strangers

I talked a few days ago about how the concept of hospitality brings up images of dinner parties in today’s culture.  But in the Bible, hospitality didn’t refer to hosting with style.  In fact, Christians were admonished for only inviting friends over to dinner.  Luke 14:12-14 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

And yet, we are afraid of having even our friends over.  We stay closed off in our little houses, a city full of fortresses, afraid to share life with each other.

I was asking the youth I work with at church how she would define hospitality, and her answer floored me.  “Treat strangers as if you knew them already.”

Wow.

Now maybe that is not as revolutionary for you as it is for me, but it shook me up.  For you see, I have a hard time getting to know people.  It takes a lot for someone to break through my shell.  I frequently get described as ‘intimidating’.  And I hate this about myself.  No matter how hard I try to let others in, I have this inner switch that I can’t seem to figure out how to flip until I feel comfortable around someone.

How does this keep me from showing hospitality to others?  How does it hinder me from sharing life with them?  Learning and benefitting from them, and vice versa?

How does one make friends?  How do you teach yourself to treat strangers as if you already knew them?

I think our society is paralyzed by fear… we view all people we don’t know (especially if they are of a different race or socioeconomic status) with suspicion.  We glance around nervously in poorly lit parking lots.  We stay in our familiar side of town.  We don’t initiate with strangers, and when strangers approach us, we focus on only how to disengage from conversation.

This is not without good reason.  Crime statistics are up.  We hear over and over about how people are praying on the weak, the vulnerable, the foolish.  But what is this doing to our ministry?

How can we treat strangers as if we already knew them as a part of our daily existence?  How can we resurrect the concept of Christian hospitality?

selah.

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just show up

You know what matters?  Words.  Words matter.  You know what else matters?  Presence.  If you have a person in your life who is hurting, just show up.  Use your mouth to make words.  Pretty much any words will do- and they will be a blessing.

I remember who visited me in the hospital and at home when I had my babies.  I remember who came to my father’s funeral.  I remember every time someone has dropped off a gift when I feel discouraged, sent a text at a time when I felt alone… these things matter.  We crave to feel known, to feel seen.

There is a huge battle fought every time we have an impulse to show up in someone’s life.  When we feel a tug on our hearts to be there for a friend in a time of need, the items on our to-do list seem to start screaming louder.  You suddenly notice the kitchen counter is covered in dirty dishes.  The washing machine is overflowing.  The work deadline looms larger, and you remember a dozen errands you have been putting off.  We worry that we are intruding, that the person isn’t up for a visit, that it will feel awkward.  But still… isn’t it worth a try?

We hear time and again that time is the most valuable commodity in today’s society.  The way we invest that time is significant.  It tells us about our values.  It gives us clues to our idols.  It is a resource we can invest, either in God’s kingdom, or in our own agendas.  Investing in relationships is a difficult thing to do, because that time is… squishy.  It doesn’t feel like you are doing something with your time when you are spending it with a friend.  It gets you no closer to your goals, to feeling in control of your life.  Or does it?  

Guard against the tyranny of the urgent. The most important things will seldom scream for your attention, they will simply wait for you to discover them. Things like prayer, Scripture study, cultivating friendships, thinking, enjoying art. The loud and demanding are rarely as important as these.”
~Charles Swindoll

Investing in people pays dividends over time.  We are not built to be alone.  We need people in our lives, people to show up when WE need them.  Not only that, we need to cultivate the discipline of investing in others.  In being hospitable with our time.  I am guilty of neglecting this.  I frequently let the fear of awkwardness or the pressure of busyness override my urge to reach out.  But I am trying to fight it.

Here are my resolutions (for now):
When I am asked to pray for someone really pray for them.  And follow up later.
Send that text.  Write that letter.
Show up.  In hospitals.  At sickbeds.  When it matters.
When I am with someone… listen.  not just talk.  Ask questions about them.

Any other suggestions?

Opening

Confession.  I haven’t told anyone I have a blog.  Why?  Because I am afraid.  I am afraid of what others think, that my thoughts aren’t complete enough, that my writing isn’t strong enough.  But as I was thinking on this last night (selah) I realized that the reason I haven’t shared my blog is, at its core, because of my lack of hospitality.  I am afraid it isn’t pretty enough for public consumption.  I’m intimidated by my friends and family looking at the contents of my imagination.

But if I am going to take seriously this echo, this call to practice Christian hospitality, don’t I need to share it?  Isn’t this exactly what God is calling us to do?  Be intentionally transparent with each other?  Be vulnerable?  Allow my friends to see that I’m not really sure where to put a comma, and know that the concept of Selah is something that in equal parts attracts me and confuses me?

I think that risking this, risking the fact that some people will think I am pompous or self promoting, risking that my deepest thoughts aren’t really that deep is worth it.  So here goes…

photo (3)

keep it pretty

I have been thinking a lot about hospitality lately.  It was something that was pretty important in the Bible.  And a concept whose meaning has become distorted and lost in today’s culture.  When I think of hospitality these days, the first thing that comes to mind is pictures from Pinterest.  Mason jars, burlap, candlesticks.  Perfect houses serving pretty food.  Bonus points if it is made from items from your own garden or contains quinoa.  We are afraid to have people over in our homes, unless we have spent days cleaning.  We are afraid to let people be at home in our lives because we can’t seem to rid ourselves of our pesky flaws.  We think that we should be as perfect inside as we strive to be on the outside.

The Bible calls us to practice hospitality.  To entertain strangers in our home.  And yet, we are afraid of having even our friends over.  We stay closed off in our little houses, a city full of fortresses, afraid to share life with each other.  Why?

