Sunday, July 31, 2011


God gave me a strange gift when I was seventeen. At the time, I didn’t realize its value, and sometimes since then I’ve forgotten what I saw, but I’m brought back, sometimes painfully, sometimes with great amusement, to see again what I saw so clearly as a skinny high school senior.

I had planned, for years, where I was going to go to college. My grandmother didn’t like my plan, but from every other direction the endorsement was strong. Then, through what seemed like a clear word from God and some compelling circumstances, I found myself considering something very different.

The problem was, my first choice seemed like the best one. And when I started making lists of reason, weighing out the pros and cons, I found I could make the thing stack up either way. In fact, in talking to people around me, I found I could present either case so compellingly my listener would have to agree. Of course! But then, from the other side, of course!

Which is when God stepped in and gave me an interesting glimpse of my own tenacious mind, my own need to be right, and a simple, stunning truth: I could have all the reasons on my side, have it all lined up, be right on paper, right in logic, right in every way, and still be wrong.

One of my favorite poems at that point in my life was Invictus, the well-known poem by little-known poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903).. I had memorized it, and had printed it neatly inside one of my notebook covers. I was aware of its questionable theology ("I thank whatever gods there be"), but I liked the idea of standing up to the “bludgeonings of chance,” and I looked forward to somehow becoming “captain of my fate,” and “master of my soul.”

Choosing a college was my first chance to begin navigating my own course, but I remember sitting very quietly and considering what I knew of people who had marched forward as captains of their fate. My family was full of smart people, smart in all the measurable ways, logical, persuasive, able to explain the rightness of their choices. But many of their choices, while logically right, had been painfully wrong, for them and those around them. In fact, as I sat looking down the path of the future, it occurred to me that “being right” could be a destructive thing, a license to ignore other people and their needs, a justification for doing great harm, a path into great danger.

College applications on the table before me, I made a decision, a decision that has stayed steady for almost four decades now, despite occasional wavering and brief moments of amnesia. I decided I wanted to do what God called me to do, what He invited me to do, and to trust my decisions to Him, even if my own plans, ideas, opinions seemed better, more logical, more “right.”

I applied to just one college, the one I believe God called me to. And continue to thank God for the way He used that time in my life.

Does that mean God always tells us what choice to make? Not at all. Should we wait until He does? Not at all. Are we wrong for having our own ideas, our own plans, our own agendas? No. 

It’s how we hold our plans – lightly, or tenaciously. With stubborn, prideful confidence our plans are right, or with a sense of humble, listening prayer: this is the way I’m going, Lord, unless you show me a better way.

Praying today with family members considering an important decision, I was reminded of our family’s move to Virginia, thirty years ago. We had been living in West Philly, in a neighborhood I’d grown to love. We had a two year old and a baby on the way. I wasn’t thrilled to be moving south, (I was born in New York), but I’d decided that it would be okay on one condition: we needed to buy a single family house, with a decent yard, preferably fenced, and room for a vegetable garden.

My plan made sense. Except we were losing money on our hundred-year-old twin in West Philly, couldn’t afford anything anywhere near my husband’s new job, and he thought a townhouse in Reston, the planned community where he’d be working, would be a better choice.

I was sure I was right. So sure, I couldn’t even begin to see his point of view. Reston, on our first visit, was a hot, burned-over, weird, new place. The one townhouse I agreed to look at had tiny bedrooms, avocado and harvest gold bathroom fixtures, and bright orange, pink and green wallpaper throughout most of the first floor. No way.

He thought it was a great buy. I assembled compelling arguments against it. And then, in Truro Church the next day, John Howe, Truro’s rector at the time, preached a sermon about sin. I remember very clearly what he said: “Sin is wanting your way more than God’s.”

Of course. I knew that. I’d seen it. And I’d decided, years before: I wanted God’s way, not mine. And once I stopped arguing, it was totally clear: that small brick townhouse was God’s answer to our prayer.

