I recently interviewed Leslie Verner about her new book, INVITED: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness. I loved it and I love her. But it made me remember this post from a few years back, as true today as it was then. Hospitality takes on many forms, but mostly it requires us to be available and have space to see. Right now, my evenings require me to have space for those I may never meet. On good days, it feels holy.
I used to get nervous (on behalf of the author) when several books on the same theme released around the same time, as if the publishers didn’t know this was going to happen. As if the other network broke the news first and one reporter would receive an award while the other might lose her job. Now, I realize that this is a sign of the Divine. It’s a good thing. We should take notice. God is trying to get our attention. When several authors start writing about similar things and publishers start publishing, we should wake up because the Spirit is moving. He’s moving in and through his people the way he used to do with his prophets. And are artists not prophets? Is it not the role of artists to protest and warn, correct and critique, exhort and instruct? To make visible the invisible. To make meaning of all the pieces? When writers start writing about similar things, the Spirit of God is trying to make visible the invisible. He’s using the voices of his author-artists to make meaning for us.
So in the last few months, as 3 Christian women have released books about marriage, I’ve paid attention. I’ve read them all. And I’ve tried to discern what the Spirit might be saying, particularly considering how different they are in theology, practice, and voice. I’ve read them as a married person and a friend of married persons and the wife of a marriage counselor. I’ve considered who I might give which book to and why and what God had for me in each one and why.
My big conclusion is that the Spirit is reaffirming the covenant of marriage while also affirming how difficult the relationship is. Yeah, it’s hard, but stick with it because it’s the way I intend to bring you healing, bless your community, make you more like me, and you get the picture. Don’t trivialize this commitment. Don’t be so quick to throw in the towel. Don’t settle for less than what it could really be, but be willing to work (hard) to get there.
Making Marriage Beautiful by Dorothy Littell Greco is written by a writer, photographer, mother of 3 young adult men, and wife of 25 years. Greco’s writing is a mix of personal anecdote, stories from a diverse set of marriages, and instruction on how to allow marriage to change you so that your marriage will become more beautiful. Because she’s a friend, let me share her words: “Making Marriage Beautiful is truly unlike many other marriage books. First, it’s written by a woman to both men and women. This is almost unheard of. Adding Christopher’s words and the eight other husbands ensures that men are well represented. Second, the book contains very vulnerable, real-life stories. Most authors who write about marriage tend not to be as honest as Christopher and I chose to be. I think readers will easily engage and trust me because I’m choosing to trust them. Finally, I refuse to depend upon cliches or formulas. There’s no chapter titled, Ten Steps to a Perfect Marriage! Marriage and transformation is a process and my goal in writing this book is to help men and women navigate that process well. For the long haul.”
Very Married by Katherine Willis Pershey is a memoir of marriage written by a minister, mother of two young kids, and wife of 14 years. Pershey’s writing is witty and wise, crafted with authentic reflection which opens the curtain on her marriage. She does not shy away from tough reality (like her attraction to another man), but invites us in to her relationship through humor and story, so that we might embrace the hard of our own covenant. I've already passed it along to a girlfriend.
Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton is also a memoir of marriage written by a controversial figure who not only announced her separation and subsequent divorce to her husband just as the book released, but has since announced her relationship to professional soccer player, Abby Wambach. One of the things that is so difficult about the announcements is that the book is essentially about walking through her pain (and Craig walking through his) to discover how to be better individuals and better spouses. It concludes with a recommitment to one another, celebrating the covenant of marriage while affirming its challenges. Admittedly, it’s a quick devour as her writing style is captivating and the way she tackles each of their responses to pain is beautiful. But, what is the Spirit saying to us through her book? Why did he move in her to write about covenant and pain, but then leave us all feeling like the message is disingenuous? I’m not sure what to do with this one. For now, it remains on the shelf. I’m reluctant to pass it on.
