• Sitting in the backyard watching my house



I sat outside on the hammock tonight, ignoring the incessant clatter of my to-do list. Since launching our new company (have you seen our Visual Creatives website yet? We’re really pleased with it!) these moments have been few and far between. Travel, connecting, doing, creating: these are the new words of my days.

But not tonight.

Tonight I sat and watched the one lone doggy left living in the house. I watched the branches of my favorite tree and realized they were a stage play of birds and squirrels locked in never-ending battle. I listened to the peacocks, haunting, but so familiar. I listened to the people sounds that intruded once in awhile. I sat and I remembered.

I remembered all the nights just like this one. Nights filled with swimming and fence gates swinging, back doors slamming.

It’s just all been so very good.



Feeling at home in your home?

When I was ten or so, my best friend lived a few streets over and her home felt to me like my home. We’d ride our bikes back and forth at the smallest whim. I remember one summer hopping on my bike because “Benny and the Jets” was on the radio, and it was our favorite song EVER. It was still on when I burst through her back door and shared the last bars of the song with her. Of course, those were the days when you couldn’t just hit play on your iPod and enjoy the song over again. You’d better live in the moment and rock out while Benny and the Jets was playing or you were out of luck.

I really liked my friend’s house, but I was always puzzled by one tradition: the majority of their downstairs living space was taken up by a wonderful room filled with beautiful white furniture, polished wood floors and a grand piano. I loved that room, even though I only remember being in it one time. It was off limits to kids and — from what I could see — adults. I’d say that there were plastic slip covers on the furniture, but I’m not absolutely sure of that. Regardless, there was no sitting to be done on those couches. No, we spent our time huddled in the cozy den, squished on the big couch that was filled with toys and dogs. There were once baby rabbits in the corner, and there was a record player where we could enjoy the strange music her parents purchased. I think I remember a Godspell record. In any case, the den was where it was at.

I’ve been thinking about that house today, because I have recently decided that I want to be “at home” in my entire life. I want to live in every corner of my house, finding nooks to write or read or paint or sleep. I want people in every corner of my home, talking, laughing, crying and living life. I’m tired of fences and rooms that are only for certain people. It’s time to remember how to live in our homes.

And it’s time to remember how to live in our lives, too. Someday is…right now. There are amazing riches of relationships just waiting for us. There are bursts of creativity, and health, and all those dreams we’ve put off for someday. Now. Because that’s how God made us to live: in the present.

These are the cupcakes that I made today, because today is worth celebrating. And I’m declining to post a picture of me doing Yoga later because of the celebrating I did today. But the rooms of my life aren’t roped off for special occasions. It’s time to sit on the floor and pull out the paints.

The Third Place and Home


I got home this week.

It’s odd, really, because I’ve also been home all month. I’ve been home in our condo in Lexington, or on the lake in New Hampshire where I’ve spent nearly every summer of my life. I breathe in the fresh air of those places and my inner sense of being profoundly at home is magnified.

And then I arrive back in Palm Beach Gardens, my own home, my real home.

I love the process of wandering through my rooms to see the bits and pieces of my life. I enjoy seeing what has changed (lots of people in and out of our home, even when we are gone!) and what has stayed the same. I smell the scent of the air, which is a limited-time opportunity because I know my nose will habituate in an hour or so. And then — if schedule permits — I leave.

Because part of my home is the Third Place, the places in my community that feel like home to me.

Contrary to popular opinion, Starbucks is not my first stop. Whole Foods is. If I can cook a meal and know there are good things to eat in my kitchen, my little universe is set right on its axis. And then comes Starbucks. Yesterday David and I sat here in my preferred corner of Sbux and watched the regulars float in and out. I was particularly struck with the sense of community yesterday. We were greeted like old friends by staff and customers alike, and then we learned that a barista’s father had passed away suddenly. There were sympathy cards to sign, and the story to repeat. Everyone had time to hear the story and send good wishes to the grieving barista, who is due back at work today. She misses her support system, and working behind the counter is where she wants to be.

A few minutes later I was listening to a businesses woman who regularly sits in the chair next to the best electrical outlet talk to one of the more eccentric men who wanders in and out. He hums as he walks, almost involuntarily, and repeats every sentence at least twice. Conversations with him take awhile, but she was enjoying time away from her cell phone and computer.