I can’t think of a better place for a family of young children than that townhouse community where we spent fifteen years. In fact, when we outgrew our first townhouse, we scoured northern Virginia for something better and finally bought a larger townhouse just down the street. After that move, our kids were sure they lived in the best house in the best neighborhood in the best town in the best state in the best country in the world. God used those two homes for great good in our lives, and in the lives of others we came to know.

When I was a camp counselor one summer, a friend made me a small gift, a rock with Proverbs 16:9 painted on it: "The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps." 

I’ve saved that rock as a reminder of God's earlier gift. A reminder that God's not counting on my wisdom; instead, if I listen, He'll give me his own. A reminder that it’s okay to plan, to make lists of pros and cons, to envision the future, to think about which way is best. But to hold that lightly. 

Because God is the one who knows the future, knows me, my kids, what’s best for us all. I want Him to be the one to direct my steps, and theirs, through the unseen dangers, the unexpected tests along the way.

The news has been full of people arguing about debt, spending cuts, national priorities. There are lots of reasons, lots of people sure they’re right. I confess I’ve done some arguing myself, and there are days when I’m not quite sure who’s right, but very sure about who’s wrong.

But being right isn’t the answer. Not in politics, not in personal decisions. Our only hope is in listening, carefully, to the One who is beyond our reasons, our logic, our pride in our own wisdom. If He directs our steps, we can't go wrong.

       The shepherds are senseless
           and do not inquire of the Lord;
       so they do not prosper
           and all their flock is scattered. 
       Listen! The report is coming—
           a great commotion from the land of the north!
       It will make the towns of Judah desolate,
           a haunt of jackals.
        Lord, I know that people’s lives are not their own;
           it is not for them to direct their steps. (Jeremiah 10)

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fear of Dust

rain on leaf , matt kumm 2008
    Fear of dust in my mouth is always with me,
      and I am the faithful husband of the rain,
   I love the water of wells and springs
      and the taste of roofs in the water of cisterns.
   I am a dry man whose thirst 
      is praise of clouds, 
      and whose mind is something of a cup.
   My sweetness is to wake in the night
      after days of dry heat, hearing the rain.
                          (from Water, Wendell Berry)

I’ve been dragging hoses around to water the dozen berry plants and nine dwarf fruit trees I’ve planted in the past few years.  The neighborhood robins gather in the wet ground hoping for worms, and our resident wrens scold energetically each time I move the sprinklers.

It’s all an undeserved luxury I give thanks for even as I pray for those without: the water, the trees, the still somewhat green half acre, the birds, the knowledge that I don't depend on these trees or bushes, that I have always had more food than I need..

I’m conscious of the exceptional drought taking place in Texas, Oklahoma, and neighboring states. The worst drought on record has set wildfires scorching across two millions acres while famers watch their wheat and corn crops wither and ranchers slaughter herds they can’t afford to feed.

I’m conscious, too, of the drought playing out in the horn of Africa, where eleven million people are in danger of starvation as temperatures continue to rise, the earth cracks, and even the idea of rain seems like a long-forgotten hope.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
As the droughts worsen, food prices rise. They’ve been rising for years now, but have spiked in the past year – far more in poor countries, poor markets, than here. And far more dangerously for people whose entire incomes are spent on food than for those of us whose food budgets are a small percentage of our income. When you live on a dollar a day, there’s no margin when food prices doubles.

I find myself reading the book of Jeremiah:

      “Judah mourns, her cities languish;
            they wail for the land, and a cry goes up from Jerusalem.
      The nobles send their servants for water;
          they go to the cisterns but find no water.
     They return with their jars unfilled;
          dismayed and despairing, they cover their heads.
     The ground is cracked because there is no rain in the land;
         the farmers are dismayed and cover their heads.
     Even the doe in the field deserts her newborn fawn
         because there is no grass.
     Wild donkeys stand on the barren heights and pant like jackals;
        their eyes fail for lack of food.” (Jeremiah 14)

Hungry and afraid, God’s people cry out for help. But the answer is not rain, food, or other immediate relief. Instead, God, speaking through Jeremiah, says “Do not pray for the well-being of this people. Although they fast, I will not listen to their cry; though they offer burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them.”

