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.
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 friend’s daughter is in the 1st grade. Though they do not own a TV, she is already sporting a sexy sass and eying boys. The only real explanation is that she is mirroring what she sees at school. Kids are already talking about “dating.” Her class has a collective conscious that their sexuality is something to wield as a means of control, like Samantha’s nose twitch on Bewitched. (And I promise, it was already in reruns when I was a kid!)
In a meeting with a school counselor, I hear of another 1st grader. After he recently smacked a classmate’s butt, he wound up in her office. As she pursued the little boy and his reasoning, his attitude said “duh” everyone knows, while he verbalized, “It’s what girls deserve.”
Bottom line? Kids are sponges. They will absorb whatever is most frequently put before them, whether it’s domestic violence and machismo at home or over-sexualized peers in class. And the reality is that our seven-year olds are exposed to far more than we can prevent or control.
The same school counselor expressed her concern that her kids have to code-switch: shed what they know as normal from home when they come through school doors and vice versa. NPR hijacked this term from linguistics to broadly describe the “hop-scotching between different cultural and linguistic spaces and different parts of our own identities — sometimes within a single interaction.”
My friend’s daughter has to code-switch everyday when she enters her classroom: Mom may say it’s not appropriate to “date” at age 7, but every single one of my girlfriends likes a boy and to be cool, I have to too. The butt-slapping 7-year old code-switches every time he returns home: Ms. Smith says girls don’t deserve to be treated like that, but my uncle and granddad and older brother treat all their girls that way, so what’s the deal? Can we truly expect children to switch so quickly, so effortlessly? Is it any wonder that these incidents are happening?
As adults, unless we raise children in an isolated bubble, they will absorb the rhetoric and narrative of those with whom they spend most of their time. And yet, if we don't expose them to the world, how can we teach them to respond in beautiful and honoring ways? How do we raise boys and girls to value themselves and others within their own selves, not to the manipulation, control, or degradation of the other?
I offered my friend one nugget of a suggestion, timidly, for my own kids are still in adolescence and I have no proof my hypothesis works.
But I’ve seen the Sponge Effect.
And to combat it, I’ve sought to raise my kids’ perspective above the daily drama of school politics, relational positioning, and cultural messaging. I’ve read them stories of girls living on the other side of the globe, forced to walk miles for water, marry at their age, or stay home from school because of hygiene issues. We’ve watched films about Jewish children smuggled out of ghettos or Vietnamese girls who bike for hours a day to attend school. I’ve opened their eyes to sacrifice, for sure. But more than that, I’ve opened their eyes to the bigger narrative of kids: past and present in every corner of the world. If we were all created in God's image, do we not all deserve to be valued in a way that is honoring to Him? Now, when one of them complains about the most recent school drama, I remind them that we all have something in common.
My goal is to locate my kids in a meta-narrative: Yes, I believe there are universal truths. Let us at least start with human dignity for all (and abolish butt-slapping because of the belief it’s what she deserves!) Perhaps then, we can agree to valuing ones self for one's self, not based on the arm one is attached to? Of course, there will be differences in opinion on sexuality, gender norms, and roles in relationships, but can we not agree to these basic truths? Children ought to learn to value themselves and others with dignity.
And that is worth absorbing.
What about you? What have you done to help curb the sponge effect?
Is this you?
You have battled thru the Mommy Wars and wrestled with sleep training and discipline methods and school choices and career/stay at home dilemmas. You have fought to find your own voice and now you know, in your bones- you are valued, purposed, wanted.
And more than anything, you want your daughter to know this too, beyond question.
You read Sarah Bessey and Addie Zierman and connect- your faith has taken a beating too. The same Evangelical space no longer fully holds you. You attend IF: Gathering and your heart swells- there are strong women speaking your language. Jennie Allen and Jen Hatmaker and Ann Voskamp remind you- you are strong, valued, purposed, wanted.
