Genuine love. Deep Love. Whole Love. You cannot have it with others or for others without looking beyond their broken fences. You also cannot have that love without forgiving yourself for the boards in your own fence that you may have warped or dinged up a little. The way I see it, the “distressed” look is in these days. This one is going to be pretty raw, friends, so buckle up!
Do you realize the massive amount of power you hold to influence radical change in the lives of those around you? Yes—of course, you hold this power with each and every person you meet, but even more than that, when you’re hosting, you possess an incredible amount of power to help create a domino effect of good things in the lives of your guests. The way I live my life now is evidence of this truth.
Speaking of the “domino effect,” we’re actually reading a book called “The Domino Effect” in our Wednesday night ladies Bible class, and it does an excellent job describing what happens in our lives as we make a series of decisions, good or bad. During the first twenty years of my own life, I chose the latter: my patterns of thoughts, my activities, my attitude and more. As expected, these choices didn’t produce anything too positive.
With my thoughts, I felt responsible for my biological father’s absence. As early as I can remember, I wanted to know why I wasn’t good enough for him to stay. Because of those thoughts I had adopted for myself, as I grew older, I didn’t believe I was good enough for the good friends either, so I got into trouble. A lot of trouble. Then, my father suddenly reappeared for a couple of years and passed away as suddenly as he had returned, so I struggled during my teenage years. By the time I was seventeen, I was a high-school drop out with a GED, working at Sonic and blowing my entire paycheck on all of the terrible things that come with the party scene. Stay with me; this next part of the story is really, really good!
My grandmother decided to host an event for all the girls from the youth group where she and my grandfather attended worship, and she extended an invitation to me. That was intentional. The youth minister’s wife, Amanda, was also there, and she took me aside for just a few moments and told me she believed I was worth more than the choices I was making. In other words, she saw the garden behind my broken fence, and she wanted to help me see that, too.
The following summer, I moved two hours away from my home, my friends and the life I was living to live with Amanda and her husband, Reed. When it comes to hosting with intentionality, what they did for me will always remain in my mind as the turning point for my entire life.
Fast forward ten years after that summer, I was several-years-sober with high hopes and aspirations, and I was walking across the stage to receive my college diploma. Somehow, I pulled off a 3.9 overall GPA and a 4.0 in my degree.
My life looked totally different than it had ten years prior. I had repented and rededicated my life to living for Christ. I spent my time living responsibly with a great job and productive hobbies, but when I met my husband, I readjusted my blinders and couldn’t see anything in myself beyond that crooked, old broken fence.
You also cannot have that love without forgiving yourself for the boards in your own fence that you may have warped or dinged up a little.
Drew grew up as the kid his friends’ parents wanted their kids to be friends with. He made great grades and never got into any trouble. After college, he continued and earned his Master’s Degree and then his CPA. His high-school class even voted him as most likely to succeed, and there I was—the high-school drop out. Except I wasn’t that. Not anymore, anyways, but it took awhile for me to see that.
I was terrified of him “finding me out,” as if once he did, he’d see me for all of the mistakes I had made. I didn’t see myself for all the good I had to offer or acknowledge the amount of work it took to overcome my past. More importantly, I didn’t see that my past was my past, and I was ten years removed from that person.
One evening, I asked Drew to sit so we could talk, and I “came clean.” The conversation I had panicked so much over ended up lasting no more than five minutes, and about a month later, he gave me the sweetest letter I had ever received. He told me why he valued the person I am now and that the past I had overcome made him love me that much more. He is still speaking life into me and encouraging me, daily, to work towards each and every crazy little dream I come up with.
Gradually over the past few years of my relationship with Drew, I’ve learned to forgive myself slowly, and it’s that change of thought along with the intentional love from those who chose to see beyond my “broken fence” that influenced me to live this life I am living today: an imperfect Christian who strives to do better every day, a super blessed wife and bonus mama, a business owner x2, and at some point in the near future, the founder of a really awesome women’s recovery program (in the works).
So what does all of this have to do with our hospitality??
Everything. Everything. Everything.
As far as most would see it, I had blown it as a teenager. In fact, one of the most hurtful things I can ever remember being said to me was after I had started cleaning up my life. I was at my cousin’s Beta Club graduation, and a teacher I had in high school called out to me and started walking towards me. I thought she was going to ask how things were going, but instead, she kind of smirked and said, “this is the last place I ever thought I’d see you!”
Don’t be like her.
