My mom met Mary, a total stranger, by the apartment dumpsters. Muttering under her breath about the cost of garbage bags, she washed out her trash can so she didn’t need to purchase them. My mom empathized because, let’s be honest, no one wants to spend hard earned cash on trash bags. That shared sentiment sparked an expanded conversation.
This meeting was one only God could orchestrate, but it was kicked off by quite a bit of inconvenience. Two weeks earlier, my parents returned home from a trip only to find their first floor completely flooded. Attempting to sleep in their upstairs, they quickly realized mold had already set into those walls. Their house would need to be brought to the studs for demolition, thus temporarily relocating them to the nearest apartment complex.
That’s how the nearly two-hour dumpster encounter began. My mom shared her chance meeting with me later that day. These two women couldn’t be more different in every aspect — age, background, history — but because God writes the best stories, I immediately declared, “Mom, invite her over for our Easter brunch this weekend!”
She shuffled tentatively through our front door. Overdressed in her rarely touched Sunday best, she was visibly nervous, socially uncomfortable, and as she walked into our kitchen, she whispered to me, “I don’t really know how to be right now.”
My heart expanded with such love and empathy for her. While she was older than myself, I wanted to cuddle her in my arms much like I’ve done for decades with our children. Desiring to create a space where she could feel seen and valued, I opened my arms, gave her a familial hug, and whispered, “You are perfect just as you are.” I walked her to the sign that holds a place of honor, “Welcome to the Schmidt home. Delighted you are here. This is a place that celebrates both the beauty and bedlam of life.” (A take-off made from my blog “Balancing Beauty and Bedlam.”) Then I pointed to another one, “Come As You Are.”
I assured her these weren’t just cute phrases but sentiments that embody who we are as a family. Now that she was entering into our bedlam, she was welcomed as part of our family. I could tell she didn’t know what that all meant, but some of the visible stress dissipated.
Over the next hour, she watched the chaos ensue — kids running barefoot, drinks spilled, stories retold, loud laughter as family members talked over each other — and then brunch was served.
Everyone gathered around the kitchen in our long-standing family tradition coined the “Circle of Love.” With decades of open-door living behind me, I understand the opportunity to impart words of great influence over those in our home. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “death and life are in the power of the tongue,” and we take every chance possible to speak words of life and encouragement to our guests. As our extended circle grasped hands, I knew our precious stranger friend felt a tad uncomfortable, but we took intentional time to uplift, shower gratitude over her, and bring hope to her weary soul. She mentioned her birthday was the next day, so we burst into a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
As the song came to a close, a sacred moment swept over those gathered. Tears streamed down our guest’s face. Our littlest family member couldn’t figure out why the lady was crying. Celebrating a birthday is a happy occasion and singing is second nature, isn’t it?
We paused as she collected herself. “I’ve never had anyone sing for my birthday — let alone this many people.”
In that simple utterance, the reality of why we swing wide our doors to welcome others impacted every single one us. It’s so much easier than we think. It has nothing to do with the actual setting, décor, or food. The reason we open the door is because we’re driven by the main principles of hospitality: loving Him, loving His will, and following His will into loving others.
The newfound, sacred, but uncomfortably awkward at times friendship with Mary didn’t end at Easter brunch. Led by my mother, she’s been enveloped by many more over the last eight months and she’s slowly shared her challenging life story. I couldn’t wrap my head around how someone who grew up in the United States had never had “Happy Birthday” sung to them. Now I know; she’s opening my eyes.
Mary will sing with our extended family at this year’s candlelight Christmas Eve service. She’ll take communion as a new follower of Jesus Christ. I’m so grateful my mom didn’t walk on by her that day at the dumpsters.
Over and over, I’m convinced that one invitation can change a life, a generation. It doesn’t need to be a stranger, but maybe today you’ll brainstorm about one special person to whom you can sing a life-changing rendition of “Happy Birthday.” And as we celebrate Jesus’s birthday next week, what a joyful noise it will be to sing to Him! May you open your doors wide and invite someone in. May you take the extra time to pause and talk with a stranger. And may the love of God be experienced through you.Leave a Comment
Amen! Thank you so much for sharing:)
You are so welcome, Bomi 🙂
This is what the Gospel is all about! It would have been so much easier to walk on by, but God provided that opportunity and your mom embraced it!