“My baby girl, my baby girl, that’s her right there,” he said, pointing at a car pulling up outside.

“She’s your girl? I know her!” business woman says. “Hey,” she continues, poking another regular who uses headphones seemingly to drown out conversations like this one. “Hey, you know that mom with the kids that come in here all the time? She’s his daughter!” The two of them remarked over this for a few minutes, to the joy of the proud papa.

“She is all I have left in the world,” he said. He went on to describe how his wife of 38 years had died a year or two ago in a horrible, quick death. He sat and mumbled “Unbelievable” ten or fifteen times while the two regulars said how sorry they were, but how much they always enjoyed his grandchildren when they were in the store. He brightened again, and stood up to hug his daughter.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about Third Places in the community, and the need for the missional-minded among us to be out and about in the community. Yesterday I realized that “out and about” can also feel a lot like being at home. And at least for a few minutes, this Third Place felt as if it were functioning an awful lot like the body of Christ, rejoicing and comforting and being there for life’s journey.

Even if it’s only for a short time, it sure felt good to be home.

Living at home

My father

My father

Five years ago today, I had my last conversation in this life with my Daddy.

I don’t remember the exact last words my father spoke to me, though I do remember his last words in general. Lying in his bed, he must have been imagining his funeral in the days to come. Being the practical Yankee that he was, this didn’t bother him. Being the man in charge that he also was, he had an idea. “David,” he said to my husband, “I’ve been thinking. They could probably play Taps at my funeral. Yeah, that’d be good.”

So I don’t remember his last words, but I do remember his last message to me. Taking care of some little thing for him, I stopped and knelt next to his chair, put my head on his chest and asked him to say my name. When I was a little girl, I used to love to lay my head on his great big barrel chest and listen to his voice rumble. I wanted that comfort one more time. With my head on his chest, five years ago, Daddy patted my head and held me close. And I heard the big voice, now small and fading, say “You were the apple of my eye. No regrets, Marla. No regrets.”

I knew what he meant, because it was a message he’d preached his whole life. Live in such a way that when you reach the end of your life, you know you’ve lived it to your best. No regrets. Dad knew his future, and the One who held it, and he was confident and unafraid. What a legacy.

That amazing affirmation of who I was (the apple of his eye) and how to live (no regrets) did so much to  bring me back to the center of my being. With the love of my earthly father secure, I’d also learned the love of my heavenly father. And the full trust, knowledge that I was precious, and sense of close attachment to my heavenly father is what created in me the deep-seated sense that all was well. Even while my earthly father, the center of our family, was getting ready to leave us. All was well.

And all is well.

That’s what having a home does for you: it creates the core space in your being that keeps you centered, focused. But in order to create that centering, that absolute conviction that you are loved and vital, filled with God’s power and purpose, you MUST create that inward home. The reality of Christ living IN you creates and fills that void.

“Something doesn’t feel right.”

“I feel lost and alone.”

“You don’t know how damaged I am.”

“I don’t want to trust people anymore.”

These are the cries of hearts that haven’t found their home, haven’t begun to live out of the center of a Father who loves them, affirms them, nurtures them, protects them.

I’m thankful for my Dad, for his unbelievable presence and stability, and the example he set for all of us. I will probably spend the rest of my life trying to hit the mark that he set for us. And if I do, that will be a worthwhile use of my time. But more than Dad, I’m thankful for the Father that he showed me. I’m thankful for knowing that there’s something bigger, better out there to live for. And that God, who is so loving and so omnipresent and all-knowing that he eclipses all else, He loves me.

I’m the apple of his eye.

What does home mean to you?

“I love it here, but it isn’t home!”

“This is my key to the front door at home.”

“Where do you come from? Where is home?”

“Welcome home.”

How powerful our homes are! I watched Jillian bopping out the door the other day with her house key in her hand, labeled “Home” and I was suddenly overwhelmed with the thoughts of home. She’s grown up here; the memories we make day in and day out are her concept of home. The lights, the sounds, the smells, the routines of life that we have developed almost without thought or plan over the last 23 years…these are the things that will send her mind reeling back in time even 50 years from now. This is home.

