My yellow tufted couch

I closed my eyes and in my mind’s eye, I walked through the big iron gate and stepped into the tiny tiled compound which held our three story home. I then slowly walked through every nook and cranny of that house and let the memories collide with the tears. I find myself doing this again more lately as the one year anniversary of our departure nears. Sometimes the grief that comes after this silly exercise makes it hard to literally breathe. The weight of what feels like a bag of bricks can be felt on my chest, and the pain can be unbearable if I don’t get control of it at the forefront. It’s as if I realize all over again, but for the first time, that it is all over. I will probably never step foot into that pink (yes, pink) house again, and most certainly never again call it home. Last night at 2 AM as I laid in my warm bed far across the ocean from my other bed, I felt the panic rise up to swallow me in waves of grief, as I was hit with the reality of what we had lost. Sometimes people still ask me how I am doing with the transition, and I always say that I am okay. Because I am okay, but these moments still happen and it still hurts.

I don’t doubt that we followed God’s calling in leaving behind a country and people that we loved. Although Ethiopia was also our calling, in this season our highest calling is to our children – even over children in our ministry. We had to do everything we could to ensure not only their actual safety, but just as importantly because of history for two of them, their felt safety. There is a time and place to teach bravery and courage and we always want to teach trust and faith in a good God, and we do that. But nothing was worth making easily triggered children reface and possibly relive some of their worst fears. So, as the story goes, we left it all behind. It was God’s prompting and gentle guiding, but ultimately our choice – we moved our feet. But sometimes in the deepest, most honest and authentic places of my heart, it feels like He took it all away.

Last night, as I imagined myself once again in the tall pink house nestled in the beautiful mountains of Oromo country, I kept getting distracted in my Ethiopian living room. Never before moving to Ethiopia had I ever owned new living room furniture. We were given a cute little set from relatives when were married. And then when we moved into our first house, we found a set on Craig’s List that we liked. Upon moving to Ethiopia, we were again given living room furniture. It was a huge gift and help to not have to purchase that living room furniture on top of everything else we needed to purchase in order to furnish our home. However, the Ethiopian made couches were lower quality than most furniture here in the states, and with sixteen plus people living in our home at one time, and numerous guests in and out of our home, it quickly became worn and rickety. Pieces of our couch were literally falling off every time someone tried to sit on them. When we returned to Ethiopia after our summer in the states in 2016, we felt so much peace with where we were as a family in Ethiopia, and felt in our hearts that we would be there for a long, long time. So, we took our tax refund money, and we went into a furniture store that sold imported European furniture. It was the first time in my life that I was able to choose exactly what I wanted for our living room. I chose a beautiful, bright tufted yellow set with an adorable accent comfy chair and bright colorful contrasting pillows, because it matched the sunshine in my soul in that moment. I felt so much joy and contentedness with the life that we had carved out and I felt so much hope for our future.

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I only have this one photo of my beautiful yellow tufted couch set, because as a missionary I feared people’s reactions to us having nice things. I wish I hadn’t. I know now that God is okay with even missionaries having pretty things. Making a home beautiful within the bounds of one’s budget is so okay.

Less than two months after purchasing our couch set, we sold it at almost half its value and boarded a plane to go back to the states. I believe that God does give and that He does allow things to be taken away, but slowly, as I allow myself to delve into all of the pain that is still at the surface, I think I am understanding that God does not give to take away. My formative years have skewed my view of God in ways that I am still untangling. But I can confidently say that God is the giver of good gifts, and that yellow couch, in all of its tufted sunshiny glory, brought me days of ridiculous happiness. When I would wake up in the morning, I would come down the stairs, grab my Bible and curl up on that couch or in the cozy chair. I felt joy every single time I walked into my living room. It held me one day as I laid on it under blankets sick with food poisoning.  And even in the very short time that we owned it, I am so pleased at how many people it held – teenage boys doing a Bible study, teenagers playing xbox, little kids wrestling one another, family movie nights, friends, and even on occasion one of our dogs.

Yes, that pretty little couch set is gone, and so is Ethiopia, and so are so many dreams and ideas of how we saw life playing out, but God remains. He constantly shows up inside the mess inside of my heart, inside the doubts and fears and pain. He continues to be a Father who desires to lavish good gifts, and He continues to do that. His gifts are just wrapped much differently than maybe I had once hoped for, but they are here and good nonetheless. Do I miss that couch, and that home, my people, and the mountains, and walking the cobblestone paths for avocado juice? Do I miss the much simpler way of life and the ’13 months of sunshine’? Yes. Every single day I miss it. But at the same time I love my new little house and the odds and ends furniture that we have scraped together to make home. I love the sound of my children giggling in our family room, the memories we are making around a fire pit in our back yard, the small kitchen that feels just perfect. I love the unlikely community of people that God is growing up around us, and the new dreams that He is placing in our hearts for Ethiopia and for here.

Daily I am learning to renew my mind with the truth of Who God is. He is a God Whose love for me is without end. His goal is not to hurt me, but to save my life. That alone fills in some of those achey places in my heart, and allows me to remember the beautiful gift of a yellow tufted couch.

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The Power of the Table

The older I get and the farther removed I grow from the white-washed flannelgraph Jesus of my childhood, the more in awe I am of the actual Jesus. As a lover of food and the kitchen, I especially love how much Jesus ate with people during His life on earth. I think it is a significance that we have often overlooked. We tend to focus on His sermons and His miracles, and the proper ministry portions of His life, but what about the everyday life of Jesus – the ordinary? Perhaps there is even more to learn from these mundane moments of Jesus’ life on earth. Have you ever wandered through the gospels and took notice of how much ministry happened around a table and with food shared among friends? Meals around the table were such a significant part of Jesus’ everyday life. The table was a precious part of Who Jesus was and how He lived. What is perhaps so startling is the kinds of people that Jesus invited to His table. They were not the pristine looking religious people, but rather quite the opposite.