Chapters of lament later, God says “Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and proclaim this message there:

‘Hear the word of the Lord to you, king of Judah, you who sit on David’s throne—you, your officials and your people who come through these gates. This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. …  

Jeremiah Lamenting Jerusalem's Destruction
Heath Matyjewicz 2002
“Woe to him who builds his palace 
   by unrighteousness,
   his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
   not paying them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
   with spacious upper rooms.’ …
  “Does it make you a king
   to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
   He did what was right and just,
   so all went well with him.
He defended the cause 

   of the poor and needy,
   and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
   declares the LORD. 
“But your eyes and your heart
   are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
   and on oppression and extortion.”
         (Jeremiah 22)

Israel’s early forays into consumer capitalism, “more and more cedar,” "dishonest gain," met with exceptional ruin.

Walter Brugguemann, in Journey to the Common Good, talks about Pharoah’s kingdom, a complex system of power structured around economic exploitation and the suffering of the weak. Pharoah’s kingdom, like Babylon, like every empire since, was dependent on three things:

       ○ Fear of scarcity
       ○ Anxiety about the future
       ○ Oppression of the weak

The kingdom of God proclaims a different reality, an alternative “grounded in generosity,” in which we’re called to trust God, to experience his peace and rest, rather than our own aggressive anxiety, and to treat our neighbors as ourselves, rather than exploit them in our constant desire for more. In the kingdom of God, there is always enough, even in the desert, where manna “is a show of YHWH’s inestimable generosity that stands in contrast to Pharaoh’s nightmare of anxiety about scarcity.”

Brueggemann insists that God’s people are called to live as “a minority voice of subversion and alternative,” standing firm for these kingdom values:
  • hesed (“steadfast covenantal solidarity”)
  • mispat (“justice that gives access and viability to the weak”) and
  • sedaqah (“righteousness as intervention for social well-being”)
As God tells the thirsty people of Israel: "Do what is just and right." "Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed." "Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow." "Defend the cause of the poor and needy."

As temperatures rise, as hunger spreads, as debate in Washington continues about money, resources, what we can and cannot share, I find myself wondering what it would mean to live in greater solidarity with the poor and oppressed, how to advocate for justice, how to intervene not just for myself and those like me, but for those I don’t know, whose grief and despair I can hardly imagine.

I’m thankful for ministries like WaterMissions, working hard to bring clean water to people without. And to faithful advocates like Dave Beckman, of Bread for the World, insisting in the ongoing budget circus on a Circle of Protection for the poor and hungry. I’m thankful for Walter Brugguemann, who challenges my thinking and spurs me to deeper prayer.

I pray for repentence, justice, and rain, here, in Texas, and in dry places around the globe.

 “But blessed is the one
    who trusts in the Lord,    
    whose confidence 
    is in him.
 They will be like a tree

     planted by the water
    that sends out its roots 

    by the stream.
It does not fear 

   when heat comes;
   its leaves are always green.
It has no worries 

   in a year of drought
   and never fails 

   to bear fruit.”   
         (Jeremiah 17)

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

This Story Isn’t Over

Our first church home- Woodland Presbyterian
42nd and Spruce in West Philadelphia

 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
  his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
     (Psalm 107)

I spent time this weekend with friends I’ve known since I was first married. Two I met when I was twenty-one, the other a few years later. We explored leadership together in our church in West Philly, spent time in a young mom’s Bible study together, watched each other’s kids, wrestled with life in the city. Our husbands ran together three mornings a week, played golf together on Philly’s Cobbs Creek Golf Course, and have met one weekend a year for over twenty-five years now to play golf and share their lives. We’ve been to the weddings of each other’s children, and have prayed for each other through life’s changes and struggles.

