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.
For Red Tent Living this month...
If we agree on one thing, perhaps it is that we’re all human?
Since nothing else approaches unifying these days. Perhaps there is that?
A fearful mama writes a post that goes viral. Protecting 3 small children in Ikea, she fears a stalker and tells her Facebook community she is a target of human trafficking. The machine explodes, one side spreads her sincere warning while the other side blasts her misinformed reactionary response.
Mistakenly, she assumed her community was safe.
The same media blamed for not addressing the issue is now blamed for sensationalizing it, fueling stereotypes, spreading inaccuracies. If we didn’t have thoseshows we wouldn’t have these mamas: hysterical and wrong.
The #Ikeamom is not unlike #alllivesmatter and #weareallimmigrants. Well-meaning folks, learning about injustice, trying to synthesize newfound knowledge with lived-experience. Trying to be compassionate. Trying to engage. Trying to support. Doing what they know to do with the understanding they have.
But the machine is ruthless. And there is no space for wrestling truth, stumbling around justice, and just stepping on toes.
What if we all decided it was okay to step on our toes?
Keep reading over at Red Tent Living.
We went to the Netherlands to bike.
We also went to see Corrie ten Boom's Hiding Place and Anne Frank's Annex. We went to experience their stories and immerse ourselves in their world, strong females whose voices still live. In a land that produced such women, I suspected there were more. I sensed we would discover them on the journey. Yet for all the heroines, I also knew the Netherlands had thousands of exploited sisters. Women from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East sex trafficked in the infamous Red Light District. I wanted to experience their stories too. If I'm going to invite my daughter into the company of women as a finale to this rites of passage year, she needs to know the breadth of the sisterhood: pain and need coexist with strength and hope.
In Utrecht, we searched in vain for a statue of Trijn van Leemput, pick axe in hand, symbolizing her rally of other women to demolish a castle-turned-Spanish garrison at the onset of the 80 years war. Historians have picked at the veracity of this tale, but I guess that a people who valorize women can have all the legend they want.
In Gouda, we stayed with Jet and discovered a woman motivated by God's love to care for people in her home: foster kids, long-term residents, weary travelers like us, and entire families during transitions. She lived in a 19th century town home, so narrow the stairwell resembled a ladder. It had one small toilet closet and a newish shower room on the 3rd floor. She had recently been to Cambodia to learn more about IJM's work and we connected over human trafficking.
In Oudewater, we weighed ourselves on the official scales used to acquit Dutch women accused of witchcraft during a time in which thousands of women were put to death. It was thought that witches needed to be light enough to fly and if one could prove her weight was "normal" on Oudewater's official scales, her innocence was sealed. We were appalled at the crazy false accusations and hysteria around women who deviated in the slightest way from the majority.
Haarlem gave us Corrie ten Boom, a woman compelled by her faith to protect as many Jews during the German occupation of the Netherlands as she could. A woman who sacrificed her own security and ultimately, lost her father and sister in concentration camps. We learned about Hannie Shaft, 25-year-old Dutch Resistance fighter known as 'the girl with the red hair'. She was killed by the Germans just 3 weeks before liberation for her ceaseless fight to sabotage their efforts. And long before WWII, there was Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer, the fearless Dutch heroine who inspired Haarlem to rebuild the city's defense wall. Her statue stood proud in the train station courtyard, sword beneath her feet.
By the time we were back in Amsterdam, I was pretty convinced we were walking among giants. My daughter had easily named women who exhibited the categories we discussed all year: Jet loved, Kenau led, Hannie fought, Corrie sacrificed, Anne Frank created. And what about the women who have lived in the Begijnhof since 1150, the devout women (not nuns) who chose to serve the Lord in prayer and service within a circle of Amsterdam townhouses? Or all the brave women highlighted in the Dutch Resistance Museum for their courage during the occupation of Germany (in Holland) and Japan (in the Dutch East Indies/ now Indonesia)? What of the women we had met along our bike journey who went out of their way to escort us to the next path, stop others for assistance, and offer us shelter?