My definitions of home, as an adult, are defined more by relationships than a place. Home took a beating the day that my father died. It changed for the rest of my time here. But it is beautifully defined by my relationship with my husband, my family, my church. These things are home.

What can we do to help other people find home? I know that there are so many people around me whose home doesn’t inspire warm fuzzy thoughts, like Jillian’s or my home. There are a couple of things anybody can do to help a friend feel at home. First, how easy is it to just invite them to crash on your comfy couch with you. Watch TV, play a game, eat, or just stare off into space: what you do doesn’t matter…it’s where you are. Second, we can be intentional with traditions and rituals even with our friends. Think about things such as “Every year we go to the fair and ride the kiddie coaster.” Or “Christmas time is our cookie exchange.” We all have those little rituals; verbalizing them helps others realize how important, safe, and reliable the rituals are.

Lately I’ve been able to connect with quite a few old friends on Facebook. One of the things I enjoy the most is seeing the pictures of how my college and high school buddies have chosen to decorate their homes. What my friends surround themselves with says so much about their lives. Home matters to people. This year I’m going to be more intentional about sharing the feeling that a warm cozy night at home gives.

Searching for a gold medal at home: evaluate your passions

Stumptown Coffee, Portland Oregon - French Presses are on the rightWish I had caught more of the sign!


There is no better word after a season of travel and a season of trials. Last night, David and I got to return HOME when we walked in the door of Christ Fellowship Church. It’s fashionable to ignore, deride or hide your church, but I love my home. I love Christ Fellowship and its heart for the kingdom. Last night my pastor, Tom Mullins, spoke a message that went straight to my heart. Within five minutes I remembered why I plan my trips so I can be home on a Saturday night. Here is what inspired me.

A Champion’s Legacy: Pursuing Gold

As champions of the faith we ae called to inspire, influence and impact others for eternity. — Coach Mullins

Our PASSION inspires others.

There it is…Pastor Tom’s first point refocused my thinking and clarified my attempts to walk through God’s kingdom. You see, it isn’t our talent that impresses other people, or our great looks, or the achievements we’ve racked up throughout our lifetime. It is our passion that inspires other people. We’ve all seen this to be true. Look at those of us who drink coffee: we talk coffee, drink coffee, go out of our way to taste new presentations of coffee. Sooner or later we notice that our friends all feel the same way we do. We may even begin to attend coffee cuppings, and other bizarre coffee rituals! It is our passion that intrigues other people enough to make them pick up a coffee mug and join the crew.

So what are your passions?

Your priorities will reflect your passions: how do you spend your time? What gets you excited and makes you drive across town for a new experience?

Your conversations will relate your passions. No secret here. I write Coffee Shop Journal. I read, and tell you about it. I wonder about the kingdom and feel like a five year old wobbling in high heels as I try to walk in it, but I do love the kingdom. I travel. Yes, I think I believe this. Our conversations do show our passions.

Your investments reveal your passions. Yes…money. I never met a bookstore I didn’t love. I don’t care what my cup of coffee costs (OK, maybe I do a little, but I’m really only saying that because I think I should!). Money reflects our heart. But don’t stop there on the investment train: where do you invest your time? thoughts? desires? energy?

This was only the first half of Tom’s sermon last night and today. You can watch the rest at Christ Fellowship’s website. But I was done after the first point. I want to take time out on this Sabbath day to wonder about my passion in God’s kingdom. I want to evaluate where my heart is, and make sure God has control of it. Most of all, I’m glad to be back home where my community is: the people who know me best and challenge me to keep taking the next step of faith.

Sundays always surprise me

This is becoming a weekly habit…letting you all peek inside life in the First Place at the Saunders house! I felt like I was living in some sort of sociology experiment today, so I thought I’d share with you.