What does hospitality mean in today’s culture?  How do we as Christians practice hospitality, koinonia community?  How do we break that social more, the one that makes us afraid to open up our lives and hearts to one another?

I was meeting with my couples small group last week, and we were talking about this very thing.  How we are afraid of allowing people to see our real houses, our real lives.  How we feel the need to pretty things up before we invite others in.  How we feel like the Pinterest inspired urges to do home canning and CrockPot creations are at their core a cry for connection. Connection to the past, recapturing our  heritage, connecting with others, figuring out how to do life ‘right.’

God calls us to be known.  The book of Acts is about a community, a group of friends that become family. This is a vital ingredient in our Christian development.  Yes. Of course it’s scary.  Yes, it will be awkward, and heartbreaking, and annoying at times.  But it’s vital.

So how do we get there?

Well… I’m inviting my small group over for dinner tomorrow night.  And I am not cleaning up before.  And then we are having other people over on Friday.  Once again, no clean up.  No pinterest.  No perfect.  I am going on a walk with my friend tonight.  And another friend Thursday.  This little introvert is breaking out of her shell.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem.  Seize the day. 
Live each moment as if it were your last.
Because it may well be.
But what if said moment was your first?
What if, instead of rushing to an epic ending
    we lived a life of epic beginnings?
Racing not for closure
     but for opportunity?
What if, instead of racing the setting sun, 
     we raced towards the sunrise?
Seizing our entire lives with the gusto
     usually reserved for beating a yellow light
     racing to a meeting
     or grabbing lunch wrapped in foil?
What if we lived a life filled with opportunities and not obligations?
I know I for one would drink more wine
     and less diet soda.
I would listen more, pray more, think more, laugh more.
Would I live more?
Seize the day.  
Not as a rescue operation
     but as a divine moment.
Selah.

Selah

So I am not getting a tattoo.

But if I did, it would look something like this…

selahSelah.

wikipedia= Selah (Hebrewסֶלָה‎, also transliterated as selāh) is a word used 74 times in the Hebrew Bible  – 71 times in the Psalms and three times in Habakkuk  – and is a difficult concept to translate.  It is probably either a liturgico-musical mark or an instruction on the reading of the text, something like “stop and listen.” Selah can also be used to indicate that there is to be a musical interlude at that point in the Psalm.[1] The Amplified Bible translates selah as “pause, and think of that.” It can also be interpreted as a form of underlining in preparation for the next paragraph.

Selah.  Stop and listen.  pause, and think of that.

I need more selah in my life.  I need to pause, to think, to listen, to marvel.

I love that this term can also be used in music- I really think my life needs more musical interludes.  What if we saw stoplights, long lines, unexpected delays not as sources of frustration or time wasted, but as the violin solos of our day?  A chance to sit back and reflect, soak in the beauty of this life we are living?

Do you ever just feel bowled over by the sense of God’s presence?  From time to time I will see something, read something, hear something, taste something, and think this is important.  Not because there is some practical application or monetary value that can be gained from it, but because moments like these are the fabric of life.  Hearing my daughter laugh.  Watching my son run.  Eating a blackberry, straight from the bush.  This is what is important.  This is what I need to pay attention to.

If we don’t embrace selah into the tempo of our lives, we will never give God space to speak.  His lessons will whiz by, lost in the tumult of our hurry.  Stop.  And listen.  That moment was important.  Be present with this person.  Enjoy this piece of music… this experience… this emotion.

How do we learn to stop?  What are we listening for?  There are no answers to these questions, because these questions are the Big Ones, the ones we learn to answer over a lifetime.  But start the journey with me… and hold me accountable to my quest.

Psalm 32

A psalm of David.

Oh, what joy for those
    whose disobedience is forgiven,
    whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
    whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
    whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
When I refused to confess my sin,
    my body wasted away,
    and I groaned all day long.
Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
    My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.     Selah

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
    and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
    And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.     Selah

Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
    that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
For you are my hiding place;
    you protect me from trouble.
    You surround me with songs of victory.    Selah

The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you.
Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
    that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

10 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
    but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.
11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
    Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

Sacred Echoes

“Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.
– 1 Kings 19:11-13

God speaks.  People who follow him know this well.  But His voice is not easy to discern; it’s something you have to listen for, and tuning your heart to His frequency is often a lifelong journey.  Margaret Feinberg wrote a book called The Sacred Echo that helped me frame my idea for how I often hear God-

“I call them sacred echoes because I noticed that throughout my relationships, daily life, and study, the same scripturally sound idea or phrase or word will keep reappearing until I can no longer avoid its presence.” -The Sacred Echo”

I do think this is a way that God speaks.  Thoughts.  Concepts.  Words.  Convictions.  Things that repeat over and over in your life until you realize that these concepts are something you need to hear, need to implement, need to learn.  Once you recognize an echo, it often becomes hard to ignore.  God’s whispers turn to shouts.  Yet how do you train your heart to listen?

I don’t know exactly, but I hope that this blog is a part of my obedience to the process.  Here is the place where I want to share my echoes, the scraps of wisdom I am picking up from God’s gracious hand as I live my life.  It is an act of obedience, a choice to be vulnerable and share my words with the world, not something that comes easily to me.

Raindrops

our prayers are like raindrops
falling upward into the sky.

the sharp stinging needles of anger and guilt,
the cold wet snowflakes of grief,
our thankfulness the warm spring rain; awakening things to life.

yet what is watered is not heaven,
but our own souls.

drenching the seeds we choose to sow.

slowly filling the empty landscape that is our life,
our legacy.

drought, flood, hailstorms, bounty,
our words are what create the landscape of our souls.