Road Trips, Lent, and Taking Each Other In

liam on couch

We’ve been home from our Epic Road Trip just about two weeks. Life has returned to its normal brand of chaos.

The laundry is piling up, cycling through, sitting on my bedroom floor for days and days before I finally get around to folding it. The deadlines are coming fast and steady, like those yellow lines on the highway.

I finally took off the nail polish from my Chicago manicure. I’m almost finished with my bag of coffee from North Carolina. This weekend, I finally gave up hope that the Poop Phone was ever going to start back up and got a new one. (There are some things that not even a bag of rice can fix.)

It’s the season of Lent, and I told myself I’d do something this year. That I’d pay attention in some specific, mindful way. But of course I haven’t. Ash Wednesday came and went, and I was busy managing temper tantrums and preparing for an unexpected interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation at an NPR studio downtown.

When I crawled into bed that night, thinking about heaven and hell and Jesus and Love, I felt relieved that I hadn’t had a chance to choose something. That maybe, in the end, that was it’s own kind of gift.

*

I’ve been thinking a lot about the road trip lately. When people ask about it, I say that it was so good but so intense. I came home, and I slept for twelve hours straight and still felt tired.

In two weeks, we drove for more than 3000 miles and nearly 60 hours. At every juncture of that journey, there was someone we barely knew taking us in.

And I can’t explain the healing of that. For so many years, my faith was marked by a profound kind of loneliness. The struggles that I had with God and with the Church felt so intensely personal and individual. I felt so disloyal and so irreparably broken as I warred alone in my cavernous heart – my prayers echoing in the emptiness.

For a while, I’ve known that this isn’t really the truth. That I was never alone, really. That Depression was a cloud of locusts, blocking out the Light, but it was still there. God was there, teaching me in his quiet, gentle way that faith was not what I always imagined. And there were others – so many others – fighting their own silent battles in the same hard days that I fought mine.

I got to meet some of them on our road trip. I met them at restaurants and coffee shops and school libraries and bookstores. I found them at churches and in hotel lobbies, telling me, Go ahead and pack your car, honey. We’ve all been there – on our own with babies. Go pack your car – we’ll get them some waffles.

They took us in, again and again, into their homes – and this was the most beautiful, humbling, holy part of it all. Because when you’re traveling alone with kids, you can’t offer anything of consequence to the people whose homes you invade. We’d show up, tired and crabby and greasy from all the fast food and car snacks. I’d lost whatever control I had over my kids’ behavior 200 miles ago at some gas station in a fight over a bag of M&Ms.

And yet, never once did anyone give me side-eyes about the running, the screaming, the bedtime crying. We showed up, and the doors flung wide open, and we were ushered into someone else’s family. We were greeted with freshly made beds and Domino’s pizza and a post-bedtime glass of sweet, Georgia wine for Mom after her phone fell in the poop-water.

Photo by Debra Eby (http://www.debraeby.com)
Photo by Debra Eby (http://www.debraeby.com)

At restaurants, strangers bought our breakfast. People I’d never met got down on the filthy floors of coffee shops to play with my kids. A reader’s husband stuck around after his wife went to work to tell me where all the Vampire Diaries highlights were as we idled in Covington, Georgia, hoping to catch a glimpse of television stars.

We showed up to the homes of near-strangers, and we found new toys and unguarded friendship. We showed up to gifts wrapped in paper bags, to freshly brewed coffee, to Book Readings that people I’d never met took the time to organize, publicize, and attend.

And in all of this, I learned something really profound about hospitality. Not one, single person has it all together. There are parts of each of our homes that we’re a little embarrassed of. Quirks we’d just as soon not show anyone. The hot water and the cold water are switched. The wallpaper in this room is outdated. The kitchen needs an update, the guest room is too small, our kids are their own special kind of mess.

In the past, I’ve usually been on the giving end of hospitality. I prefer it that way – it means that I get to do the offering, not the receiving. And yet, even then, I spend so much time worrying. There’s so much that still needs fixing. That needs cleaning. So much about our life needs WORK.

But for two weeks, we were the visitors, the travelers, the strangers. And it might have changed my life…receiving so much, being able to offer so little, living in the light of other peoples’ grace and love for so many days and nights.

And in the end, what I learned is that it’s not about the house at all. Never once did I think, Wow, this room needs some work. Or, This bathroom is filthy! I couldn’t see the imperfections. All that mattered were those luminescent faces, opening the doors, their eyes full of gladness. Their homes bright and open, their children shifted around to different bedrooms to make room.

When all is said and done, hospitality has very little to do with a “guest room” or a big house. Hospitality is the man who plays us a lullaby on his saxophone on the River Walk in Savannah. It’s the old, worn towels, clean and folded on the bathroom sink. It’s an air mattress blown up, waiting for our tired bodies, offering rest.

I learned on my Epic Road Trip that I’ve been thinking about hospitality wrong my entire life. That it’s not about perfection. It’s about love.

*

The season of Lent is here, and I didn’t make any plans. I’m still recovering from our Epic Road Trip, after all. I have my hands full.

But I think that’s okay. If Lent is about anything, its about our inability to be perfect, and about how we don’t need to muster it up. We don’t have to try so damn hard…because it’s not us at all. It’s the Love of Christ that makes us perfect. His sacrifice makes us enough.

I can’t think of the story of Jesus this week without thinking about strangers’ guest rooms, friends’ couches, homemade pancakes, restaurant tables full of laughter. I think about the gift of being loved and taken in — no matter the mess, the temper tantrums, the giant bag of laundry.

