I won't spoil this book for you, I promise! But I do want to share just a bit. Maybe you'll get a chance to read it sometime.
Several years ago I borrowed a copy of "The Shack." It's always been a controversial book. It is about a man who has a radical encounter with the Holy Trinity. It is supposedly based on a true story. Some people call it heretical. God is depicted as a large, motherly woman. Jesus appears as . . . . Jesus. The Holy Spirit is . . . you know . . . spiritual . . . and holy. Many of us grew up hearing God described as "He." I grew up that way. And when I write about God, I default to "Him" or "He." But to be perfectly honest - I believe that God is not something or someone we can explain in our own terms . . . so why worry about it?
The book was outlandish enough that it pulled me right in. And God, who is called "Papa," displayed a kind of hospitality and patience that I found immediately healing.
"Mackenzie, I know that your heart is full of pain and anger and a lot of confusion. Together, you and I, we'll get around to some of that while you're here. But I also want you to know that there is more going on than you could imagine or understand, even if I told you. As much as you are able, rest in what trust you have in me, no matter how small, okay?" - Papa
Over time we all run into people who say that they are speaking to us on behalf of God. And eventually we will run into a person or two who will hurt us this way. And they will not be speaking on behalf of God. They will be speaking on behalf of themselves. Sometimes this kind of human interaction can leave us thinking that God has no hospitality for us anymore - "God doesn't have room for me or time to wait for me." or "God can only use people who have never had a drinking problem, who have never been divorced, who have never lost a job." or "God doesn't want to use someone like me. Everybody else is so much more talented. What can I do? God doesn't want me."
"Bear in mind that the patience of our Lord means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him." - 2Peter 3:15
Friends, God is not a human like us. God does not have the same agenda. God's prevenient grace isn't moving through the world, only seeking out those with our own version of "great potential." God's version of potential is something we can't even begin to understand. Aren't you grateful?!? I am!
I have been to Europe twice. Both times I took pictures of big stained glass windows. This is art created by people who were hoping to depict something Holy. Pictures never do it justice. It's never the same as standing there, looking at the light dancing through the glass.
As much as I enjoy looking through stained glass windows . . . I have experienced something more beautiful. Something you can't take a picture of.
Some people shine the love of God by opening their homes up to others - displaying a generous hospitality - patience - peacefulness.
These are my grandparents - Mimi and Papa.
I didn't get to know my Papa very well. I visited him often in the nursing home when I was a little girl - my Mimi went there Every Single Day . . . For Years. She was a steadfast woman - in more ways than I can really tell you.
My sister and I were fortunate. We spent many of our childhood years living close enough to Mimi to spend time in her home.
Later in her life, Mimi lived close to my sister's elementary school, and sometimes Mimi would walk to the school and bring Mary home for a snack. We baked cookies in her kitchen. We played with the mismatched china in the bottom of her hutch. We had countless tea parties.
She would draw a bubble bath for us when we were very small and then sit there and read stories to us. When I stayed over night with her, sometimes I would get scared - she had a cot that she would set up in her own room so that I didn't have to be by myself. I felt safe with her.
When we were little girls, she told us that we were beautiful. She told us that she loved us. When we were hungry, she fed us. She worried over making sure that we were warm enough. She wanted to be certain that we didn't feel alone.
That is the love of God shining through a person.
I was about to finish college when my Mimi passed away. My family visited unexpectedly for a choral concert. When I walked toward my father, pushing through the crowd of people after the program, I knew what he was going to say.
Something beautiful happened.
People gathered to celebrate her life. Women from my home church (Fountain City UMC) came to the house to feed my family. I remember walking two of them out to their car - each of them had an arm around my waist, and they quietly told me stories about my Mimi. Sweet stories.
Kids I grew up with told me stories of Mimi baking pies for their family or bringing food when there was a need.
And the other grandchildren - my cousins - they had stories about their experiences with Mimi. The woman who made us feel like loved children . . . like we were adored. Because she did adore us. There's something special about the way a grand parent loves.
All of that is the love of God shining through a person.
Hospitality heals us.
It has to do with being accepted . . . with having space made ready for us.
Music is so often a community activity. Just a few nights ago my husband and I experienced hospitality as two church members welcomed us into their home for a meal and a few hours of music on the back porch. It was an experience full of generosity - it reminded me so much of the Papa character in "The Shack." Such a beautiful thing.
As a singer and a songwriter, I have relied on the hospitality of others before. House concerts are the best.
A porch. A back yard. A living room. These are the best places to play a concert for people. Something different happens when people gather around a meal and then share music together.
God, who has infinite hospitality, invites us to be inviting to each other.
I love the words from the shaker hymn, "Simple Gifts." It says: "When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend, we won't be ashamed. To turn, turn will be our delight. For by turning, turning we come 'round right."
It's easy for us to be inviting when we are dealing with people we already love. I know my Mimi loved me from the minute I was expected. I also know that the folks from church who welcome Robbie and I into their lives already love us. Sometimes it's the person we don't know how to love yet that needs our hospitality.
God loves us when we don't yet know how to love God back.
God loves me when I am impatient, neurotic, afraid, angry, jealous, bigoted, and blind.
God loves me first. I often love God last.
Hear the Good News:
"Sarah (or your own name), I know that you are world worn and weary. I know that you have anger and hurt, and disillusionment deep in your heart. I know that you want answers bigger than you can handle. And in the face of all of this, I welcome you. I welcome you to my table. I welcome you to my home - the whole world - the whole garden. I love you. I will show you my love through other people. I will extend my hospitality to you by way of human hands, like your own. I will speak to you in ways that you can understand. But know this - you don't need to see the whole picture right now. You can't see it right now. And that's alright. Let my love and my hospitality be enough right now. You are accepted. You are a delight. I am especially fond of you." - Papa
Peace and Goodness.