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.