One of my favorite features of our house is that a window and a few feet separate the kitchen sink from the front gate. The kitchen is where I spend a lot of time, and I can easily monitor neighborhood activity (it's like a local TV channel!) or have a conversation with someone at the front gate while washing dishes.
The kitchen window behind the front gate, with a hammock hung on the porch
Here you don't need to call ahead if you want to visit a friend and, whether you want to or not, you usually know your neighbor's favorite genre of music or if they are sick with a cough. The call "¡buenaaas!" or "¡vecinaaa!" ("neighbor!") could be, among many possibilities:
- A little boy asking if we want to buy the coconut bread his mom has just made (of course!).
- A request to borrow $10 until pay day the following week.
- "Where is the pastor because I'd like a ride to church tonight."
- A friend who brought me an extra plate from their BBQ lunch ("Oh, I noticed that smell while hanging laundry this morning!")
- A relative coming over to see us, sometimes with plantains, fish, or cassava bread for us.
- Flyers for a nearby air conditioning business.
As newlyweds Fernando and I lived in a small apartment without room for overnight guests. When Jonathan was born, we moved to a house, ushering in the transition of motherhood as well as something I grew to dread: hospitality. I knew the important role of hospitality in spreading the gospel and developing relationships on the mission field; of course a "good" pastor's wife and missionary would willingly welcome people into her home.
The glamorous life: cooking in the topics.
However, I clearly remember one Friday when Mr. J. was a few months old. I was about to serve lunch (the main meal) for the guys who were working with Fernando and a relative who would be arriving for the weekend. Just then, the water went out, J. had a blowout, and an extra person arrived. I felt like disappearing into a (sweaty) puddle. Unexpected visitors while I was nursing babies, or just getting them down for naps, about to Skype with my mom for a few minutes, sitting down to talk to Fernando after a busy day -- this found me resentful, exhausted, and counting down to the next visit to Washington. Would my life be like this for years to come? I cried out to God for help.
This year I have noticed a breakthrough, an answer to those frustrated and desperate prayers. What has changed?
* God has freed me from dealing with chronic pain. Surgery last fall has helped me feel better physically and emotionally. What a difference that has made!
* My kids have grown and enjoy being around people more, even if they are still on the shy side. If they don't nap or get to bed on time, it is not a big deal, and meals get easier as they grow.
J's best friend, who lives two houses away.
* I am more confident preparing meals and almost always have extra food to share. Cooking was never something I enjoyed, but I have been finding deep satisfaction in sharing from the abundance God has given us. Once a young man told Fernando that it was the first time that year that he felt really full after a meal! Another time I listened to Fernando sharing the gospel and praying with visitors at our table while I washed dishes.
* God has helped me find ways to set boundaries and be refreshed. Our baby-sitter is like a member of our family, and her help has been invaluable for me to escape the house or wash up extra dishes, without neglecting my kids. Our little neighbor friends love her, too.
Miss A loves Katy, our baby-sitter!
Also, God has been surprising me, giving me great joy and energy as He allows our family and home to be a welcoming haven for others. Here are a few examples
* A few months ago, my sister-in-law needed emergency surgery (based on reactions at the hospital, she must have won the "largest cyst" record). Since she works in another city, and we encouraged her to come as soon as possible. I went with her to pre-op appointments and took her to the hospital the day of surgery. It was such a privilege to have her stay with us during recovery, especially after having had surgeries myself. She had a lot of friends and family visit her, and I was very tired, but I was blessed through our conversations and the reminder of the family God has given us.
* Two sweet little girls across the street live in a dysfunctional home, being raised by an aunt. They love being at our house, or at least outside the front gate (more conversations while washing dishes). Sometimes they crave attention and a listening ear, other days they want lots of hugs, or a safe place to play away from unhealthy gatherings in their own house, or the way they eat indicates they have been hungry. My prayer is for salvation and restoration for their family, and I also hope they understand they are not a nuisance to our family, but rather a gift to us.
We love having this girl in our home!
* Just two nights ago while I was getting dinner ready a young woman, toddler son on her hip, asked me for advice and prayer. She is the only believer in her home, the only one to attend church, and she is struggling with difficult decisions to make, fear, and the need to be freed from her past. What a blessing to have a welcoming little living room with toys for her son to play with while she for me to hold her hands and pray for her, to simply be available for this unexpected moment.
I am not going to lie: Some days I want to hide because I feel tired, overwhelmed, and irritable, and some days my kids crave and need my undivided attention. Some days at home are calm, restful, and orderly, while others go completely differently than what I thought out getting up that morning. Every day I realize how much I need God's wisdom and strength. But I am grateful for how He has changed dread of hospitality into willingness and expectancy of Him to work through our little home and family beyond my own ability or understanding.
Enjoying time together as a family.
I can't tell you how many times I think, "I'm so glad people are praying for us!" Or, "If only our supporters knew how their giving allows us to fill hungry stomachs." Please continue to pray for me to follow God's leading in how to respond to needs around us, including those of my husband and kids first and foremost. Pray for God to mold me and use me as He chooses.
Also, if there is something you feel you should do but you really don't like it, some kind of "front gate" you find tiring or annoying, turn to the Lord. He is gracious and powerful. He can change our hearts and our circumstances and use all for His glory.
P.S. This was written in the corner of a coffee shop, far from our front gate. :)