It’s wonderful to spend time with people who know our story, and who know the story isn’t over. We live in a culture with a twitter-length attention span. Anything that lasts more than half an hour seems like forever. So what do we do with stories that take decades to unfold?

No wonder so many people feel like the hard patches they go through will never end. When their careers stall out, they feel like they’re over. When marriages hit hard times, as every marriage does, they feel like they’ve come to an end. Those long days taking care of small children seem eternal, and the countless difficulties children face become defining boundaries: “Life will always be like this.” “This will never change.”

Our old West Philly neighborhood- 46th and Baltimore, 1983
But things do change. Unexpected avenues open out from seeming dead ends. Children caught in destructive whirlpools can suddenly swim free. Some marriages unravel, but others, with work, prayer, hope, large doses of faith, can blossom into new life just when that seems most impossible. As Ezekiel reminds us, dry bones can stand and walk.

The young friend and her children who came to stay with us just two weeks ago have moved on to an unexpected next chapter. That story isn’t over. Neither are the stories of my friends, their children, or my own.

With another group of trusted friends, I’ve been working through Dan Allender’s book and workbook about the story God is writing in our lives. In To Be Told: God Invites You to Coauthor Your Future,  and the accompanying workbook, To Be Told: Know Your Story, Shape Your Future, Allender suggests that God is writing our lives, and invites us to write with Him. He challenges his readers to look closely at the chapters that have gone before, to examine the places of pain, defeat and struggle, and to see where God may be leading, to celebrate the ways He’s been at work.

A friend who wanted to do this asked if I would help launch a small To Be Told story group. At the time I was busy, but when my schedule became clearer, I came back to the idea. How hard could it be to write chapters from our lives, share them with others, and see where God is leading?

Turns out it’s far harder than I thought. I’m great at compartments, and at stashing those dark, unfinished parts of the story in cupboards where I don’t need to see them. 

But the story isn’t over, and as I rummage through experiences I’ve thought I left behind, I see patterns repeating, places where fear and unresolved pain keep me from moving as freely as I’d like.
Here’s one of the assignments from the To Be Told workbook: “To your well of stories [a list of personal scenes to explore], add scenes where you saw redemption and where it was absent; where great suffering occurred and where nondramatic, routine suffering occurred; where there was peace and where there was resolution. In other words, add stories of shalom, shalom shattered, shalom sought, and denouement” (58).

Sound easy?

Here’s a follow-up question: “”Which stories are you avoiding?” (59)

It’s interesting: in a group of friends, there are some stories we tell, some we avoid. Some challenges we’re willing to share, some we'd rather set aside. Unexpected questions open long-forgotten doors. An honest story from one friend can prompt deeper, more honest stories from others.

According to Allender, “Stories are meant to be told. . . . Telling them is a gift you give others, By telling your stories, you offer a bit of yourself in a world of small talk, pager messages, and email. You offer others a glimpse of what it means to be human and of the struggles that are common to us all, and you invite others into community” (122).

I don’t know the end of my story, or of anyone else’s. I do know the story isn’t over, that obstacles that seem insurmountable can become occasions to grow, that experiences that seem too painful to face can be places where we meet God and see His hand most clearly. I know as well that community is essential for all of us. As we share what it means to be human, we see as well what it means to be loved.

Allender recounts the story of C. S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces. “Orual, Queen of Glome, reads her complaint against the gods. She has been unfairly, even cruelly, treated, she says. She tells the story of her life, and after a while she realizes that she has been reading it over and over again. The silence that meets her accusations enrages and then silences her. Then she realizes that the response was there all along. “’I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer, You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?’”(136, Lewis Till We Have Faces 319)”

As I’ve begun to work through unresolved scenes of my life, I’ve come to see God at work in surprising, yet familiar ways. And as I’ve heard chapters and stories from my friends’ lives, I’ve been struck at how God uses even the most difficult things to shape us, teach us, remind us of Himself.
Makoto Fujimura,  Fire and Rose are One
Collection of Howard and Roberta Ahmanson

