Milk and Honey Magazine interview and book review on The Ministry of Ordinary Places with author Shannan Martin!

Creating a Life of Meaning

M&H Staff

Author Shannan Martin offers us gals who are longing for a more meaningful life a simple starting point: learn what it is to love and be loved right where God has placed you. Amen to that, right?! It sure takes the pressure off our shoulders!

For Christ-followers living in an increasingly complicated world, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to live a life of intention and meaning. Where do we even begin? Shannan offers a simple answer: uncover the hidden corners of our cities and neighborhoods and invest deeply in the lives of people around us.

In her new book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places, she walks us through her own discoveries about the vital importance of paying attention, as well as the hard but rewarding truth about showing up and committing for the long haul, despite the inevitable encounters with brokenness and uncertainty. With transparency, humor, heart-tugging storytelling, and more than a little personal confession, Martin 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.

The details will look quiet and ordinary, and the call will both exhaust and exhilarate us. But it will be the most worth-it adventure we will ever take! Let's get to know our new BFF Shannan!

Milk and Honey Magazine interview and book review on The Ministry of Ordinary Places with author Shannan Martin!

Story behind The Ministry of Ordinary Places?

My family experienced a boatload of transition a handful of years ago. My husband’s career shifted from federal politics to non-profit work and eventually, to becoming the full-time chaplain in our county jail. We adopted our oldest son while he was nineteen and in jail. And, perhaps most significantly, we moved from our cozy dream-farmhouse to a low-income neighborhood on the other side of the tracks in a nearby city.

Almost everything about our position in life had changed. For a while, we got caught up in the adrenaline rush. It was all so new! So exciting! But it didn’t take long for us to find our groove. Once that happened, our question turned from, “Why here?” to, “Now what?”

The world around us was growing more complicated and overwhelming by the day. There was no way we could fix the problems swirling in the atmosphere and filtering through the news cycles. But we discovered that as we drew near to the people around us and committed to the ordinary place where we had been planted, hope bloomed. Relief arrived.

We got more serious about paying attention. Listening. Loving not just in thought or word, but with our actual lives. Jesus showed us what it means to really be with people, to belong to them. This is our way forward when the world around us feels loud, fractured, and combative. No matter where we are, loving and being loved by those around us, particularly those who are lonely or suffering, is the key to the abundant life.

Milk and Honey Magazine interview and book review on The Ministry of Ordinary Places with author Shannan Martin!

How can we build stronger community?

I’m a big believer in reimagining who we think our community should be. It’s too easy to get hung up on finding people whose lives closely resemble our own. But I continue to discover the richness of circling up with those who differ from me in wild, unexpected ways. In recent years I’ve gotten better about just opening my eyes to the people right in front of me and sort of going, “Huh, there you are.” We don’t have to search for “our people” as much as we just recognize them. From there, we can be the friend we long for. We can take some risks. We can present our most basic, ordinary self, apart from any fluffing or pretense, and seek to love those near us for every perplexing and wonderful thing they are.

My last tip is to ask for help. Be the needy one. Yes, it will rattle our pride in some necessary ways. But it will also crack the door open for others to see that we don’t have it all together, and that they don’t have to, either. That’s a powerful place to find meaningful belonging.

Go-to 'pick-me-up' when discouraged?

Funny you ask, because I had a discouraging day just yesterday. Living rooted in community guarantees that we will face hardship and suffering. We will come face-to-face with our inability to fix any of it. We will be forced to acclimate to discomfort, and we will have our hearts broken. When I was struck with the light blues yesterday, I found myself trying to self-sooth in all the usual ways. I grabbed overpriced take-out for lunch. I went on a complaining spree. I wallowed in a bit of self-pit, stared at my phone, and ate chocolate even though I wasn’t hungry. I tried to avoid the hurt altogether. These are the traditional, go-to “self-care” techniques we often hear about, and they aren’t inherently bad. It’s just that they don’t actually help. They might distract us or numb us, but once that rush fizzles out, we’re still left feeling droopy.

In the end, I went on a short walk and found signs of hope, kindness, beauty, and life right where I am. What a gift! When we remain open to being ministered to by our ordinary places, when we truly believe compassion is a two-way street and self-care should be accessible to everyone, we might find ourselves looking at the sky more, searching the low places and finding them lovely, and remembering that we are not alone. It helps tremendously.

Pray. Vent to a trusted friend. Take a nap. Look and listen. Tomorrow is a new day. Hope is very much alive.

Milk and Honey Magazine interview and book review on The Ministry of Ordinary Places with author Shannan Martin!

Advice for your 25-year-old self?

The thing I most wish I knew when I was twenty-five is that I had been influenced by the culture to want some of the wrong things. I was in the early stages of idolizing comfort, safety, and security, and this misplaced affection caused me to miss out on the adventure of living with open hands and blank pages. It wasn’t until ten years later that I began to see that living for Christ meant open doors and even some raised eyebrows.

This life, though exhausting, is also exhilarating. My everyday life is spent in meaningful connection with the quirkiest, kindest souls who have changed my view of the world. We suffer and celebrate together, but we also eat left-overs together, lament laundry piles, and pass each other on the street. We live our small, regular lives in close proximity and discover the clouds aren’t so ominous after all. It’s undeniably worth it. God doesn’t waste anything and I don’t begrudge a single step of the journey, but it’s hard to not think of what I may have missed along the way.

Milk and Honey Magazine interview and book review on The Ministry of Ordinary Places with author Shannan Martin!

What can readers expect?

I hope readers will be encouraged to see their ordinary world with a new lens, positively pulsing with the grace and goodness of God. I hope they’ll have the guts to join God in the work he is already doing around them, understanding that loving our neighbor often means putting ourselves on the line for them. I hope they will believe, in every cell of their bodies, that making the world better for one person truly does make the world better.

How can we serve in a Christ-like way in our daily lives?

The only way to do this is to surrender our ideas of what we think we need or “deserve.” Realizing this for the first time felt like receiving terrible news because control feels safer. But it turns out, I’m not as smart as I thought I was! Living in surrender means we’ll go where we’re sent and we’ll commit until we hear otherwise. From there, it’s about paying attention to the needs around us and getting used to inconvenience and interruption. No matter where we live, there are hidden corners of need. We have to search until we find them then stick around for the long haul, getting dirt beneath our nails and callouses on our soles, cheering and running, feasting and grooving together.

Above all else, it’s vital that we learn to receive. If we are always the ones serving we’re basically living as an overworked, underfunded non-profit. True community exists in the passing of bread. I receive, and I pass it on. We need each other, Christ in each of us, our faces reflecting his glory and lighting up the dark.

Pre-order The Ministry of Ordinary Places, avail October 9, 2018!