There was a time Shannan Martin thought her hair would turn gray in the farmhouse at the end of a long, gravel lane. She believed her job was to pursue safety and comfort. Back then she didn’t know suffering comes with hidden gifts, or that God’s “more” for her family was going to look like “less.” These days, her ordinary, neighborhood life is a mashup of the magic found when we draw a wider circle around who we call “family” and learn to live in meaningful proximity with the people near us. The Ministry of Ordinary Places is a new pair of glasses meant to help us see God’s goodness everywhere. It is an invitation to get low to the earth we stand on and take note; to search for the lonely, the hurting, the overlooked, and wave them in. The abundant life is a collision of surrender and surprise. It will exhaust and exhilarate us, but it will also show us the face of Jesus, lined with laughter, tracked with tears, bold and weary, waiting to set us free. It’s a grace to welcome Shannan to the farm’s front porch today…
It was a typical Tuesday when my neighborhood finally snapped awake.
We’d been restless for a while, walking bleary-eyed through the occasional warmer days, grinning sleep-drunk and grateful before slinking back into hibernation when the sky returned to steel.
Maybe it was the puffy clouds, or the fact that a seventy-degree day in early May in northern Indiana is measured on a weighted scale.
Whatever the case, for the first time in months, everyone seemed to be outside.
Driving back from dropping my son Calvin off at tae kwon do practice, I spotted the two of them running down the sidewalk toward me, my heart surging with a familiar blip of relief.
When one of my adult neighbor-friends steps back into the picture after an extended time away, it’s often under bleak circumstances.
The kids are different.
They chased my van, ponytails whipping, mouths wide, banging on my window before I had even turned off the engine. Their version of catching up was a freight train of crosstalk, a fight against chickadees, nuthatches, and each other for my attention.
They filled me in on everything I’d missed when the world was frozen and quiet: moves, trouble at school, a freshly broken arm. “She broke it last week, and the next day she got popular!” one of them said, gesturing toward her friend’s blue cast, already dingy looking and covered in ink.
After twenty minutes spent catching up, my mind drifted to the pot of stock simmering on my stove top. It was five fifteen, and I had to be somewhere by six. The weeknight shuffle stops for no man, no child, no early crack of spring. The girls ignored my attempt at a polite exit and followed me inside, no invitation necessary. That night, the soup I stirred was extra funky. I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it, and they were both highly intrigued and more than a little repelled.
We talked about this and that, the two of them as light and giggly as every ten-year-old should be.
Without thinking a thing about it, I opened the fridge to grab another ingredient.
And they both lost their minds.
I’ve seen the show Hoarders before, though not on purpose. It doesn’t strike me as dignified or even as a particularly helpful sociological study. It seems more like a cheap opportunity to use the poor, the estranged, and those suffering with mental illness as entertainment. Just one more way to normalize our own failures. “I’m not that bad.”
It makes my stomach hurt.
Guess what else makes it hurt? Watching two young girls gasp over how much food I have in my fridge. Realizing I am a hoarder in my own socially accepted way.
Generally, when I detect even a shred of discomfort in the air, I do whatever I can to diminish it. Often, the fastest way to diffuse what I perceive as a mounting power imbalance is vigorous defensiveness. I am not better than you. I do not have that much more. I am not wealthy. I am not spoiled. Trust me.
That evening was no different.
I found myself making excuses, which only made matters worse. “I got groceries two days in a row! We needed everything! People eat a lot of food!”
I got groceries.
Two days in a row.
We needed everything.
People eat a lot of food.
Meanwhile, they were still telling short stories about what they usually had in their refrigerators and how they had never seen a fridge that full.
“Maybe they’re that full at a restaurant, but I don’t know . . .” one of them said.
Bearing witness to lack constantly exposes my abundance in ways I find inconvenient and uncomfortable, particularly since I’m inclined to believe, despite all the evidence closing in around me, that I still don’t have enough.
I’m a human. A middle-class, white American. I live in a place where most people struggle and where life leans toward survival.
And I still keep getting it wrong. I keep wanting more and bemoaning what I already have.
God promises daily bread but, I’ll be honest, sometimes I’m tired of bread.
Sometimes the bread I’m sent just isn’t the bread I want. I’d rather have peach cobbler with whipped cream. A chocolate croissant. I’d rather have loaded nachos and, by the way, daily isn’t quite often enough. I’d prefer them by the hour.
I can’t fix economic systems or eradicate an entire history built on the backs of people deemed unworthy of justice.
But as a woman of great privilege, the least I can do in the face of my community’s and this world’s suffering is make peace with my daily bread.
I will remember their context as well as my own.
I will not look only to those who have more as the measure of what I deserve.
I will not lament humble things, nor wish for a harder, grittier life.
I will not exaggerate my position on either end of the spectrum.
I will stare it all down with gratitude, and I will call it good.
Every breath of Jesus and every groaning of His spirit is an invitation to spill it out onto the world that waits, parched and panting. We can’t surrender what we don’t have after all. We are invited to greater generosity, to a looser grip on our money and our things, to a more expansive belief that the earth really is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Ps. 24:1).
As we face a world of hurts, ever more familiar with its contours, may this be our offering—that we never lose our taste for daily bread and that we remain eager to share.
Lord Jesus, send help.
Lord Jesus, make it so.
Shannan Martin, is a speaker and writer who found her voice in the country and her story in the city. Shannan, her jail-chaplain husband, Cory, and their kids, live as grateful neighbors in Goshen, Indiana. Her previous book, Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted, charts her family’s pilgrimage to neighborhood living, away from the self-focused wisdom of the world and toward the topsy-turvy life of God’s more being found in less.
In her newest release, The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You, Shannan dives into the believe that the welfare of our neighbors really does determine our own (Jeremiah 29:7) With transparency, humor, heart-tugging storytelling, and more than a little personal confession, she shows us that no matter where we live or how much we have, as we learn what it is to be with people as Jesus was, we’ll find our very lives.