This last Friday I attended The Gathering with some of my favorite people. The Gathering experience will seem very unusual when I attempt to describe it, bear with me. But here goes my try at explaining it to you.
The Gathering happens each year around Thanksgiving. It’s an evening of swapping hosting ideas, a mecca of holiday decorating knowledge, and hosts one of the cutest pop up shops. All while simultaneously acting like a version of Oprah’s Favorite Things because each year you go home with a selected group of items they highlight. It is all very exciting.
But more importantly it is an evening where (mostly) women come together to gather and hear about what Everyday Ministry is doing all around the world. Each year Denise Lopez, founder of Everyday Ministry, shares her heart for what they are doing from Tulsa to Nepal to Ghana to the many other places The Gathering travels in the United States. Not only is she hysterical, but her heart and voice point others to Christ as she cast a vision encouraging others to find their own “go”. Seriously, I would love to be her friend.
This year was a milestone of sorts. You see every year after The Gathering my ever so stylish sister will spot something new on me. And every year she asks where it’s from in part because I did not text her a picture of it from a dressing room to ask if I could buy it. So my answer to her somewhat shocked question is almost always, “The Gathering”. She then rolls her eyes and states, “of course” with a dramatic disdain of FOMO.
Anna had never been to The Gathering. She had only heard about it. It grew to one of the longest running jokes in our family. Even when we would text her things we could buy her from the pop up shop or took her to the The Plaid Pineapple, the storefront shop open year round, the joke continued.
However, this year Anna got to join us. I will not lie, I am a little bit sad the joke will end. But it was a great night with all of the girls there together. And I am sure I will find a way to weave in the joke somewhere. I cannot not use my gift of comedic timing.
In part, I love this evening because it reminds me how much I love to host. I love to gather people in spaces and spend time together. Preparing food and decorating a space brings me so much joy. In college my best friend’s dad purchased a home for us to live in while we attended school, but also so he could have a weekend getaway in Stillwater, OK. My friend and I’s only criteria – a good flow for hosting and ample parking. We were maybe nineteen/twenty.
Hosting is in my blood. My great-grandparents would always invite any and all to holidays. From international students, to friends, to extended family to random people they heard did not have a place to go; all were welcome. That tradition continues to this day. So to me hosting is just natural.
I do however, find myself at times growing obsessed with hosting. I have been known to quietly freak out about what I’ve cooked not working out. Or at times, I may appear more engrossed in the preparation than being present for the actual event. Sometimes I accidentally stay in the kitchen and never interact with guests because I want to ensure everything is taken care. I may become frustrated when the plan or ideal does not translate to reality. I also may or may not have a bit of Type A in me, possibly.
My current living situation does not have an ample flow. Downtown street parking is rarely ample. I have no dining room table, only a bar counter with three stools and a coffee table. We live on the third floor and must go downstairs to let anyone inside. Hosting is a bit more inconvenient now. Do not get me wrong, I love my apartment, but at times I long for a more conducive space to host.
On Friday Denise (we are going to pretend that we’re on a first name basis at this point) talked about how when we gather people we must be intentional and we must be present, that is all that really matters. Not the table setting, not the food, not the gifts – it is about being together. I needed this affirmation in some ways.
I want everything to look pretty and perfect, but as I reflected on the many events held in this gem of a third floor apartment I was reminded of how grateful I am for a space to gather others.
In the past four years this apartment has held an epic Space Jam party where seventeen adults ate greasy pizza, wore sweat pants, and played silly games late into the night. This apartment with little to no flow has held brunches and World Cup watch parties (do not get me started on how sad I am that the USA did not qualify). This apartment has had spontaneous prayer gatherings, planning meetings and Bible studies. Many a brokenhearted have sat on the sofa and cried with dear friends. Charcuterie boards (a new nugget of knowledge The Gathering taught me), cookie dough, and chili have been served up in droves. This apartment has become a space where all are welcome despite it not always being a picture perfect space. Because people are welcome and gather in love, it works.
One of my favorite moments was yesterday evening. My roommate who works for Wyldlife, the middle school version of Young Life, had some of her girl leaders and about twelve middle school girls over to our apartment. I was working in my room, but I had the privilege to eavesdrop on the beauty of the evening.
You see, the living room wasn’t clean. The food was not in pretty containers. Everything was not ready when the girls arrived. Internally I was freaking out for my roommate even though it was not my event. But as I went in between working and listening to their evening, the beauty of simply gathering struck me. You would think after being reminded of this the night before I would not need my memory jogged again so soon. Sometimes I am very dense.
Girls laughed, yelled, talked about life in middle school, and sang some very enthusiastic karaoke. I wondered how anyone could truly enjoy middle school girls as I sat in awe of listening to the leaders who clearly loved spending time with each of these girls. Honestly, I love elementary school and high school, but I do not understand middle school. The mix matched plates did not matter. The bags of food in their original packaging didn’t matter. Even if they had been young adults hanging out or a dinner party, the presentation should not take precedent over the true event. Gathering together should be the most important aspect of an event.
You see this rabbit trail of a bunch of different stories led me to this, life may not always look like the big opulent party you want to throw at the beautiful Instagram worthy model home with a great flow and ample parking. Sometimes life might be a counter top filled with pizza boxes and moving all the furniture for Space Jam.
Hosting and decorating are by no means bad things. I still plan to make things look pretty no matter what. But my hope is that I do not let it distract me from the people and the precious stories they bring. Just like so many before me have modeled and just like Mrs. Denise Lopez of The Gathering models year after year as she gathers groups of women and shares her heart for the world.