On our last day, we made our way to Dignita, Not For Sale's cafe and culinary training program site. I wanted to learn more about the state of the Red Light District and hear from on the ground experts. Secretly, I wanted my daughter to see the out working of a life lived with passion. My passion may never become hers, but I desperately want her to discover one as meaningful. In fact, I have a working theory that the antidote to a teen's obsession with boys, bodies, and besties is catching a vision for a bigger story.
[bctt tweet="I have a working theory that the antidote to a teen's obsession with boys, bodies, and besties is catching a vision for a bigger story."]
Dignita is committed to re-creating stories for the trafficked men and women they offer culinary certificates to. We didn't need to walk the district to learn about the women photographed like monkeys in a window; to hear that the majority are threatened to come under the rule of a trafficker. We were told the district is dying (because more tourists are voyeurists than paying customers), but that it is moving underground, online. Why pay 200Euros/ hour for rent when the sale of sex can be arranged online? My daughter was concerned about the laws (having heard all about human trafficking already). Why was this legal? Why were there not better laws to protect these women? Who is going to change this?
I saw her blood begin to boil. The first signs of a heart breaking is anger. Holy anger leads to passion.
[bctt tweet="The first signs of a heart breaking is anger."]
This is catching a vision for living a bigger story.
Experiencing the women of the Netherlands, the strong and brave and exploited alike, provided a framework upon which to hang meaning. These are lessons you can't just teach from a book or gain from a movie. Sometimes you have to walk in their shoes, see the places from which bravery sprung forth, imagine the moments in which choices were made.
[bctt tweet="Sometimes you have to walk in their shoes, see the places from which bravery sprung forth, imagine the moments in which choices were made."]
We've come from a beautiful global sisterhood. To this I invited my daughter: this, this is the company of women you join as you become a woman.
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 thought they would be my knightesses in shining armor.
A connection had led me to a small female - led company with promises of increasing my nonprofit’s capacity. As the founder of a 5 year old organization, I was relieved to hear that help might be tucked away in the basement of this little home-based business. I unloaded the files in my brain and they color coated and circled on the white board and my heart swelled. I felt hope.
Until the dreaded topic of finances surfaced. The topic I loathe. How much is this vision worth? How many dollars will you equate to your dreams? And when my answer was a pittance, far too low to warrant their help, the meeting’s abrupt conclusion lodged spurs in my brain. I am still sorting them out. “Come back when your vision is larger. Come back when you’re ready to build an organization. Come back when you’re ready to value your time and not work for free.”
I have not been back.
Continue reading my story over at Mudroom.
As I sit with my enormous mug of dark coffee in jet lag fog, I am searching for words to leave you dear readers who have followed along this journey with my daughter. How nice to be able to tell you I’ve found some sort of magic key to unlocking the depths of our girls’ souls.
No, nothing magical happened during this extravagant surprise trip to launch Becoming.
I did not hear, “Mom, thank you so much for this extraordinary trip you’ve given me!” Or “I can’t believe how much time you put into planning this!” Nor did I hear “How did you know everything we would experience? You know this culture so well!”
No strokes for my ego for my cultural expertise, travel savvy, or thoughtfulness. She is just a newly 12 year old, still relatively self-absorbed and not naturally oozing with gratitude anyway.
Honestly, I put more time into planning the day and writing each letter than we spent discussing the meaning. I kept reminding myself, the goal is to build the scaffolding. Build the norms and frame of being that I want to become second nature: women are courageous; women are full of faith; women embrace their own and each other’s bodies; God sees us, even in our misery; God sees you, as do I, as the unique reflection of himself.
I knew a return trip was important for Ella. They say families should return to their second culture within two years of leaving for closure and a sense of well-being. My husband and I did, but without the kids. In the 8 years that have passed, we have talked fondly about Turkey. Turkish is our secret-in-front-of-kids language. We get excited about eating Turkish food. We have relics decorating every room of our home. But I had no idea how mythical it had become to the kids.
