But there are so many stories I cannot tell here. Because they are still bubbling inside with frazzled edges and no neat and tidy one liners and because they are too precious and personal and sacred. Writing is a need for me; an outlet to process, even if no one reads this wordy thought vomit but some stories are meant to be shared over coffee and tears while sitting on our well worn couch while our kids leave destruction in their wake. And those stories are my favorite because they defy small talk and cannot elicit trite responses. These beautiful and tragic parts need voice and ear and heart and soul.
We had a guest in our home last month and I still lay in bed at night offering prayers and thinking on the small parts I know of her story and wondering just how much one person can take before they crack. I see the world as so fragile because I feel so weak so much of the time but when I meet people that have been through so much ugliness and still can smile and graciously eat food at our dining room table and play with my kids and attempt to understand them even though they speak no English I just am in awe. When I heard even small snippets of the hard parts of her story I felt physically sick. I wanted to ‘fix it’ somehow but all I managed to do was hold her hand and offer nods as she tried to communicate. Labels and theories are easy until someone is sitting across from your children eating rice and broccoli and accepting your meager hospitality.
I know we are supposed to offer up ourselves and that God promises to use us but I think so much on the change I see in myself. The ways I feel stretched and changed each time I offer myself even in these small ways that seem so insignificant when compared to those who give their lives for others. I see the ignorance, poverty, and fear in my heart more clearly and I sense God calling me to trust more. I feel so shaken from my apathy and comfort when our lives collide with those whose paths have been so difficult. I need these collisions because they remind me what is truly important. Because so often the tyranny of the immediate often crowds out the vital in my life.
Our guest impacted our home. And sometimes I worry that my kids see too much pain, too much chaos, too much mess, too much confusion, too many stories that don’t end happily. I want to shield them from hurt. I want to protect them but I also know this is real life and that Jesus is in all those places. I want them to know that part of our family’s story is loving and learning with people, even when that is hard. No, especially when that is hard. I want them to know we can follow Jesus to every. last. place. even if those places seem scary and broken because Jesus goes to there to restore and heal and bring peace and blessing and the more we follow Him the more we receive as well. He is a good and we can trust Him and He really means what he says about those who lose their lives will find it.
And here is the thing; my children are not as fragile as I think they are. Sometimes I am so worried about protecting my kids but they always surprise me with their ability to extend love and acceptance and joy. I worry they will not understand, be confused, and it will be so challenging for them but they just embraced our guest with open arms and giggles and expected her to join our dance party and want to play Old Maid with them. They did not see her as all the things the world sees. They did not worry about her past or the hard road she has walked. They just were welcoming and kind and funny and I, yet again learn from them. Having children has been a gift in so many ways but for me it is daily reminder of redemption (mostly mine), forgiveness (we can offer each other and God offers us), and hope. There is just so much HOPE. And it is so humbling because I fail so often and so often God shows me good things in the midst of those failings. And the world really needs my children; children who know that the experience of life is not all about them and a life focused on getting instead of giving is empty. The world needs kids that see pain and failure and also then get a chance to appreciate redemption and victory. The world needs my kids because they are learning that people are diverse and different but strikingly and miraculously human. Every single one. The ones we disagree with, the ones we can easily label as different or scary, the ones we can misunderstand, the ones that make “bad decisions.” And we need to journey together to realize our own neediness and that we all need each other to grow and love and learn. In embracing each other in our brokenness we can be more honest about our own. And I want to share this journey honestly with our children not as some expert but as a fellow sojourner discovering and failing and trying and having my eyes more and more open to just how much I have to learn about just how much Jesus offers us.
I say I trust God with everything in my life but the truth is I want to somehow make sure that my kids are under my control. But He has called us as a family to trust so I am slowly releasing more to Him. And so while I still worry sometimes it is too much for them I also trust that God has called our family to these hard and messy places sometimes. That a protected life away from all that is different or seemingly scary is a life of missed opportunities to change and to be changed. How when we are desperate we see Jesus more because often our eyes are more open and oh, how much I want my kids to see Jesus; not as an add-on, not as a religious symbol, or a magic genie but as a Savior, as someone who became messy and touched pain and hurt and went to difficult places to offer healing and peace and abundance. I know that I cannot teach them that unless I live it, however broken I am, because seeking justice and peace for others always brings it to my soul as well. And oh, Jesus we need grace everyday.
Our guest gave us all gifts. Some we can touch and some which we cannot. After these gifts were given and my kid’s snuggled them close and danced around the living room. The smell of a distant place and hours of travel and weeks of being restuffed inside a well worn suitcase were evident. Before she left she insisted I keep a watch she had been wearing during her stay. A watch that I had complimented in an attempt to communicate and fill uncomfortable silence. I tried to refuse but culturally I know better.
A gift that is offered must always be accepted graciously and with thanks because gifts are offered to give and receive blessing. So many people have gifted me in my life. I pray our family’s small gifts are accepted with love despite my fears, my own poverty, my ignorance, my apathy, my short comings, and my sin because the older I get and the more I hear people’s stories the more I know the only things I have to offer others is love and listening and kindness. And by offering that I create space in my life to allow God to work.
If we wait until everything is perfect to love and invite people in we will never get around to it. If we wait until our kids understand everything we cheat them out of their own journey of discovery, questioning, and wrestling with their Creator. Jesus said to LOVE people, not merely tolerate them but I don’t know how we really love others if they always remain “them” and we stay in our minds “us.” Jesus said a lot of stuff that makes me uncomfortable. He said we often clean up on the outside when our insides are filthy. He said the poor, humble, and meek were blessed and the seemingly righteous, rich, and well educated were in great need. And he spent his short time on earth loving us all and calling us all to more. To More. I want that More. We all need each other and that is the difficult and beautiful truth of the Kingdom of light in this broken place. If we focus on perfect motives, tidy answers, cleaned up versions of ourselves, and fixing others we miss real people with real stories that we are meant to hear. And sometimes they are sitting at our dinner table.