Be like my grandmother who hosts for the sole purpose of bringing about the good in the lives of others. Be like Reed and Amanda who have the ability to overlook brokenness and get down into the trenches with others in order to help them see the good they have to offer. Be like my husband who is able to see the past someone has overcome as evidence of their good and of their strength.
This world is full of people who cannot see beyond their broken fences, and it’s full of people who can’t see beyond the broken fences of others. Don’t be one of them.
Rahab, a former prostitute, saved the spies in Jericho and became an ancestor of King David and of Jesus.
King David, the “man after God’s own heart,” was guilty of murder and of stealing the wife of the man he killed.
Peter denied Christ when he could have stood with Him, and he became one of the many through whom Christ built His Church.
Every single one of these people needed the love of an intentional host to remember what they were capable of. Initially, Rahab was the hostess, but in return for her hospitality, she was protected by God and hosted by His people. I can’t speak with certainty about her emotional experience or the growth that took place between Rahab’s prior work as a harlot and her role as the wife of Joshua and grandmother to King David’s father, Jesse, but I don’t believe that growth, in whatever capacity she experienced, would have taken place had it not been for the hosts that could see beyond her brokenness.
Then there was King David who wasn’t always a king; he used to be just a shepherd boy—and a small one at that. During his youth, he was always surrounded by bigger, stronger men who were much more useful on the battlefield than he was. Then there’s that one time he wanted a man’s wife, so he had that man killed, married the girl and then got her pregnant. David came from humble beginnings. Not only that, but he was also surrounded by people who couldn’t see the gifts he had to offer. Even Samuel had to be told by God:
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
After hearing this instruction, however, Samuel searched relentlessly for the king God wanted for His people. Similarly to Rahab, I cannot speak on behalf of David or what he felt as he was called from the pastures to be anointed by Samuel as Israel’s king, but at some point he grew to accept God’s will for his life because David and his heirs held the kingship for nearly 400 years. Going a step further and into the area of forgiving oneself, we can speak about David’s growth and his emotion after his egregious betrayal against God because we have the evidence for it.
For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them. You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance…the Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!
Can you imagine a Jerusalem without a King David? What if Samuel refused to look beyond David’s weaknesses? What if David himself could never see beyond his own past?
Let’s not forget about Peter. I’m just going to go ahead and throw this out there, but I feel like a Peter quite often because my mouth sure can get me into trouble. Anyone else feel like this? We don’t get to hear much about Peter’s life before Christ other than he was a fisherman by trade and that he left his nets behind to evangelize with Jesus. He also tried to be the best apostle Jesus had, and he thought he was as loyal to Jesus as anyone could be. Until he wasn’t. Peter had seen the miracles. He had fed the multitudes alongside Jesus. He even healed a crippled man; yet, he still denied Jesus THREE times.
“The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.”
I don’t know about you all, but I cannot imagine my eyes meeting the eyes of Jesus after this denial. Knowing myself, I would have had a very difficult time overcoming my shame. But, we know Peter was forgiven, and we know he picked up the pieces to move forward and do some pretty big things. As Jesus told him, “on this rock I will build my church,” and in Acts 2, the Church was established.
“When the people heard this,” (that they were responsible for the death of Jesus) “they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”
3,000 people were baptized and added to the church. In one day. That’s nearly half the population of the city where I live. After denying Jesus, Peter could have went away like Judas who felt emotional remorse but refused spiritual repentance. Aren’t you glad he didn’t? I know I am.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Bryan Stevenson, the man who started the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit organization that commits its time and resources to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States. Bryan said:
“I believe each person is worth more than the worst thing they have ever done.”
We don’t have to go back in history to the Bible to find stories of people transforming their lives; although, I believe God is at the center of a person’s ability to do so. There are people around you, daily—at church, at work, maybe even in your own family—who have some pretty rough, warped boards in their fences, boards that have been repurposed and that stand tall around the beautiful work they are doing today.
And then, there are people who still need some help to see that there’s something beautiful on the other side of that broken fence. In my previous job, I worked with the county to help find beds for folks who needed addiction treatment. I’d always share my story and tell them “this side of the fence is sooo much better. We just have to get you here.” When it comes to hosting, there is no better way I can think of to be the one person it takes to help others see what they are capable of. We must invite with intention and show others what we see in them. And, together, let us recognize that behind the ugliest fences we have ever seen can be the most beautiful gardens the world has ever seen.