Ella was shocked by the real place. Her memories included a yellow house, far bigger than it was, a park with a staircase, and her babysitter. She had no memory of the water, the boats, the crowds, the congestion, the food, the call to prayer, the stray animals, the crazy drivers, the covered women, the amount of smokers, or the bazars. As I shared stories of the reality of life, real daily life, she was surprised by my tears, my negative experiences, the brutality of mega-city living. Unbeknownst to be me, she had taken our nostalgia and created a utopia on Earth; the city from which she came, but of which she had no realistic memory.
In that sense, the trip achieved its purpose: ground her in her roots and the narrative arc of the Bruno story. The letters conveyed this in ways my emotional and teary self could not. They were a brilliant tool and will outlive the trip. I’ve created the file folders we can revisit throughout the rites of passage process and years to come. It’s one thing I’ve embraced through this concept: becoming is a journey we are all on, not an event with a before and after.
Personally, I’ve had a particular phrase pulsing in my thoughts, growing in intensity through the years, yet unclear as to its meaning: if there’s a story in me, it was birthed in Turkey. Though I’ve returned twice, I haven’t lingered. I haven’t traversed my old stomping grounds, nor relived the stories with a companion.
I thought God was asking me to name the places where he saw me, like he saw Hagar, and for that reason, I thought there were things I missed and would be surprised by.
On the contrary, I realized I was the one who didn’t see Him.
Experiencing the city with a carefree, oblivious tween, who raced up the metro escalators, balanced on every post and curb, leapt across rocks and spoke English loudly made me realize how long I lived in tension, trying desperately to be invisible. My mantra: don’t stand out, don’t warrant the “tsks” from older Turkish women or the “dusersen”s (she’s going to fall!), don’t elicit the “yabanci” (foreigner) whispers trailing after you. Blend. Hide. Be strong. Don’t fear. Weakness is not an option.
So this week... I felt all the feelings.
All the fear. All the tension. All the shame, of being too much or not enough. All the vulnerability. All the exhaustion. All the stress. All the otherness.
Where have you come from? God asks. I’ve come from hard. It was hard. So hard. And choosing life always meant dying a thousand deaths.
But did I see him? He met Hagar at the well. He said I hear you in your misery. I’m going to ask you to return, but I’ll send you with my promise. I always thought Hagar found the courage and strength to return for 14 years. But maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was weak. Maybe she leaned into God, the one who sees, and he was enough.
Back then? I looked to my own determination to be enough. Self-reliance was my crutch. I was never weak.
So I walked the streets with Ella and I felt so sad for that Beth. I felt it all for her sake and I wept all the tears she never released. I don’t know how she did it and I don’t know why she stayed. But I sensed God was there at the well the whole time, seeing and hearing and waiting for me to lean in to him.
Here I am trying to show Ella that women are strong and courageous and needed, but does she already know all this? Is this a moot point to her generation? Perhaps what she needs to learn is how weakness can co-exist with strength and be a beautiful thing.
Her Mom is strong. I did life with small kids in a crazy exotic city and stayed sane. But, yeah, I get emotional when I think of what it required of me and tears trickle when I remember what it was like to push that stroller up the cobblestone street or drive through the bazar while in labor or hear that synagogues are being bombed and there’s one next to the preschool my son is currently at...
I guess what I'm learning is that Ella and I are coming of age together and all paths were leading back to Turkey, intertwining our stories. Becoming is indeed a process, a journey we are all on, and whatever story was birthed in me in Turkey is still being written, just as Ella's is being written.
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.
The church is a beautiful albeit funny thing. Seemingly always a little late to the game, when she gets excited about the new thing, she does such a good job of rallying the troops, raising funds, and producing missionaries and programs and projects and mission trips. She is fueled by passion and principle, awakened to God’s heart in a new way. In the 90’s, the church fixed her attention on Russia and the countries which had suffered under Communism and Atheism’s absence of God. My husband went to Albania with Bibles. In the 2000’s, the church was ablaze with the 10/40 window and the vast number of Muslims who did not know Jesus as Savior. My family and I moved to Turkey. Now it seems all attention is consumed with Sex Trafficking. And today, I stalked a suspicious massage parlor.