     What we call the beginning is often the end
     And to make an end 
          is to make a beginning.
     The end is where we start from. . . .
     A people without history
     Is not redeemed from time, 
          for history is a pattern
     Of timeless moments.
       (T. S. Eliot Little Gidding V)

    And all shall be well and
    All manner of thing shall be well.
       (T. S. Eliot Little Gidding III)

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Kensington Sabbath

July 2010

  1.  Fifteen feet by ten
  Two-thirds cement, still roses
  Bloom, and sparrows sing.

  2.  I will be rich and
  I will live – someplace – very
  Very far from here.

  3.  Teeth lost, back sagging
  Eyes slide away to distant
  Sadness – seventeen.

  4.  God breathes, a breeze stirs
  Cool air from the river, sweet
  Whispers of blessing.

  5.  Justice is the ache
  This lingering limp, this . . .
  Silence echoing.
For the past eleven summers I led a program called Urban Serve, a week-long children’s outreach in Kensington, a diverse neighborhood in Philadelphia with a high concentration of children living below the poverty level. The team I led was composed of teens and adults from my own suburban church and the partner church in Kensington. Each summer about two dozen of us gathered in the parish house of the Free Church of St. John, sleeping on the floor, and showering in the narrow yard behind the parish house, preparing a program to share the good news of Christ with neighborhood children, toddlers to teens as well as older siblings and parents.

The first year I was part of this program, we followed the model of our suburban church vacation Bible school. It was one of the most difficult weeks of my life. We worked hard, but few children came. I slept about ten hours the entire week, and somehow encountered the only poison ivy in Kensington in one of our small service projects. I promised myself I would never do the program again unless God showed us another way to do it.

July 2004
He did. The next summer we used outreach materials from Scripture Union, moved the program outside, and ran it in the early evening, when the streets around the church were full of wandering children. We registered more than a hundred children, gave away dozens of Bibles, and caught a clearer vision of how God intended to use the one week of outreach to energize ministry to children throughout the year.

It feels odd to be at home this morning, knowing the team is waking up from their first night on the floor, preparing to attend the morning service at St. Johns, getting ready to practice songs and dramas for the start of the children’s program this evening.

Looking back on my weeks in Kensington, I find that God used that time as an intensive annual graduate course in ministry. Trust, patience, obedience, endurance, wisdom, grace, courage, hope, compassion were all on the syllabus, along with intensive exposure to poverty, community, addiction, mental illness, injustice, systemic failure, amazing resilience.
July 2006

Every summer I approached our mission week with a sense of unease. I never felt ready, never felt like I had quite enough of whatever the week seemed to require. Our team was always weak in one way or another: not enough experienced leaders, not enough kids from the community, not enough musicians, not enough something. Yet, as I wrote last week, God’s supply is always enough: "And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8.

Last summer I found myself mentally, spiritually, physically exhausted. It had been a very hard year of ministry, for a long list of reasons. There had been less support than usual, and far more challenges, and I felt in need of a month or two of sabbatical rather than a week of little sleep and hands-on leadership from dawn to well-past dark.

At the time, I was reading Sabbath, by Dan Allender, thinking and praying about how much I needed more Sabbath in my life. Just days before our mission, I was recording some highlights of the book in my journal when I had a strange thought: could the week in Kensington be a Sabbath?

“The Sabbath is the day in which we receive and extend the Father’s invitation to be reconciled.” (106). In a community divided racially, in a place where resentments simmer into physical violence, reconciliation is a message met with disbelieve and amusement. Even our team struggled with reconciliation. It’s never easy working and living side-by-side with people of different ages, different personalities, different cultural expectations about cleanliness, noise, time, personal space.  