You are a mama to a tween. And you are wondering. How in the world am I going to raise her in this new spiritual space I find myself occupying?
You look out at what's available to your kind and you find princess archetypes, balls and promise rings, purity and covenants and spiritual weekends and you think, fine, good, but insufficient. The weight of your daughter's glory hangs in the balance and requires so.much.more.
You look out at her kind and you see young women living small stories, preoccupied with a world of their making of which they are in the center, being swallowed whole by the drama and gossip and narrative of teen culture. You wonder, is it stoppable? Preventable? Especially when you glance back at your kind and realize some of them never grew up. You have people in your spaces still living small stories.
[bctt tweet="You have people in your spaces still living small stories."]
In fact, you realize this is an epidemic. Too many peers have yet to discover their voice. Too many are preoccupied with a world of their making. They can't see past the immediate, the constraints, the hurdles, but worst- they don't believe they're needed, valued, purposed.
And so you look at your daughter. This young girl becoming.
She must know in the core of her being that God has purposed her. She must know He is the center of the story of which she is called to be a part. She joins the tale He is telling, through the passion he has placed in her heart. And the drama? The drama is the unfolding of redemption; the story of mercy poured out on a people. Who will be her people? What will be her place? Which problem will she embrace?
Because you realize, a girl living out her passion does not have time for drama of the teen sort. She is too busy growing in curiosity and wonder and being wrecked by a God who calls us to a story of epic proportions.
Is this you, Mom?
Is this you looking for hope for your girl-child-becoming?
Can you recall a memory of when you were first wrecked? When you were young and naive, did you ever get preachy and make everyone around you feel guilty? When were you so gripped with passion that you sacrificed time and money to advance your cause?
Mine? I became a right-wing, secular humanist-fearing activist in high school because of a camp I attended. I came home and raised my voice and got all heated about certain magazines in our public school library and went before our school board and landed front and center in our local newspaper. It makes me chuckle and roll my eyes now. I would love to take my principled 17-year-old self out for coffee!
But you know what? I was passionate. I had been wrecked by God. My faith was young and naive and maybe I was hearing him wrong, but I loved him and wanted to align my life with the things he cared about. I did it in messy, broken ways... the way we do when we are following a story one chapter at a time.
Do you want more for your daughter? Pray that God would wreck her. Pray that she would develop a passion that sets her sights on a meta-narrative and gets her out of the small story of American teen drama. Welcome her into your own passion.
And mom? If you lack your own, well, you know where you must begin.
Together on the journey,
For my lovely readers, I wanted to direct you to my article on Today's Christian Woman, How To Talk To Your Kids About Suicide.
When our family hosted a young girl who struggled with suicidal thoughts, our kids came face to face with the 3rd leading cause of adolescent death. Later, when a classmate took his life, we knew we had to do better to prepare our kids to handle this new reality. Hopefully, our game plan encourages you to make a similar one in your homes. Read about it here.
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.
What I used to call the Bewitching hour is now some of my most productive writing time. Hello! That hour when the kids were little and I would call my husband’s office, asking if he had left yet. Pouting loudly and making it very clear that he had abandoned me for an extra half hour with these little terrors that had secretly vowed to suck every ounce of energy from my bones. I started liking wine when they were toddlers. The corner store was conveniently on the walk home from the bus stop to our house in Turkey. If he was going to be late, he knew what to do. Survival depended on it.
They are not so little anymore. When 5:00 comes around, we’ve debriefed the day, had the snack, dinner is on the stove and I’ve shut down work mode. If they’re doing homework and the house is quiet, it’s all bonus. And it has become some of my treasured space for thought and contemplation.
Sometimes I sit on the deck. It’s still warm enough at this hour and when the breeze picks up, I feel settled. Look at me breathing in fresh air and sitting on our deck! My soul needs this.
