The first time I met D.L. Mayfield in person, I picked her up from the airport on our way to a writing festival. At the time, we both lived in intentional community. And though our communities were very different, over the course of our car ride I began to feel a kinship to her angsty passion for making a difference in the world and her striving to be a good neighbor.
When my husband and I first moved to intentional community, longing to open our lives up to loving others, we were used to traditional church services, bible studies, and home groups. But we weren't used to the "sharing groups" that were important in our new community, which focused on each individual in the group sharing what he or she was was struggling with. Sometimes the sharing could last for hours.
Many of the younger folks in our community had a difficult time getting into sharing groups. It wasn't what we were used to and frankly, many of us would've rather had each other over for dinner, go to coffee, or even have a Bible study.
But over the years, I've come to realize that--though sharing groups are still a challenge to me-- our stories are perhaps the most important things we have to share. By the very act of living, we've all created our own narratives--often subconsciously--about our who we are as people. Sometimes in our self-narratives, we are the victim. Sometimes we are the hero. Sometimes we are the missionary out to save the world or the imposter who has nothing to offer.
The stories of others are important to hear so that we know how to care for one another. Our stories are important to share not just so that we can be known by one another but so that others can tell us where our narratives have followed the wrong plot line. So that our friends and neighbors, people who love and care for us, can remind us that God holds the threads of our true stories.
There are lots of ways to gather these stories but all of them require listening. This unrecognized ministry of listening isn't flashy. It is the very opposite of loud. But listening is a gift that all of us have the ability to offer. And it is essential to building and sustaining community and loving our neighbors.
In her newly released book Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith, D.L. Mayfield talks about her discovery of these unrecognized ministries. Mayfield's book about her life in Portland working with and befriending Somali Bantu refugees is so like Mayfield in real life: radical, angsty, soul-baring, raw, and familiar. By sharing her journey from do-gooder to good neighbor, Mayfield urges all of us to reevaluate our motivations, our idealism, and our comforts. She urges us to find those hidden ministries, like the ministry of Funfetti cakes that she bakes for her neighbors when she doesn't know how else to help. These cakes come to represent the ways we really love one another: through the often menial and hidden tasks of showing up and listening.
Order her book here.