If my therapist husband were to ask which one of these he should hand to a couple, I would suggest Making Marriage Beautiful. Besides resting in her orthodox view of the marriage covenant, I have confidence men and women can both read it and relate to Dorothy’s voice and instruction. Not only does she include the male voice, but she includes voices from a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The reader can tell she speaks not only from personal lived experience, but also from 20 years of counseling couples through similar transformative growth.
The Spirit is making meaning of marriage in these days of trivializing this covenantal bond. For those of us committed to a spouse for the long haul, maybe pick up Dorothy’s book this year and invest in change for the sake of beautiful.
I was honored to be included in Jen Pollock Michel's guest series, “Home: Musings and Memories" and even more excited about her upcoming book, Keeping Place: Reflections on the Meaning of Home (IVP, Spring 2017). Jen believes "home is our most fundamental longing, homesickness our most nagging grief. Most of all, I believe that the historic Christian faith has something to say about that desire and disappointment." It is always a challenge and joy to process my years overseas and digest them for readers. Perhaps you know someone living abroad right now? Maybe ask them to share their home story with you this Christmas? Here's mine:
Daire 3, 5 Blok, Vitol Cikmazi, Moda, Kadikoy, Istanbul, Turkiye
It seemed fitting to live in the largest neighborhood of the largest city in the largest unreached nation. Principle had drawn us here, with our one-year-old in tow and adventure at our backs. It was not a sacrifice. We were young and seeking purpose. And we were planting a flag with the apartment we chose: this would be the haven for our team, the space in which hearts would change.
The day we trudged up the hill with lights and curtains tucked under our arms, preparing the apartment for our move, our new electrician friend pulled us anxiously toward the TV in his shop. While our son played with electrical outlets, we watched planes fly intentionally into towers. We moved into our new home days later amid shock, fear, and grief. Our first team meeting included an angry call with a father in America: he wanted his young daughter on a flight immediately, safely out of the middle east.
Our home was christened with tears.
Months later I ordered a turkey from the butcher and opened canned yams from the black market coming off the military base. We celebrated Thanksgiving with 25 people, only half of whom were American, and shared a little bit of home with new friends. The first of all our wedding gift wine glasses broke that night as young teammates helped in the kitchen. A few stayed late to binge watch Alias thanks to a VHS tape received in the mail.
Our home was anointed with laughter.
Finish reading here.
I know the panic which rises, gripping and pulsating, when a certain number flickers on the phone. I am a well-seasoned avoider as my heart races and I wait for voicemail, confident I am in trouble. I stall. Do laundry. Later, I listen.
The same anxiety wakes me on days I meet with her. Well before the sun rises, my stomach begins its tumult, flooded with adrenaline, fueled by an incoherent fear. Because no matter the voicemail, no matter the meeting’s topic, I am never in trouble. Ever. She thinks the world of me, yet evokes such a visceral response I grow ill.
I endure this crazy for years while wondering its source; Until I begin preparing for a trip back to a time and place when another woman triggered similar panic. Suddenly, finally, I realize how alike they are. The firm, set way in which they share opinions. The sweet salty manner of disagreeing with me. The method of inviting participation while maintaining control. And with the former woman, the one whom I would vividly recall on my trip down memory lane, I was always in trouble.
My recent panic has nothing to do with the present day person, but everything to do with the one from before.
I wonder how many of us struggle with these current triggers unaware of their source? The marital fights over seemingly benign things: he gets uncharacteristically angry when the fridge is empty because deep down are unprocessed emotions from his childhood home, with its little food and arguments over money and diminished father. Her blood rises on the playground and with every emotional recounting of the day from her five-year-old, not remembering, but feeling, all the playgrounds and lunchrooms in all the new schools she entered as a child. I'm over at The Mudroom Blog today, sharing a space with fellow women as we process memories and triggers this month. Please head over to finish reading.
My daughter likes to tell everyone we meet about one of my most embarrassing moments. It involved food. We had been living overseas for a year or two and I was till working on verb tenses. Even though I dreamed of a life like Frances Mayes in Tuscany, frequenting neighborhood food stalls and chatting it up with my local friends, I had already resorted to anonymity in the large super store. You never had to speak in the large super store.