Later Jesus and his disciples were at home having supper with a collection of disreputable guests. Unlikely as it seems, more than a few of them had become followers. The religion scholars and Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company and lit into his disciples: ‘What kind of example is this, acting cozy with the riffraff?'” Mark 2:15-16 MSG

Jesus’ choice to invite these people to the table was no doubt very intentional. He was blatantly ignoring the social norms of His culture and even the religious laws of purity. But these were the very people that Jesus continually chose to invite to His ‘Supper Club’. As these people sat around the table eating and drinking, and let’s just be authentic here – partying – with the Son of God, they were exposed to a little bit of heaven – to the Kingdom breaking into the ordinary rhythms of daily life. It was life-changing for many of these people who had been spit out by religion, but had been offered a seat at the table with Jesus and His friends. These people got a glimpse into a new and better way to live – they got a taste of a new life – of the kingdom breaking into earth. It was like the appetizer before the main meal – a taste of what is to come.

Our culture is not really a dinner table culture anymore. We live in a high-speed, fast-food country that celebrates individualism and isolation.  Although, we so easily curate status updates on our social media, and have a false sense of community through these outlets, the truth is, so many of us cling to our privacy. But there is still power to be found around the table. The dinner table is relational and communal and everything opposite of private and isolated. The table is the antidote for loneliness; it is a powerful expression of inclusion and friendship and belonging. Food ties us together, when it is eaten together.

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If I am to be a representation of Jesus on earth, which I am, then perhaps meals around a table with guests should be a significant part of my life. When we set a table, whether it be with perfectly coordinated dishes and wine goblets or paper plates and red party cups, when we serve a carefully prepared gourmet meal or buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken with our neighbors, our co-workers, our community, we are inviting the Kingdom to break into the ordinary rhythms of life. We are giving people a safe place to belong; many times people who do not feel like they belong in the chairs in our churches but are comfortable in the chairs at our table. We are nourishing bellies, and we are nourishing souls. We offer people a sanctuary to be covered in grace, to taste a new and different way to live, to experience sacred love. If you eat, which you do, and can put food on a table, which you can, then you can pull out a chair and invite a guest – even a disreputable one – to join you for a meal at your dinner table. And the more we become comfortable with this, the more our table expands, our reach extends, and we  discover that the table has become one of the most beautiful, authentic mission fields that we have ever been to – all without leaving the comfort of our homes.

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Building a Table

 

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Many of us agree that we are living through tender times and figuring out how to navigate this needs some intentionality. The climate of our country is shaky, and people are hurting and choosing sides, and it has become very polarized. One month ago today, I traveled across the ocean to a country that is bruised. I didn’t realize just how injured she was until I began to live here once again. I have been doing some deep soul searching in order to really understand how I should respond, as an image bearer of the Creator. Because I know my response and my actions do matter. Jesus was so purposeful about stepping into people’s pain. It is one of His characteristics that I find so compellingly beautiful. I think this is because it is such a rarity. This could be because it is not easy to endure pain, let alone choose to endure pain that is not your own.

The quote from Louis C.K. has been bumping around in my heart quite a bit the past few days.

When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t. Louis C.K.

I wonder what it would look like if image bearers chose to understand this quote.  Experiences shape us more then I think we give credit to, and none of us have the same exact life experiences. So to understand another human takes a kind of discipline and humility that is not easy. But what if instead of brushing off the pain and fear that so many people are telling us they feel, because we decide it is not valid, because it is not ours, because we don’t fear it, because we do not agree or see it from that perspective, because we did not have a tangible part in it – what if instead we leaned into the pain that others are crying out over? As a follower of Jesus, am I not supposed to be part of the most loving, compassionate, and empathetic human beings on this earth? Are we not supposed to be known by our love; is that not our very identity? Maybe leaning into the pain means that we stop talking, stop putting up social media posts that people tell us hurt them, and take a deep, long pause and honestly listen, and maybe we really do our best to hear another person, and to take a moment to walk in their shoes. And because we are image bearers, we do this without the demand that we get the same treatment in return; we do it completely out of a heart of love with no strings attached. We love our neighbor, yes even that neighbor who voted differently than us, and we love that neighbor as much as we love ourselves. What if we start right there?

Maybe instead of building a wall, we build a table, and then we set it with our finest china, or our brightest tupperware, and we cook our best meal, or order our favorite take-out, and we light the candles, open our door, and we invite the hurt and the pain right into our living room and right up to our tables. And then we break bread together and love in such an extravagantly humble way that the pain has a place to breathe and be heard as we really press pause and listen, and maybe, just maybe even begin to heal these deep wounds around us. What if we invited someone different to our table and got to know and understand the hurts and fears of someone whose experiences have been so different from our own? What if we just tried to understand instead of brushing them off as angry?

What if love really could change things and bridge the divide? I was born a dreamer. I am foolish enough to think that loving well by listening with the intention of really understanding could change a whole lot of things. If nothing else, love, seems like a pretty good place for me to start. When I don’t know what to do, I can live a life of authentic love. Love wrapped up in kindness, compassion, and empathy toward all human life seems like a way of living that will never go to waste. When love is our natural response to every person we encounter, to every life that is different than ours, to every competing perspective and it permeates every part off our lives, then maybe just maybe we will be quick to lean in and really hear, slow to speak things that may hurt, and not easily angered. I am willing to start here at my dinner table, and I am willing to listen in order to understand. I am willing to learn. I am just a dreamer. I am praying that I am not the only one.

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