The last two days I have written. Chronicled the time I’ve spent intentionally ushering my daughter into becoming a woman. The space I’ve carved out of my norm- fighting human trafficking in my backyard- is more than refreshing. It has been necessary. I honestly have no idea how mothers who work full-time survive! I have been working far more than ever before since last year and it has taken its toll on my soul. How do you be kind and attentive with a thousand things on your mind?
I am learning.
Part of the process is naming what I don’t do. I cook, but I don’t sweep. I pick up clutter, but I don’t really dust. I can keep house plants alive, but don’t ask me to produce more than a handful of potatoes in the garden. I’ll go grocery shopping, but you make your own lunch. And breakfast. And do your own laundry. And after 8:30 pm? I’m done. I don’t brush hair. I don’t have meaningful, last-minute conversations while I’m tucking you in. I don’t remind you about homework or wash that shirt you were dying to wear. In fact, I don’t do much of anything after 8:30pm. Just go to bed already!
I want your friends here. I do. But not really when they’re waiting for an answer at the bike rack. I need some lead time. I want to host people, really. But I’m not spontaneous. There’s too much on the lists. Dream lists. Hobby lists. Intentional down time lists. Honey do lists. I’m sorry I can’t respond with all my heart when you spontaneously drop by. But this is me. I’m trying to live intentionally and right now that doesn’t include your time invading mine. Maybe in the future it will.
So there I am, reflecting on the deck in a silent home with ADOLESCENTS in this awesome and challenging in its own right new stage of life where I get to make choices and draw lines and really live well, according to me and my family.
We’re on the journey. Where are you? What wisdom can you impart from your stage of life?
Three kids lurk beneath this roof attending to homework, I assume. It is quiet, still. We are all here, at 4:30, at the end of our days, with nothing but more stillness in the next 4 hours. This is a carefully constructed and curated day. It took resolve and determination to craft this stillness. I am treasuring it.
Because three months ago, at this time of day, I was playing taxicab. Running a kid to one practice north of town and rushing back to pick up another from school and hoping the youngest was okay at home alone. I would have gotten three kids back beneath this roof, whipped up a fast meal, and said goodbye as my husband or I headed off to an evening meeting. The average afternoon of the average American parent.
Except we hated it. And yet, felt compelled to join the herd.
Compelled by the belief that our kids needed sports and clubs and activities to get into college, succeed in life, not tear their hair out in boredom. Measuring them against their peers.
And us, too. Compelled to say yes to every good opportunity, because maybe, maybe it would be the one that opened the door. The big door. The door to the elusive next step we had not even defined. So we said yes. Because they asked.
And we hated it.
We grieved the loss of summer nights when we strolled through our neighborhood or enjoyed a glass of wine by the fire pit. We noticed our inability to be spontaneous or say yes to the life-giving invitations. We craved space - space to rest, space for family, space for people, space for nothing. And we began to sense that we were spiraling.
We didn't want to live like this.
Making changes that go against the norm are particularly scary. Sometimes, it requires stepping out of a culture which surrounds and influences you. Which is what we did when we pulled our 10th and 7th graders out of their public schools and put them into small, new charter schools. We went from all the stuff to just about nothing. Few choices mean fewer distractions. But more than that, it means little comparison. And we have all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
We asked the kids to take a break. Take a season off. A sabbatical from sports and all the stuff that prevent us from hiking on a Sunday afternoon, having some people over, or, imagine this, housework.
Then we made a rubric for decisions. A 32 point rubric through which my husband and I will pass all the requests. We're actually evaluating the financial gain, the family cost, the life-giving value, and more before we say yes just because they asked. And when one of us lacks the backbone to say no, the other will take over, as my husband did a few days ago in crafting a response from me.
Of course, we had to talk about the elusive door of opportunity first. We had to decide what the goals were, which is something families and businesses and ministry leaders should be doing regularly. Sadly, if you're on the train to crazy, it's hard to step back and do that as frequently as you should.
Friends, I feel like I just leapt from the train to crazy! And it is so freeing.
Do you need to join me? What are the things in your life that feel out of control?
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.