But Thanksgiving was approaching and rumor had it the butcher would find the Americans a turkey if you asked him to. This required speaking. No problem. I could easily order a turkey and arrange the day to pick it up. But I waited too long. He doubted he could have it by Wednesday. And, in a moment of expat desperation I pleaded, "I must be a turkey by Wednesday!"
It was imperative. More than 20 people were coming to our home, foreigners and nationals alike, to celebrate an American Thanksgiving. I had even found another produce seller who could get sweet potatoes from the coast. Someone else had recently brought hams from a trip abroad and we.were.set.
It became a tradition. Large groups gathered around the table my husband crawled under as a boy. The table which squeaks and with the chairs whose leather weaving is tearing and bolts are popping off. So many stories have occupied these chairs and eaten on these plates. In the midst of cross-cultural stress and otherness, I relished creating an environment that welcomed the weary. I nourished souls through hospitality.
A few years ago it seemed right to open our home to a young person in need of a family to stay with for a while. It felt like an extension of hospitality and it stretched us all. Our son gave up his room for 2 months. Our food budget swelled. We suffered through our own ignorance of trauma and failed miserably to understand what he needed. It ended poorly. We tried again with a younger girl a few months later. This time our daughter gave up her space. We hid knives and pills and faced depression head on. We welcomed the other.
But it took its toll. It's too much to live in painful stories all day and come home to more of the same, my therapist husband said.
I began to recognize his exhaustion. While I was hoping to plan the next gathering, pinning recipes and arranging invites, he became the weary. He nourished 20 souls a week and had no more to give. I desperately wanted 20 around my table but not with a reluctant co-host.
The plates went unused, accumulating dust on the bottom few.
I have wondered what to do about this predicament we're in, my husband and I. The refugee crisis makes me wonder how we would respond if we were nearer. Some of the very friends who joined us overseas, now gather Syrians at the train station and take them home for a night of sleep in a bed and a wash in a shower. I think of the traveling holy family this advent season and wonder if there would be room in our inn?
I have been sad about it all.
And then I realized, those 20 hurting souls that sit across from my husband each week, whose stories I only know via the exhaustion on his face, are my guests. I serve them each week by keeping my table open. While the plates gather dust, my husband gathers strength. By welcoming him to a quiet and empty evening, I am hospitable to all the unknown names and faces he serves.
I realize, I am practicing stealth hospitality.
So to them, I raise a toast! May you know the abundance of God's grace and find rest for your weary soul. May you love your life and live restored through the hospitality of the Bruno family.
I love writing for Thrive Connection now and then. My roots are in global missions and I seem to still be debriefing my time overseas! This publication serves to support women living and ministering all over the world. Check them out!
It had been eight years since my daughter had been back to the land of her birth: the place which echoes through the rooms of our house, the carpets on the floor, and the ceramics on the walls. (From this land also comes the language my husband and I still speak when we do not want the kids to understand.) She longed to return to the mystical place her memories had created, and I longed to firmly root her in our family narrative.
Read the rest at Thrive.
I am participating in a "synchroblog" at SheLoves Magazine today on their month's theme, "We Are The Other." Check out the other great writers and their stories. ************************ Our young interns had named it the Dragon Wagon. The big black Volkswagen Euro Van which could cart 10 of them across town or country, but which I drove alone with our two-year old on most days. The van in which my husband had coached me to drive offensively rather than defensively through the narrow cobblestone streets of ancient Chalcedon.
We lived on the Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey in the largest neighborhood in the largest city in the largest unreached nation in the world. But the streets were narrow and the buildings tall and skinny. Sidewalks had been added as an after thought and were often overtaken by carts selling seasonal produce.
