need to do the holy work of scholarship and hospitality. Those are my places to worship and offer sacrifices.

The desk and the kitchen are a kind of altar.  A monk on the road carries everything BUT the kitchen sink, and I can’t very well drive a desk. But  as  lifelong  a desert wanderer, I’m given both the altar and the lamb for it.

Where I am poor, He provides what I need for my work to be my worship.

I am at home—I know my work is here now—because this is where I have a kitchen and my desk.

Everyone else knows I am home, too, because I’ve already hung something red and installed a tea kettle.

Just wondering: How do you know you’re home? What do you need for the work of today?

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One Comment

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  1. You are beautiful!

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