I never understood it before, but the Gospel is both: we are welcomed, and we are welcoming. At different times in our lives, we are home or we are wandering. Sometimes we are both at once. But wherever we find ourselves in all of this movement – it is grace.

May we each learn to recognize it in ourselves and in one another. May we learn to show up at each other’s doorsteps; may we learn to take each other in.

29 thoughts on “Road Trips, Lent, and Taking Each Other In

  1. Reading this: “I can’t think of the story of Jesus this week without thinking about
    strangers’ guest rooms, friends’ couches, homemade pancakes, restaurant
    tables full of laughter. I think about the gift of being loved and taken
    in – no matter the mess, the temper tantrums, the giant mess bag of
    laundry.” reminds me that Jesus spent His ministry on one epic road trip! He didn’t have a place to call home, to go back to. He encountered the hospitality of others, the temper tantrums of those He called to travel along, the crowds, the dirt, etc. (Maybe He didn’t have pancakes, or maybe He did?) He taught, spoke, healed, ate with, and loved. He loved them all, even if they didn’t reciprocate. And still does. That was what was so epic about His road trip. . .

    Thank you for your words!

  2. This was beautiful! I have been following your blog for a couple months now, and have so enjoyed reading your posts. Over the years, I have often said that it doesn’t matter if your house isn’t “perfect”, what matters is that people feel welcome. If I waited for everything to be finished in my home, I would never have people over! Opening our homes and hearts to others is what makes us human. Thank you for saying that so eloquently.

  3. I had been up all night with a sick child and then spent the morning at the clinic, when I stopped at my new friend’s home for our coffee date. I was exhausted. Instead of visiting over coffee, I took a nap while my children played with hers. She offered, but I had to be willing to accept. 30 years later we are still close friends. Hospitality is a gift to be treasured.

    1. I love that story. I have a friend like that too, and I’m so glad that I was able to receive when she offered a humbling gift (a full day of childcare) when she asked all those years ago. Yes.

  4. You write beautifully, and your words are Truth. You’re doing a great job of letting Him speak through you.

  5. I’ve know you for a long time. Not the longest. Maybe not even the best, but a while. Long enough to look back and to understand how huge this post is. Friend, I am so happy that you have let yourself receive. May you never forgot how good it feels to let yourself be taken care of! Thank you for these beautiful words.

  6. Giving grace is hard, receiving it, harder still sometimes. Maybe when we have our hands full, and absolutely nothing else will fit, that’s when we let the grace pour in and pool all over and seep in the edges. I’ve got nothing else, you say it so well, just amen.

  7. This reminds me of something I heard Brene Brown talk about once. She said we are not able to give help until we are able to receive help. Until we can receive it well, any we try to give will have things like shame wrapped up in it. I was very convicted by that statement. I am on a long journey of learning to receive help. I’m so glad that you got to be on the receiving end of hospitality.

    Also, I get a little irritated with the pressures around Lent sometimes. We can’t force a high level of spirituality into this season, just as we can’t force it into others. We can make room for practices, but in the end, there is still so much we can’t control. I hope you continue to feel free this Lent to be who you are, and know that who you are is loved. (And if you want to link up with a Lent concept or series, maybe stop by my place. Instead of giving up external things, I’m writing about giving up internal baggage. Maybe that’s part of your journey this season too? http://www.everydayawe.com/giving-up-my-labels/)

  8. Love this, friend. You are welcome any time. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about our time together. Except for maybe the switched taps in the bathroom. 😉

  9. My boyfriend and I are still reading “When We Were On Fire” and it’s touching me in such a way, I don’t even want to post publically on a blog. But I’m lonely. Very lonely. We’re starting the church hop thing to try and find friends. I know it won’t work but it’s giving me a little hope for the moment. We were at a church the other night, and they were showing a movie on proof on the afterlife. My mother died three weeks ago. My boyfriend found her. And he was leaned over against me, and yes, a bit too much for church, but picture us, not knowing what they were doing at church that night. The pain too soon, too close. And there was a well timed cough from a Church People behind us. They had no clue. They had no idea what we had been through, but cough anyway. Yet I know there are churches that have good people. And we hope to find a few good people in our church hop. We need to both give and receive hospitality.

    1. If I could reach out and squeeze your hand and say, I’m so sorry and feed you, I would. Praying you find a someone real soon who will be your person/people that can sit with you through the pain. Such a hard place to be, but in the meantime, you have landed in a place full of really nice people here. Keep reading, Addie’s writing is amazing and is a wonderful spot of grace and honesty.

    2. So, so sorry for your loss, Jenn, and for the loneliness and judgment you’ve felt at church at such a painful time. Breathing a prayer now for the next church people you meet — may they see you with the eyes of Christ and meet you right where you’re at.

  10. I think it’s Shane Claiborne who talks about an element of hospitality being that we try to stay with people when we travel rather than seeking private accomadations that might be more comfortable (especially for introverts). That thought has stayed with me. It’s a gift that works both ways. I totally agree that it’s more uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of hospitality, but oh, how we need it sometimes. I’m still in awe of your Epic Road Trip, because I avoid going to the grocery store with my kids–real talk. I would have loved to meet you–maybe another time! Happy almost Spring to you.

  11. I LOVED this, Addie! I think this is the truest recording of what “community” really means. Not people who stress and fret and posture around each other, but people who truly welcome one another into their lives.

    Also… that road trip? You are brave, sister. I’m too afraid to take my kids to Target right now, so amen to that.

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