The day I returned from dropping my son off at Turkish preschool, screaming not to leave him, was another day among many in which the streets were torn up, bricks relaid and new sand poured. I made a turn and then another, weaving up the hill into the depths of our neighborhood. Taking an unplanned right with the enormous van, I couldn’t compensate for the car extending beyond the curb, couldn’t get around. I was stuck. Another car was on my tail and another behind him. Now they were all in the street, yelling for me to get out-of-the-way. Turkish hands flapping in the wind, a clear sign of total disgust.
When I opened my mouth, they knew. Hands went down and “Allahallas” circled among the men.
Yabanci. Foreigner, they said to explain it all.
I had come to hate that word, muttered by corner grocers and on minibuses and in smoke-filled college cafes. No matter where I went, I was the foreigner. No matter how good my accent was. No matter how hard I tried. No matter how long I lived in their country, how much I loved their country, I was always the foreigner. The one who wasn’t like them.
But there’s another memory. A trek through a valley. A team of 60, representing 6 cultures, following a village boy to a hidden church. A moonscape valley of sandstone rocks carved into homes and hiding places. A small crevice, indistinguishable from the rest, that we climb up and through. Frescoes preserved through the centuries, painted by monks and persecuted Christians. Our brothers of an ancient land. And we break bread, dip into the cup, and praise God in our one shared language, Turkish.
We are all foreigners. None of us belong to this Muslim land of Mosques and Calls to Prayer and the kneeling and bending of bodies. We are Korean, Albanian, Kiwi, American, Turk. We are Jesus followers. And we are all yabanci.
I hold to this when I walk the shredded tires of playgrounds feeling alone. When I can no longer follow conversations to the depths of a language I can't comprehend. When I feel as much out-of-place in America visiting family, feeling speared in two, soul and body separated by oceans. When I feel desperately other among the very teammates I stood shoulder to shoulder with in the dark expanse of an ancient holy place. Not like them. And not like them.
Like most of us who follow Jen Hatmaker, I discovered her via 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, truly fell in love after her Worst End School Year Mom Ever, and have relied on her humorous Facebook posts for my daily laugh ever since. She's funny, sarcastic, and has enough real crazy authenticity to make me feel normal and known. For those of you with cable, you can now see a bit of what I mean on HGTV's "My Big Family Renovation."
But she's deep.
Her session on the cost of discipleship and the meaning of the Eucharist at last year's IF: Gathering woke me up to a new reality. And there's this book. Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity. Interrupted is the prequel to 7, the story behind the experiment. I devoured it on the heels of reading 7 and am now thrilled to be chosen as one of the 250 bloggers to review the revised and expanded edition and offer a free copy to one of my readers!
Interrupted is both a birth story of a church and Jesus' story of his heart for the poor. Jen takes us through the journey of being shaken out of the comfort of blessing the blessed in her church, speaking, and writing ministry. She and her husband wrestle through scripture and personal experiences to discover a "new" way of reaching their neighbor, the marginalized, and God's kingdom. Basically, she wakes up to the reality that she's been reading the Bible all wrong. Unable to go on spiritualizing verses such as feed my sheep, they embark on planting a church and relocating their family.
Interrupted is a people's guide to Christian community development, God's heart for justice, and the American church's wake up call combined. Many of Jen's sources are books I read for my MA in International Community Development. But hers is a tangible, enjoyable, practical read (not that my books were not, but you know, she's funny!) Church planters should walk away a bit sobered, considering their methods and evaluating their plans.
Overall, I saw myself in these pages. After a decade of ministry to college students, operating in a classic message driven, program centered way, we hobbled into grad school weary and wondering. I too was wrecked by words I had spiritualized and glossed over year after year. My heart broke for the poor and then, slowly, for myself. Jen says it better:
Transformation came in the form of dirty homeless men and abandoned kids. It came through abused women and foster children. It came through neighbors crying at my kitchen table. Transformation began with humility, even humiliation. It started with conviction and discipline. It increased through loss, not gain. It grew through global exposure and uncomfortable questions. It was born out of rejection, replanted in new soil. It was not found in my Christian subculture but in the eyes of my neighbors, the needs of my city, the cries of the nations. It was through subtraction, not addition, that transformation engulfed me, and I'll tell you something:
I am not the same.
