Holidays and hospitality

“Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbor into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories, and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit… The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, not a fearful emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free… not a subtle invitation to adopt the life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find his own.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Having grown up stateside, I’m always astounded by the stories of international hospitality that my friends on the other side of the world share with me– the willingness that people in other countries have to take strangers into their homes and serve them a cup of tea, a warm meal, or simply hear their stories after a long day of travel or work.

In countries all over the globe, this type of hospitality is the norm.

These people, Christians or not, understand Jesus’ commandment– “Love your neighbor as yourself.

They feed the hungry, give tea to the thirsty, and provide company to the lonely (all within the walls of their own home– a place that is likely abounding in comfort and love).

While I mulled over this idea of international hospitality this week, it dawned on me that all of these things are slightly reminiscent of one of Jesus’ other teachings:

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”

(Matthew 25:31-40)

Personally, I’ve found that when I allow Christ’s hospitable nature and love to flow through me by inviting others over for a meal or to stay in my house while they are in a period of transition, I learned to love without great or unhealthy expectation of others.

By no means do I have this whole “love thy neighbor” thing down pat; as my roommates and house guests can attest to, at times I am irritable and impatient. My brain starts to spin and smoke when things are not somewhat orderly. I’ve seen my silly attachments to my material possessions rear their ugly idolistic heads. Oh, and as an introvert, I get to see my selfishness magnified when my “me time” or my “Jesus time” is disrupted. All reallllly cute attributes of my self… Hashtag: sarcasm.

These last few months have taught me that hospitality comes at a cost and that cost is different for everyone. It can be something as simple as sacrificing your “me time” to make your home welcoming to others, or something as big as overcoming self-established boundaries of intimacy with strangers or acquaintences. It simply depends on where God has you.

Hospitality can be uncomfortable and it should be because it is sanctifying.

In those moments when we are being called to be hospitable, we are called to put the comfort of others over ours, to listen, to meet needs, and to pray for and with those whom God has entrusted us with, even if it’s just for one meal or one short season of life

What would happen this week and this holiday season if we put aside our anxieties and selfishness and opened our homes to the people around us?

Yeah, I’m talking about the crazy neighbor who lives next door and can be heard screaming at her children until all hours of the night. Mhmm, even the cranky old man who lives alone and complains about your lawn being too long in the summer. And yes, who could forget the co-worker who drives you absolutely bananas with their stories drenched in hyperbole and laced with hidden pain.

What would happen if we invited them over for a Thanksgiving meal, free of expectation but full of Christs’ love? Think of the conversations that could happen and the relationships that could begin if only we lowered our Westernized walls and allowed people to discover themselves as created free and beautiful by a loving God within our homes.

Think of the possibilities.

XYZDinner

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.Hebrews 13:2

Treasure

Wednesday morning one of the other English teachers read Matthew 6 during morning devotions, but she put her own “DSS” spin on it. It went something like this:

Do not store up treasures for yourself on earth, where drug dealers and gang violence destroy and where thieves may rob you of them; but lay up treasures in heaven for yourself, where neither crackheads nor Crips can touch them, where unfinished homework will not matter, and where thieves cannot break in and steal your classroom keys, iPhones, or vehicles. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21 [Well, kind of…])

The last three weeks have been rough at the school. We’ve dealt with suicidal students, death threats of several different natures, and students being under the influence of just about every substance you can think of while at school. The police have been at our school so frequently that my principal is beginning to recognize police officers and learn their names.

Our staff has been robbed, screamed at, cursed out, and belittled. Doors have been slammed in our faces and many tears have been shed by my co-workers, my students, and myself.

There have been days when teaching seems secondary to simply surviving the day and when my lunch hour could not come fast enough.

I ended my work week last week sobbing in the girls’ bathroom, begging God to change his mind and move me to Dallas early. I can’t do this anymore God. I quit. I don’t want to play anymore. I just want to work in a “normal” high school where students take my word as law and don’t scream at me… or maybe a “normal” nine to five job that wouldn’t leave me emotionally exhausted every single day would be nice. I’m sick of pouring my heart into students who watch me being vulnerable with them and then decide to attack me when I am feeling the lowest… I’m sick of feeling discombobulated and anxious. I can’t do this anymore!

I wish I could say that I was the only one in the school that had a conversation with God like this, but unfortunately I know that the majority of my co-workers have had some variation of this moment within the last few weeks as well.

At first, I tried everything “Christian-y” I could think of to make these feelings and the hurt in my heart go away.

I prayed throughout my planning periods and my drives to and from work.

I had morning coffee dates with Jesus and spent time in the Word everyday.

I read verses about love and patience and begged God to make me His vessel.

I talked to my roommates and tried to process everything in a Godly manner so I wouldn’t inadvertently spew my emotions all over my students.

I tried to walk in the front doors of the school everyday in the power of Christ.

And yet, NOTHING changed. 

(Que my instant gratification American mind set…)

In fact, the more I tried to force myself to believe that God was going to do something to change the crappy circumstances at the school, the worse the situations seemed to get. And as the situations complicated and multiplied, I began to feel like God had hung us out to dry. By last Friday afternoon, I felt completely abandoned.

All I wanted was a work day without police contact or a student behavioral e-mail. I didn’t feel like that was too much to ask… Or maybe a day where I could actually teach something instead of dealing with shenanigans in my classroom… Now, that would be living!

As I tried to cope with/through all of the crappy situations going on, building relationships, praying for my kids, and having deep conversations (my favorite parts of my job, mind you) were shoved onto the back burner while I begged my students to complete their vocabulary packets and disregard the fact that my phone was buzzing every five minutes with e-mail updates from my co-workers and boss, or the fact that the cops had just driven past my classroom window, yet again.

In a weird way that only teachers will ever really understand, classwork, journal entries, and a fluid routine became the things that I was longing for and treasuring in my heart. Comfort and routine had become functional idols in my life and the more I sought after those things, the less I focused on God…

But in His very weird, “God way” I got a phone call from one of my original Street School students last night. Chris and I have gotten to be close over the last 4 1/2 years that I have taught / nagged / mentored him, and within minutes of talking to me, he knew that something was wrong.

He patiently listened to me list off the slew of problems at the school and then calmly said something to the effect of, “You don’t seem like you have your priorities in order… Things like this have always happened, but you guys never let that get to you. You need to focus on God and the things that will bring these “new kids” to Him. The ‘family’ part of the school and all that will follow, but you need to keep your eyes on God and His work first.”

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

I had gotten so wrapped up in the chaos and begun treasuring such minute things that my heart had fallen away from God.

So instead of focusing on the chaos (which has finally begun clear up a bit; praise God!) I really tried to realign my heart with God’s today and treasure the things that will ultimately matter in the end: talking to my kids about Jesus, loving them like Jesus loves us, and offering grace as I have been offered grace by my Father.

These things should be my treasures, not the lack of behavioral e-mails, or the number of vocabulary packets that have been turned in, or even my comfortable daily routine.

I still feel like I have a long way to go (and several battles directly ahead of me) in regards to destroying the “treasures” of comfort and routine in my life, but today, for the first time in over a month, I sat in my car after work and cried happy tears– tears because I love my job and my students. Tears of relief.

Are you treasuring something instead of the Kingdom of God right now?

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

(Matthew 6:19-21 [For real])