I am so proud of our congregation and the way it dove into a new project this week: a Women and Children's Shelter in our basement. One week every quarter, our fellowship hall is transformed into a hospitality center, the Sunday School rooms becoming bedrooms for families. Each week, there are about 70 slots to fill to make it all happen--the daily transportation, the meal-cooking, the homework-helping, the hanging out, the sleeping overnight, the laundry-doing, the coordinating. Each day there are new surprises and dillemmas: a pregnant mother on bedrest does not show up, a child has an accident, a mother has an anxiety attack, another mother volunteers to cook for the group, prodding our volunteers to suddenly switch gears, too many drivers are scheduled so some go home empty-handed, etc., etc.
And through it all we learn what it means to be hospitable. Mostly it means providing space for the other to be who they are-- warts and all, gifts and all. Pre-conceived notions of how things should be dissipate in the nitty-gritty of how things actually are. Patience and understanding grow ten-fold. 'Flexibility buds' burst forth into full blossom. Life is lifted up as precious--every singe life, no matter how messy it happens, at the moment, to be.
Gifts of shelter, food, warmth, play, acceptance, and love are showered on our guests. But hospitlity is incomplete if this is where it stops. The guests' gifts must also be received. Hospitality is a one-way street if it merely gives something to another--it can remain lopsided, the powerful giving of their bounty to the powerless. This leaves the powerless...powerless.
So with open arms we receive the gifts God pours out through the guests to the hosts. The loving words. The trust. The bright smile, the beautiful freckles. The cooked meal, the eager conversation, the gift of a life's story told. The words of one guest: "When this week ends, we want to hide in the closet so we never have to say goodbye to you". The words of a child: "Do we really have to go to a different church next week? Your church is AWESOME!" The words of a mother: "I tell my children, this isn't a shelter. This is the house of the Lord. And there is love in the house of the Lord". These are gifts showered on us. Hospitality is a cycle of gifts!
One of the guests asked me, "How did you decide to do this?" I said, "We heard about the need, we realized we had the space, and we were eager to offer it." When I see the host of gifts given and received, I see the face of our unconditionally-loving God. God sees our need, has love enough, and offers it. Over and over again. God pours our grace, and we in turn pour out our gifts. It's a cycle!