Read the rest at Red Tent Living.
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.
My family had made a bee line for the Liberty Bell while I stood transfixed on a woman in a bonnet. She was not young, nor attractive per se. Black ruffles encased her neck, a good Quaker donning modest attire. I was smitten. And I was crying. Lucretia Mott, a kindred spirit, stared back at me from two centuries past. Her relentless passion, birthed where I stood, but not finished. Begun, unlocked, and I carry an ember. Because we toil on. For the slave. For women. Soul sister in a bonnet, my hero.
Months later I am in Cheyenne. Mere miles from my home I stand in a Western storefront listening to a good ole cowboy-curator share stories of his great great-grandmother. She is one of the many female homesteaders who settled Wyoming, earning the right to own land, pay taxes, and the first vote. Commonsense paved the way for women's rights, the wild west tamed by courageous independent daughters. And in my backyard, a museum dedicated to their memory.
I am indebted to their groundwork, these cowgirls. As a woman and a mother to daughters careening from girl to teen too fast, I'm not trying to raise feminists, but confident, smart, courageous girls. Is there a difference? Would I not have joined Lucretia, Sarah Grimke, Susan B. Anthony?
So I curate my own collection. Paying attention to the shift in culture, wondering at the heroes who walk among us today, I am taking note. And you should too. Here are some of my recent favorites that are helping me raise strong girls.
Movies that show us the boy doesn't always save the day, but true love is sacrificial, can be sisterly and of friends: Frozen and Maleficent
Teen sensation series that my son has devoured which have heroines: Hunger Games (okay for pre-teen) and Divergent series (which my 11-year-old is not yet allowed to read)
Always' #LikeaGirl ad, challenging stereotypes:
Colbie Caillat's hit single "Try" from Gypsy Heart:
Goldiblocks commercial which went viral during the Superbowl:
DOVE campaigns challenging our own worst critic:
and the DOVE campaign which began the anti-Photoshop revolution:
A Mighty Girl (with close to 600,000 FB likes) curating everyday heroism from global girls. This might be my new favorite source for great books, apparel, and daily articles about global girls making a difference.
A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans challenging the way Christians pick and choose from scripture what is cultural and what is literal in regards to women.
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey painting a loving and gentle picture of the simple idea that Jesus loves and embraces women.
Reclaiming Eve by Suzanne Burden, Carla Sunberg, and Jamie Wright a primer on female/male partnership in the Kingdom of God.
Dare Mighty Things: Mapping the Challenges of Leadership for Christian Women by Halee Gray Scott, PhD a guidebook on the internal and external struggles women overcome to lead in various ministry settings.
And the wonderful writer's guild to which I belong, Redbud Writer's Guild, a group of vibrant Christ-followers who "value the feminine perspective too often silenced or dismissed in our world. We have a heart for women. Redbud desires to empower women to use their voices and recognize their influence."
Women. You thought I was talking about girl power, no? I think this sums it up marvelously... today I read Amy Julia Becker over at Christianity Today ponder gender confusion. It's an interesting article, but I was struck by the reflection from her sister growing up a tomboy:
"I thought there was something cool about being a boy—maybe not even just a boy, but a man, specifically the businessmen I saw walking down our street every day heading to the train station, briefcases in hand and nicely dressed in suits. I saw they had a purpose and must have recognized a level of success among them . . . The interesting thing for me in looking back on wanting to be a boy . . . is that I clearly was interested in success and a sense of strength."
I want my girls to be surrounded by enough strong and successful women (by which I mean women making a difference, living into their passion and loving their story, and seeking to steward their gifts well) that role models abound. They aspire to do anything because they see other females have as well. They never question if it is their place or if it is possible. Instead, they wonder if they want to, if God wants them to.
If that makes me a feminist, okay. I prefer to think it makes me like Lucretia.