I can hear the crickets starting their evening song, and the leaves of the tall gum trees rustling in the early April breeze. The sun is lowering in the sky, it’s light casting shadows across the porch. I sit in a puddle of sunshine. Soaking up every last bit. I am in the heart of southern hospitality. I sip my english tea from a large mug, and let my bare feet rest on the wooden porch. In the corner, the porch swing rocks back and forth. This to me, is bliss.
I have made myself at home in this large rambling house set in the woods. The flowers are blooming as spring bursts forth in North Carolina. The promise of new life is alive in every bush and tree and flower. I breathe in the peace and the tranquility and the safe and familiar feel of home. This is not, of course my home. I am a guest that has been welcomed like family. This is what I am learning. Welcoming the stranger, as family, shows me what the gospel really means.
The last 9 months of wandering and wondering at the earth we live on has taught me more about the heart of Jesus than I think the whole 24 years previous. I have been the stranger. I have been the traveler. I have been the pilgrim. And I have been shown grace. Grace after grace after grace in each and every turn. I, the independent, well managed, organised home girl, have been the dependent wander in need of home. I have been shown, hospitality at it’s core and I am stunned.
I used to think hospitality was having my friends over for dinner, on a night I organised, that was of course convenient to my schedule. I would cook a meal I liked, that I was good at. I would make my home just right, clean and ready and calm. Candles lit and background music on, cushions pumped to perfection and lighting just so. These are all good things, and I think, make for a good experience in someone’s home, but it isn’t really the heart of hospitality. What I’m seeing now, is true and deep hospitality requires sacrifice. It’s saying my door is open even when the house is a mess and actually I am a mess too. My door is open when it’s inconvenient. You can be part of this, open the fridge and the cupboards and rest a while here, take what you need and more. It’s saying let me give you the best of what I have, even, and especially when it costs me.
I have been dependent on people for 9 months straight like never before. It’s been a challenge for an introverted and independent person. To say what I need, to receive instead of give because it’s all I can do right now. I have been welcomed in and loved into families that I never would have met or known had I not said can I come, can I be part of what you’re doing, and can I make my home with you for a short while?
We have been to 49 places and slept in 44 beds on this epic journey across the world and we are not even done yet.
South Africa taught me to share meals around the table with strangers, simple meals, nothing extravagant or showy. It taught me to be kind and gentle to wanders feeling a little homesick and culture shocked. South Africa taught me to go above and beyond, to buy coffees and lunches and wine and dinners for friends because they know you don’t have much, but don’t want you to miss out on the fun.
Zimbabwe taught me that hospitality and friendship is saying this is where I’m from, come and be part of it and see who I am. It taught me to make breakfast an event, that homemade food is best. That gardens and dogs and beautiful rooms are rest for the soul.
India taught me that nothing speaks louder than sacrifice. That the last sip of chai from the prostitute living on the street is true heart breaking sacrifice, and that she actually wants you to take it, that her sacrifice actually blesses her. That it is her honour.
India taught me that time is sacrifice too. It taught me to show guests a good time, to give them the best room in the house, to take days off work to show them home. To serve them food first and to bring them into the fold.
Thailand taught me that when a stranger that knows your hometown, rocks up at your church a million miles from their safe comfort English normal in need of a little friendship, you take them for dinner and to your parties and you make them feel known and loved.
Singapore taught me to give those that enter my home my very best. To say take what is mine and enjoy it.
The Philippines, that place showed me how to love with open arms and a breaking heart. Nothing reserved or kept back even though it’s hard and uncomfortable. That messy beautiful place taught me to be honest and real and to say this is my home, this is what we need, you can see it all and be part of it.
Australia showed me that the ties of family and friendship are strong even 20 years later and onto the next generation. Australia showed me that hospitality says come and have what we have, even when it’s inconvenient. It said let me serve you, and bless you and love you like you’re my own, you can be part of this family.
New Zealand was a grand sweeping gesture of extravagance. Welcoming the stranger so openly, rocking up in need of beds and most of all a washing machine. It was simple, warm friendliness and un paralleled beauty.
America says come on this epic journey with us, all you need is on us, we want you and not what you have. It says we want you to be part of our story.
See, what I’ve experienced, what I am learning, is that Jesus came to this broken and bruised world in need. He came as the most vulnerable, a child in need of nurture, just like me. He came and said let me make my home among you. Let me walk beside you, and let me sacrifice the very thing that is most precious to you, life, so that you can make your home with me. And then, he invites us into outrageous and audacious hospitality. He says, I will make my home in the very core of who you are, I will enter in your broken, your mess, your chaotic space. He invites us into the most extravagant of lives, and prepares for us a feast. A feast, a shelter, a comfort, a strong tower, in the midst of all that life throws at me, and you. Oh how vast and oh how wide, is his grace.
I am challenged and changed by the grace of Jesus’ hospitality towards me. May I be someone who opens her doors wide to anyone who needs shelter, or maybe just a chat and a good cup of tea. May I give the very best of what I have especially when it causes me to sacrifice. In doing so, may I share in the sacrifice of Jesus. May I serve others with kindness and compassion. May I say, you, yes you, you’re in, you belong, come into this family of ours and we will journey together.