I feel your heart. I feel your heart.  I feel your heart.

I used to hate when we had company over to our house becaus that meant one thing…….we had to clean.  Why?  I would ask.  Why do we need to clean for people to come over? 

My Mom always wanted the house to look neat and tidy for our guest.  I mean, who doesn’t?  She wanted to be hospitable to our guests…there isn’t anything wrong with that, is there?

This way to think about hospitality has been ingrained in me.  Hospitality has meant………”try and look the best you can for people when they enter into your lives and give them things they need.”  But, is this real hospitality?  Is hospitality really trying to create an image of providing goods and services?

My friend A.J. defines hospitality as “welcoming the stranger.”  This form of hospitality is defined by entering into the lives of other people who are different from me. 

I am slowly figuring out that hospitality is less about doing things for guests and more about entering the lives of people who are strangers to me. 

I have this problem…….its called the “I want to help people” problem.  The reason I call this a problem is not because it is bad to help people, but because sometimes I care more about what I can do for somebody than who that somebody is. 

A good example of this is “feeding the homeless.”  Our first inclination is always, “someone is hungry, we need to feed them.”  But, this is not hospitality.  This is not welcoming the stranger.  This is providing a good.  When I think like this, I am treating the person as a project to be solved instead of a person to build a relationship with.  This is why the “sharing of a meal” is so important.  When you “share a meal” you are entering the life of the other person.  This is welcoming the stranger.

It is time for us start entering into the lives of one another instead of making projects out of one another.  This is real hospitality.

The first time I saw hospitality of this sort was in a chemotherapy treatment facility. 

When my mom was battling cancer I would often go to chemotherapy with her.  It took hours so we had a chance sit and talk about all sorts of things. 

In this facility there was about 25 chairs and patients were constantly going in and coming out. 

This is a place of a lot of suffering, that is for sure, but it was also a place where I saw my mom welcome the stranger……….

When someone was new to the facility she would instantly start to talk to them.  She would ask all sorts of questions and try and learn everything she could about that person.  She would bring encouragement and empathy to her new friend and make sure he/she would know that they were now a part of each others stories……a part of each others hopes and dreams, but also a part of each others grieving and suffering. 

There was no goods or services offered here, just an offer to be apart of someone’s life. 

To welcome someone into your life and to enter into somone elses is true hospitality.  True hospitality is welcoming the stranger……..

Can you feel someones hurts? Can you feel there pains?  Can you feel their hopes?  Can you feel their dreams?

Hospitality is not about how many good things you can give to someone or about how good of service you can give to them……..Hospitality is about real people who have real lives and our opportunity to join them……..

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My Momma said she wanted something real     real      real 

Something she could be proud of, something she could feel     feel    feel

She said they not used to not having nothin real      real     real

That they don’t know how to act, don’t know how to feel      feel      feel

LUPE FIASCO

So, I have this friend named Keith……..

I met Keith about a month ago and he spent some time in Tampa so we instantly became friends.  We shared a meal together at Jimmy John’s.

We talked about church and politics for a while and then we got to some deeper issues.  Keith just recently lost his daughter to a very deadly disease and deep depression has plagued his recent days………

Keith is desperately trying to get back on his feet while dealing with this depression, but one day he just could not take the pain and checked into the hospital.

I get a call about a week after I meet Keith from a friend of his who told me that he was in the hospital and that he wanted me to get in contact with him.  She kindly gave me the number to the hospital and I quickly dialed the number.  After a couple of connections I finally reached someone at the psychiatric ward.  After talking to the receptionist it became very clear that I was not going to reach him or give him a message, for that matter.  They basically hung up on me because I was not family.  Yes, they are just protecting him, but it was still frustrating.

I had lost hope………..

A week later I get a phone call from Kieth!  He left me a message saying that he needed a P.O. Box so he could recieve his veterans checks and medicine.  Keith, having no real address, needed this desperately.

I agreed to pay for the six month fee, 35 dollars.  We decided to meet the next day and drive up to the Post Office…..

Wednesday rolls around and my friend Ben and I do hop in my car and roll out to have a meal with some folks that live in the woods in chapel hill, NC. 

As we eat, I ask one of the guys if they have seen one of my friends Wesley around.  “you mean Wes?”  one of them says to me.  “Yeah,” I reply.  “Well, Wes died, he was drunk and got hit by a car,”  The other guy says to me………………

This is a friend of mine……..

This is a friend who I promised to take to Florida in March…….that is less than a month away…….and now he is gone……

At the end of the meal when we were just about to leave one of the guys who stays out in the woods, Harvey comes up to my friend Ben and I and says, “Hey you guys driving?”  “Sure are.  Do you need a ride,” I reply.  “Yes, but you are not going to like were I am going…………..” he replied

Harvey was going to the Liquor Store.  He told me he was going to walk there anyway, but that he would really appreciate the ride…………

I really struggled with this…….especially because Wesley just died walking Drunk…………

What should I do?  Give him a ride to the Liquor Store? Or, let him walk?

I don’t know if there is a right answer………

I gave him a ride….my only hope is that Grace is bigger than this…..

I think that my friend Patrick said it best when he told me that……”It is always best to aire on the side of Grace.”

As we drove we learned that Harvey was a former Marine who has post-traumatic stress disorder, a widower (his wife died of a heroine overdose) and a man who loves his philosophy…….

As we talked I began to feel like we had a relationship going, but as we dropped him off the sadness I felt for Harvey, mixed with the sadness I felt for Wes collided and I LOST HOPE……….

That is until I picked up Keith for our Post Office visit.

Right when I saw him I immediately started smiling and so did he.  I reached out my hand to give him a shake, but he immediately grabbed me and gave me a big bear hug……..this guy made my day.

Keith is in a halfway house now.  He is making it…….as he tells me, “God is good!”

Then we were off to the Post-Office.  We got there just in time, but the lady said we needed a voters card to get a P.O. Box so we jumped back in the car and raced towards the elections office, grabbed a voters card an hurried back within minutes of them closing up. 

Keith filled out his forms and I paid the bill.  Then, what I saw I will never forget.  The lady hands over two keys to Keith and says, “Now, don’t lose these.  You will have to pay a fee to get them replaced.”  Keith’s eyes lit up and a big smile came to his face as he grabbed the keys.  “No mam, I’m definitely not going to lose these.”  Then he turned to me with that big smile and said, “wannna go check it out?”  “Of course!”

We walked down the hall and found the box and Keith took one of those golden keys and unlocked the little door and it opened right up. 

I have never seen someone so excited about a P.O. Box before in my entire life………

“There she is,” said Kieth.  “Isn’t she beautiful?”  “Sure is,” I replied. 

You gotta understand.  This is it for Keith.  This mailbox is all he has…….but Keith gave me a way bigger gift that day.  A gift way more valuable than any mailbox.  Keith gave me hope, faith and love………even after I felt like I had lost them all. 

When I dropped Keith off he said those same words that he said when I first met him, “God is Good.”

Amen.