Allender goes on to explain that part of Sabbath “is allowing the ‘not yet’ to be more real than the ‘is.’ . . . The Sabbath asks, how would you live if there were no wars, enmity,  battle lines, or need to defend, explain, interpret, or influence another to see anything differently? The Sabbath glories in the goodness, the amazing, solicitous, heart-thrilling glory of each person to whom we are privileged to speak .. .The Sabbath is the day we set aside to look at one another from the vantage point of eternity and then to operate in time, in an actual hour or minute, as if it is true.” (111)
July 2010

I wrote in my journal “Lord, I would like to approach Urban Serve as a Sabbath, a holy time set apart, a time of wonder, of play, of delight, of reconciliation.”

I had no idea what that would look like, but found, as the week unfolded that I saw our team differently, with much greater appreciation, much deeper awareness of what a gift each one was. The inevitable challenges took less mental energy. Iin fact, most became opportunities for creativity, good conversation, new levels of engagement. It wasn’t a perfect week, but in many ways, it was a much easier week. I was more fully aware of God’s presence, more conscious that we were working together as citizens of an eternal kingdom, at odds with, yet joyfully invading, the broken kingdom around us.

Sleep is often an issue for me, especially when I’m sleeping on the hard floor surrounded by two dozen people I’m responsible for. I hear every street noise, kids talking in their sleep, team members snoring. I wake at every footstep, every voice down the alley. We normally scheduled an hour of rest and reflection after lunch; for me that time was essential for mentally debriefing the hours before, planning needed changes to the hours ahead, then trying to regroup from the lack of sleep and constant noise.

July 2010
In Sabbath mode last summer, an odd thing happened. I slept more soundly, plans were resolved more quickly, my energy level was higher, and I found myself spending my rest and reflection time sitting in various corners, praying and writing poetry. I hadn’t written poetry in over two decades, but for some reason, sitting in the “not yet” of the coming kingdom, things looked different, and poetry seemed a good way to respond.

We also found more time to sing - worship in the church yard before the program, worship with the team late into the evenings, some gospel bluegrass for fun at odd moments of the day, with "The Rootin' Tootin' Emeralds" performing at our annual talent show our last night together. 

I’m still processing lessons learned, still practicing Sabbath, not just on Sundays, but in new ways, new contexts. And I’m still praying for our summer mission, for our friends in Kensington, for the team gathered there this week. I know they have already begun to experience the “enough” of God’s provision, and I pray that they learn all He has to teach them, that they meet Him in His grace at each point of difficulty, and that they come home on Friday refreshed, comforted, nourished by His goodness.

I will pray
     I will
For hope beyond this corner bar
For joy that lifts
     beyond the salsa beat
     and rains
     like kindness
     down on flat tar roofs
For peace, a peace beyond mere calm
     a peace that sings
     that blooms
     that shimmers off the streets
     and shines
     like sun
     on sun-starved skin.
I’ll pray
But if I pray,
     Good God,
And if I stay
     alive enough
          to care
          to hope
          to wait
Then meet me here
     right here
         beneath the broken streetlight
Meet me
     on this narrow strip
          of rubbled pavement
     and teach 
                         to dance.

Please join the conversation. Your thoughts and experiences in this are welcome. Look for the "__ comments" link below to leave your comments. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Making Room

Yesterday, as I was trying to finish a blog post about freedom in honor of the Fourth of July, I received a phone call from a young woman I’ve known since she was eleven but hadn’t seen in several years.

“I don’t know what to do,” she started. Her fragile living situation had come unglued and she and her two small children were sharing the floor in the living room of a home she considered unsafe.

I’ve been reading a book called Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition.  It’s one of the books about spiritual practice I put on a reading list last January, with the thought that I would look for ways to build these practices more fully into my daily life.

Apparently God takes that idea seriously. As I listened to my friend describe her situation, her attempts to find a solution, the challenges she’d encountered, I was reminded of the passage I posted on a few months ago:
  “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?” 

