to gather is to let the light in.

I didn’t grow up in a house that hosted often, or on the fly. My family threw parties occasionally, but most of our social gatherings took place in neighborhood clubhouses and church banquet halls. It was the 90’s, and the small group model within the church hadn’t taken off yet. Sunday school class made up one’s community, which typically consisted of weekly meetings in a formal setting and a yearly retreat or two.

As I entered adulthood, I watched the local church shed almost of all of its programming in favor of small groups – also known as life groups, family groups, and home groups. My introverted personality took a long time to warm up to them. I don’t want to use the phrase naturally averse, because I believe every human is wired for authentic community, but it’s the best description I can think of for the way I felt about opening my life to a group of people on such an intimate level. It was easy to blame my schedule, or the brand new baby (or babies), and not show up. For years, I resisted digging in and committing to these groups.

During one season of postpartum depression, my husband and I worked together to overhaul my schedule. Basically, we cleared everything off of the calendar and built it back piece by piece. For months, I only went to church, a weekly yoga class at my neighborhood rec center, counseling, and small group. I didn’t get to a vulnerable place with my small group for years, but it was during this season that I learned to show up consistently. And it changed everything.

I learned so much about myself then. Mostly, that I’d been lying to myself. I’d known all along that I couldn’t do life alone, that I needed grace just like everyone else in the world, and that being in community was good for my soul and the world around me. But there’s a difference between head and heart. I hadn’t wanted to do the work. I hadn’t wanted to feel exposed. I’d hated the idea of owing anyone anything. I’d been ashamed to admit any hint of failure even to myself, much less to people around me. I’d been living in the dark, but Jesus brought me into the light.

Over the years, it’s gotten easier. What started out as a disciplined commitment, a chore almost, has now become one of the greatest joys of my life. These days, I try to spend one night per week in community, which I define as the people who love Jesus and me enough to keep showing up for both. I gradually moved from coffee shops and restaurants to gathering in other people’s houses, and eventually… my own. Now, I’ll invite people over for a meal or a movie night with an hour’s notice. I’ll let teenage boys take over for a night or seven. I’ll offer to host the party instead of defaulting to a friend with a nicer house or sharper skills.

Opening my home to people has been a huge milestone of growth for my personality, my marriage, my role as a mother, and my journey as a follower of Jesus. It feels like letting the light in. It feels like victory.

My house was built in 1890. We bought it as a foreclosure. The floors are creaky and you can see through planks in places. The bathroom sink is cracked. Our kids are loud and our dogs are nosy. The walls are crooked, the baseboards warped and stained. There are never enough dishes or seats. It’ll be a decade or more before this house is “ready” to host, but we do it anyway. We can’t afford not to. We will not buy what culture or our flesh tries to sell us. We will not hide or withdraw or isolate. We will not wait for a better time. To gather is to fight. To gather is to change the world. To gather is to let the light in.

I’m in the light now, and I’m not going back.