Monday, March 21, 2011

Healing in Hospitality

It was about four years ago.  One weekend when Ryan was home just briefly from school, his parents invited a small crowd to their house on a Sunday afternoon to eat and play games.  I was looking forward to seeing him again, being with friends, and all of us enjoying the time together.

First, though, I stopped in to visit an elderly friend and one thing led to another -- calling paramedics, going to the hospital, waiting with family, talking and praying.  I called my husband to let him know I would be late for lunch.  Awhile later, I called again to apologize for being exceedingly late.  Then, when it seemed the situation was becoming adequately stable, someone I hadn't seen in years was brought in by ambulance, with family following close behind.

I called again, expressing regret that I would be too late to even show up.  Before he could respond, though, I heard Tahmina's voice in the background kindly commanding me to come, even if just for a short while before returning to the hospital.

And so, eventually, I did.  The roads were truly awful, and it seemed like forever before I showed up at their doorstep, five hours late and feeling like a worn down little beggar child.

There was still a good crowd at the house when I arrived, spread around talking and playing games, filling the home with happy noise.  Mark gave me a hug.  Tahmina called my name from the kitchen.  "Your dinner's just about ready!"  They'd had a pasta bar, and she had been cooking up a fresh plate for me as I drove.  Grantley sat with me and we talked as I ate.  I paused quietly for awhile to decompress.  Those playing games made space for me in their circles.  I couldn't stay long, but when I returned to check in on my elderly friend at the hospital late that night, I felt like I'd been made whole again.

I will be forever grateful for the kind hospitality of good friends, especially on that cold, snowy day four years ago.

"Love must be sincere.  Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.  Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.  Share with God's people who are in need.  Practice hospitality."  (Romans 12:9-13)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Umbrella Space

I was walking across campus on a dim and murky-feeling morning.  A chilly rain drizzled from the sky.  I scowled as I left the building, harumphing to myself about the darkness, the rain, the cold. Really, though, it wasn't about the weather.  My soul was worn down, I felt overwhelmed by things going on within and around me, and the dreariness outside simply reflected my insides.  It was like seeing the world through cloud-colored glasses.

"Debi?"  I turned and saw a friend a short distance behind me.  "I have an umbrella."

We walked together to the next building, talking briefly along the way.  I've been in far worse rain, but have never been so grateful for an umbrella.  It was a gentle reminder that I was not alone -- or at least did not have to be.  "I have an umbrella" -- these were hospitable and healing words on that day.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Normal Crises

From a recent investment Q&A:
Q.  How will investors know that the financial crisis is finally over?
A.  It would be a mistake for investors to think of the crisis as a discrete event that at one point will end and return financial conditions back to "normal...."

The question itself hints, I think, at a cultural expectation of ease.  And it's not just in financial matters, but in life as a whole.  We tend to define "normal" as good health, job security, housing comfort, consistently agreeable colleagues, and so forth.  Without all of these, there is a sense of waiting and/or working toward that "normal" state of affairs.

And optimism is good.  Hope is wonderful.  Intentionally working toward a better situation is healthy and generally effective.  But to have all parts of life in a no-stress zone all the time?  Best I can tell, that isn't "normal," and false expectations don't help.

Like in the financial Q&A above, the answer includes developing a broader perspective, one that recognizes ebb and flow within the complex interactions of life.  Crises will come -- that is "normal."  The question remaining is how we choose to respond.

I recently read an article by John Ortberg titled "Don't Waste a Crisis."  He cites a survey which revealed that the number one contributor to spiritual growth was not learning scripture or practicing positive emotions or attending church or serving others.  Rather, it suggested that the most significant opportunities for growth come from suffering.  There will probably always be debate about whether God causes suffering or simply allows it, but no matter where comes of that, I can stand firmly in the belief that God redeems suffering.

I want to celebrate and savor times of abundant well-being, without grasping them too tightly.  And I intend also to faith-fully, hope-fully, love-ingly endure difficult times, knowing those, too, will come to an end, and that in the meantime, God will bring about something good.