  1. We woke up to 2 extra teenagers in our house – both sleeping in our daughter’s bed. Our daughter was sleeping in the family room on the couch. Not sure how that happened.
  2. We got their Dunkin’ Donuts order: 2 plain bagels, 1 cinnamon raisin bagel, glazed donuts, chocolate glazed donuts and chocolate frosted donuts. The only item Dunkin’ Donuts had was the chocolate frosted donut! We went to another branch, where the drive thru attendant was sweet and gentle, and got our order just right.
  3. David’s friend Matt is dropped off at our house. The two guys proceed to build a computer on our dining room table. It looked like a huge erector set in progress.
  4. Jillian and her friends begin to rehearse their new song they had just written on the piano and guitar, with great vocals. This set up a conflict with the guys, concentrating on the computer. Moved the girls to another part of the house, minus piano. Wailing.
  5. Spring, the grad student who lives with us, has her demonstration partner come over so they can film a video for their next class. They film in the house and in the back yard.
  6. Kylie begins work on her graduation slide show, scanning pictures and pulling them all together.
  7. I go to the grocery store (after a quick Iced Doubleshot with Energy Boost) and buy enough food for the extra teenagers and Spring’s grad student, who looks like he can eat a good meal.
  8. By the time I get home, the grad student and extra teens have left, but the pool has filled up with our next door neighbors so we call a Community Dinner night. Good thing I had extra chicken!
  9. David and Matt are still building.
  10. Matt’s wife Kadi and son Ethan come to pick him up and stay to dinner. How did the chicken multiply? I don’t know…but it did!
  11. Reward: the adults spent all evening sitting on the back porch discussing things like marketing and branding for churches and sermon series, small groups vs. affinity groups, the community and third spaces being designed into our new building. We looked at websites and blogs, shared books, ate all the food, and managed to tire out one little four year old boy.

Great day.

Create Relationship Chemistry at Home

Mother’s Day was a through the roof success at our house: I cooked brunch for 11 and hosted a second party for 30 in the evening. I got up early (for me), went to bed late, and am walking on sticky floors yet again. I generated four bags of trash in three hours, washed loads of wet pool towels and had a dog throwing up from all the bits and pieces fed to him by well-meaning but misguided guests. And this madhouse was an amazing success. Here’s why.

Last night we welcomed a new staff member to our team at Christ Fellowship. His name is Dale Hudson, and he will be the new Children’s Director at CF. He and his wife Pamela and two sons, Joshua and Caleb, were in town for a house-hunting trip, so we through an impromptu party to introduce the Hudsons to some of the characters that wander through the Christ Fellowship world. We mixed staff couples with lay leaders, students and adults and children, broke out the Guitar Hero and generally had a good night. Several people asked me why we would throw this party on Mother’s Day, and why we do that over and over again. My reply is that using my home to intentionally create the kind of community God loves brings amazing benefits to me, my family and my church home.

  1.  Ministry happens in the unplanned moments. I sat with our Student Ministries director and one of his staff members (who happens to live with us) while they were discussing new series, new service times, priorities. Because they had open, teachable spirits they were able to glean input from students who were present, other staffers in other areas of the church, parents, an elder, and the lead pastor. If you tried to “call a meeting” for that kind of input, you’d still be coordinating schedules.
  2. Relationships develop over coffee. This is a sacred saying for me, though I’d like to find a snappier way to phrase it. True, nonetheless. I watch the gang clustered around our coffee machine compulsively pushing the espresso button and bonding in a different way than is possible in the halls of a church. When you know that rough and rugged guy uses Splenda in his coffee you somehow have a deeper insight into his character! In my home I have seen ministry relationships form and deepen. Unscheduled time in my house is a time when we can throw crazy, off-the-wall ideas out into the discussion forum and wait for them to germinate in a new, creative outpouring.
  3. Mentoring is natural in a home. Last night’s mentoring opportunities ran the gamut: ministry mentoring from older staff members to younger, teenage girls helping young girls feel comfortable with who they are in a big group (including helping them with bathing suit choices…no small feat!), older moms to younger moms, even experienced drivers (of golf carts) to inexperienced drivers!
  4. Pastors are people too. I love exposing new staff members to their pastors and watching them find out just how human they are. I also love having teenagers watch the leaders of their church interact with real life. I watched our Student Ministries guy singing High School Music karaoke with his daughter, while several of his high school students watched with rapt attention. They adored this moment of dad-daughter interaction, and they learned from it. My own children have learned — over years of this kind of exposure — that their pastors are genuine and real on and off the stage. They will never be fooled by hypocritical pastors into thinking that “all” pastors are like that. Priceless.