I prayed with my friend on the phone, told her we’d find a way to help her, and promised I’d call back after I spoke with my husband, Whitney. Then I called my oldest daughter, who has stayed in closer touch with this young woman, and asked, “Would it be crazy for us to invite her to stay with us until we can help her sort things out?”

Her response, after more conversation, was “Sometimes the crazy thing is the right thing.”

We’ve learned that lesson, repeatedly, together. God’s invitation is often challenging, difficult, a little strange. It can look like pain more than blessing, but as I’ve been reflecting recently, saying yes to the strange invitations always brings joy, growth, and health in ways we couldn’t have foreseen.  

Even so … I hesitated. When Whitney came home, I described the situation, and his immediate response was “She needs to come here. Should we pick her up tonight?”

When I was thirteen, my family was in a similar place. My grandfather sold the house my three siblings and I had lived in since we were small and gave my grandmother a few weeks notice to find a new place for herself, my siblings and me.

Funds were limited, options few. My grandmother wasn’t sure what to do, but an older couple we didn’t know, Jim and Hazel Wilson, acquaintances through an uncle, offered to have us come live with them until we sorted things out.

My older two siblings were able to stay with a family in our school district, but my younger brother and I, with our grandmother, found ourselves in a small Cape Cod on the far edge of au unfamiliar town. We learned quickly that Jim and Hazel – Uncle Jim and Aunt Hazel to us – took the gift of hospitality seriously. They had never had their own children but had offered foster care to seventeen adolescents (that’s the number I remember, but have no way to check it), and had adopted six or seven hard-to-place teens who showed up regularly on weekend with their own cheerful children in tow.

They had also taken in a mix of families for varying lengths of time. I know, because when I was wondering why they would let us come live with them, sight unseen, Jim laughed and said we weren’t the first, and wouldn’t be the last, and that they’d once had a family with half a dozen kids stay a whole summer and into the fall, back when they had some foster kids of their own around. “It was a full house,” he said with his characteristic chuckle.

It made no sense. They didn’t have that many beds, just their own in a downstairs bedroom, a single twin in a small “prophet’s chamber,” and six narrow beds tucked under the rafters in the long loft bedroom upstairs. They had one very small bathroom. When I asked where a family that size would sleep, Jim laughed again: “There’s always the porch. And we have some good couches.”

Pohl says “One of the most challenging theological and practical questions raised in the practice of hospitality is whether there is ‘enough.’ Are there enough resources to care for the guests we welcome?”

As recent empty nesters, I know we have enough room, but enough time? Energy? Wisdom?

Pohl goes on: “every community [where hospitality is practiced] has wonderful accounts of sufficient, somtimes abundant, food, furniture, checks, and clothing. Their experiences echo Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9:8: ‘And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.’”

That verse from Corinthians is part of a longer passage I’ve memorized before and have committed to memorizing again . I’ve emphasized that verse often to volunteer youth leaders and mission team members; I like the extravagance of Paul’s claim: every, always, everything. There is no lack in God’s supply, no halfway measure in his provision. 

Driving back from Kensington this afternoon, car packed full with this young family’s belongings, I listened to a story of brokenness, and grief. Back home, sharing a snack and lemonade in our green back yard, I was reminded of something I read in Making Room just this morning, a quote from John Cogley of the Catholic Worker House:

The security of . . . regular meals, a sure place to sleep . . . and the casual but very real fellowship . . . these things were enough. It was often as if you could see a change taking place before your eyes, like something visible happening – color returning to a face after a faint.  (353)

I’m thankful for Jim and Hazel Wilson, who provided that respite and security at a time when my family so badly needed it. And I’m thankful for some great programs in our community (Bridge of Hope, Home of the Sparrow) who offer consistent welcome and support to homeless mothers and children. I’m thankful for my husband and children, whose demonstrations of hospitality encourage and challenge my own. And I’m thankful for yet another occasion to see God’s hand at work in ways I didn’t plan, didn’t expect, and could never duplicate.

Please pray for Whitney, for me, and for our three young friends as this story continues to unfold.