You'll have to read it for yourself! Enter today to win a free copy of Interrupted or buy it where all books are sold.
Jan Hatmaker is the author of 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess and A Modern Girl's Bible Study series. With a heart for her generation, she speaks at conferences around the country. Jen resides in Austin, Texas, with her husband, Brandon, and their five children. To learn more about Jen and follow her blog, go to www.jenhatmaker.com.
I am pleased to be at Redbud Writer's Guild today processing a raw response to the IF: Gathering. Read a snippet here and head over to Redbud for the rest!
“I’m mad at God.”
It felt right and true as the words came out, even though I had had no such thought just moments prior.
I was huddled on my comfy couch with 3 women, one of whom I had met a mere hour earlier, to watch the live stream of IF: Gathering. Months before, when the leaders opened up registration and threw out the fee, 1200 women signed up in 42 minutes. The 4 of us were joining 25,000 others from around the world watching in living rooms, church halls, and cafes thanks to a decision to stream it live.
The sheer number of women gathered around a vague “conference” indicates the desire which exists in our generation for something different, authentic and raw. And from the get go, when each and every woman involved in the planning, speaking, and creating of the weekend came to the mic and prayed, authenticity abounded.
This was the atmosphere shaping the discussion time in which I took a question card that read, “What is in between you and peace with God?” I thought I was going to say boredom. It felt safer. But I didn’t. And even as I was speaking words almost too raw for my own soul to bear, I felt exposed and real and hopeful all at once.
I had been harboring a low simmering anger with Jesus.
Read the rest on Redbud Writer's Guild.
Last month over 25,000 women spanned the globe and live-streamed IF: Gathering. I was one of them. Nestled in my little family room with 3 other women, we joined thousands of like-minded, soul-searching, God-aching, purpose-driven, kingdom-bringing sisters. It was glorious.
But I had my doubts.
Just before my guests arrived, as I cued the webcast and brewed coffee, I paused and spoke to the emptiness. “God, I need this to be different. I need you to show up for me. I cannot handle more of the same. I am way too bored for that. You know this. But you are worth the risk. I am begging you. Show up!”
You see, I have been a bored Christian for a really really long time. And if I were to put my finger on its genesis, it would be somewhere on the mission field. Something about becoming a professional believer seems to truncate spiritual intimacy. In fact, I will probably never attend a women’s bible study again unless God twists my arm (wink* now I know he will!) I struggle in church, I wince at Christian radio stations, I want to de-friend the Facebookers who quote verses every day. This is what boredom produces.
But despite my institutional boredom, I have rediscovered Jesus elsewhere. On good days, when I am pursuing the end of sex trafficking, I walk with him into darkness and experience his compassion for the broken. Ministering to the marginalized, I am reminded that I am also broken and in need of a savior. He has sustained my faith and reawakened a spiritual intimacy, but I long for more. I long for a tribe. And I long to experience him in corporate worship, through preaching that isn’t on TedX, and among the pulse of authenticity.
So I held my breath and hoped.
Boredom is but one result of professional Christianity. It’s evil twin is cynicism. I have been walking alongside a recently returned missionary who struggles with the latter. Our heart desire is so similar it is crushing. In my boredom and against her cynicism, I have enough hope to believe more awaits us.
I have seen and tasted enough beauty in the voices of bloggers and authors and speakers to know it is true. They are laying their raw messy life on the cutting board of life, exposed and lovely. Their humanity points to the dignity in all and the brokenness we share. The humor or sarcasm or prophet-bearing words with which they serve up truth is searing in its conviction and yet tender. How can God spank and hug at the same time?
And how does he endure our yawning and jaded bitterness? We are but angsty teenagers whose stage is hopefully ending. Lord have mercy! Yet he waits. And changes tactics. And occasionally disciplines. He surprises and teases.
And he always shows up.