Can you think of a better Mother’s Day than to give those kinds of gifts to your family and friends? I can’t! I am so thankful that so many were willing to come share their night with us and invest in their relationships with each other.

The rhythm of life – time to slow down

My backyard retreat

Recently I read a post on Ron Martoia’s blog about the rhythm of his life, and how he recognizes which activities are crucial for him on a daily basis. His post got me thinking about the rhythm of my own life, and over the past week I’ve been casually noting how I react to the ins and outs of my day. I don’t know if any of this will interest you — surely everyone has their own rhythm — but I found some interesting recurring themes in my week.

  • When home gets too noisy, or life gets too overwhelming, I need to leave. That is when I hit the Third Place for some comforting white noise, anonymity and a few shots of espresso.
  • If I really need to think, I leave. While I am sitting at home my visual sight lines always include chores that need to be done. I can’t truly engage in a deep thought process when I am at home, unless I am on my back porch.
  • After I have been out of the house for awhile, I need to come home! I love the ebb and flow of life that way. My own espresso/coffee maker comforts me. My dog loves me. My wireless waits for me.
  • I need to read every day. If you prevent me from reading, I get as cranky as I get when I am on a diet. Fortunately, no one feels the need to restrict my reading intake! I also need to read from a rotating cast of books: business, church, future, fiction. If I spend too long in one genre, I stagnate. Another interesting character flaw of mine: I can’t stand to hear about a good book and not find a way to read it. So I suppose if you really wanted to frustrate me you could mention a really good out-of-print book that I couldn’t get my hands on!
  • If I have been interacting in the community, I tend to be withdrawn at home. If I have been anonymous out in my third place all day, I tend to stir up activity at home.
  • My life is full of dominoes. Push one over and they all topple. Right now the toppled domino is exercise. But last night I spent a few minutes on this thing… and today my muscles actually ache like I had a full workout. Seems crazy, but it’s true!

Finally, my porch is my third place at home, so to speak. I adore taking my cup of coffee and a book or laptop and perching under the umbrella. It’s lit, so I can sit there at night as well. The sounds of the peacocks roaming the neighborhood, the pool fountain splashing and the absence of the household sounds make this my favorite spot.

A Short Stop at First Place


Ironic that even though I am passionate about life out in the community, those who know me best would say that my forte is life in the First Place, or home. I love bringing people into our home, sitting down to a good meal, and seeing where the conversation leads. Tonight I had my mom over for dinner and our back-door neighbors in for dessert. I loved watching the various personalities interact. And there were some interesting personalities!
I’ve always felt that the people we invite into our home impact our lives in ways we cannot imagine at the outset. For instance, my daughter invited her small group leader from church home to spend an evening hot tubbing with some friends and snacking on late-night munchies while watching a movie. Before the year was out this small group leader was living in our upstairs bedroom and had become more or less a part of our family. We’ve had pastors and missionaries, neighbors and strangers all come through our door. Each one, I hope, leaves feeling appreciated and loved.
The act of hospitality is underappreciated in the spiritual gift world. In fact, hospitality is under-practiced everywhere. It is in our homes that we connect on an intimate level. In our homes we can choose to be transparent, and our guests can choose to also reveal themselves. A home-cooked meal is so appreciated by the youth staff in our church. And if I really want to have fun I invite BOTH the youth guys and my mom. In fact, mixing up the guests is part of the charm of hospitality. I’ve seen lifelong friendships begin between my guests over my kitchen table.
I recently read the book “Love is a Killer App” by Tim Sanderson. In that book he takes the idea of expressing affection and love in the business world and explains how that simple act can build bridges and meet needs. In the same way, being intentional about loving on the guests who wander through your home can lay down the foundation for spiritual growth in their lives and in yours. So this year I am trying to be even more intentional in creating unique experiences here in the First Place. I know my children won’t always be pulling up a chair to my old wooden kitchen table, and I want each minute of these last months and years at home to count for them and for eternity.
How about you? How do you invite the community into your home? Do you see your home as a refuge? Can a refuge also be used for ministry? Is it an open system or a closed system? Do you have good relationships with your neighbors? Do you know them? Do you want to know them? These are all the questions that I am thinking about tonight as I clean up from my impromptu dessert party. Fortunately there’s one or two pieces of poundcake left…