Karen Purkey says
Such a beautiful story. Jesus is all about taking in the lonely, the unlovable, the downtrodden. Bless your mom and your precious family. You opened my eyes.
So glad, Karen. If we are to model our lives like Jesus, He does this often. My prayer is that I continually get better at seeing this need.
Too often I would have kept on walking. So thankful that wasn’t the story this time. 🙂
‘Over and over, I’m convinced that one invitation can change a life, a generation.’ Thank you for driving that home this morning.
It’s my life motto. To realize it’s not all about the big grand invite, but often in the small seemingly insignificant ones.
Kathi Lipp says
Thank you for inviting Mary in and making me think about the Marys I will meet this coming year.
You’re so welcome, Kathi. We had Mary over again last week. I need more Marys in my life to keep my spirit sensitive to all the simple invites I’m walking right on by.
Thank you for sharing. That really spoke to my heart. My parents, who have both graduated to heaven, opened our home to all kinds of people. It brought back many memories. Thanks again.
Nida – I’m sorry to hear your without your parents this Christmas, but so thankful to hear the impact they left on not just you but probably so many as they opened their door to those around them.. blessings this week. xoxo
That really spoke to my heart. My parents, who have both graduated to heaven, opened our home to all kinds of people. It brought back many memories. Thank you for sharing.
I am in awe of what you wrote, Jennifer! It is eye-opening, heart-rending and . . . inspirational. Thank you. And blessings to you and your family this holy Christmas season.
You’re so kind, Sharon. It’s not just my story but just an example of how we all can have those kind of interactions when we are walking a road of welcome in our everyday lives. My hearts desire is to be sensitive to more of these conversations in the future.
Merry Christmas to your family as well. Blessings this week. 🙂
Ruth Mills says
Simply beautiful, encouraging & challenging all at once. Thank you for sharing & spurring us on! Merry CHRISTmas!
As I wrote this and remembered our time together, it spurred me on as well because I’m continually in awe of how the Lord will use simple invitations to make such a difference and all we have to say is we are available. 🙂
Have a wonderful week, Ruth.
Michelle Stiffler says
Beautiful! We love the world one person at a time.
We sure do, don’t we Michelle. I need to continually remind myself to that.
Becky Keife says
Jen, it really is so simple. Being intentional to see the person in front of us. Bravely welcoming them into what you’re already doing. Yes. This is how we experience and express the love of Jesus. So grateful for your story and encouragement, friend.
Elsa Seidel says
Becky, being intentional to see the person in front of us will give us more opportunities and yes, fun. My husband says I talk to everyone. My “mission field” is the grocery store where I know many of the employees by name and their stories. A half-hearted response to my question, “How are you today?” led to the produce man telling me he had to take down an agressive customer and through that got HIV from the blood exchanged. I told him I would pray for him during his treatment. Weeks later I asked how he was doing and with a big smile he told me that the initial lab report was a false positive. PTL.
I love hearing your story, Elsa. We have no idea how rhythms of kindness and taking our welcoming spirit “on the road” can impact so many. Thank you for remembering to ask how his treatment went. It means so much.
Thank you, sweet friend. I had Mary over again this week and the Lord continually uses these simple invitations to remind me of just what you said above. The more time I spend with her, the harder I realize her story is. She is absolutely all alone in the world. There are so many similar stories out there and we can be that difference. xoxox.
Much love to you and your sweet family this week. xoxo
Heartwarming and uplifting. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story.
You are so welcome.
Beth Williams says
My pastor & his wife invite people over for holiday meals. Each holiday brings a conglomeration of people from couples to singles & those whose spouse is working (like me). We make it a potluck with everyone bringing a dish or two. There is good conversation & laughter. We all share in the leftovers. It is nice to have some place to go & spend the day with those you love. I thoroughly enjoy talking with & getting to know these people better. I, personally, am not good at hospitality. But I find ways to love on others. Usually cooking food so they can relax or help others. Just my way of shining Jesus’ light & love on them.
Yes, Beth. So many unique ways to bring love and welcome to others. Thank you for sharing just a few of yours (and your pastors.) 🙂
Danita Jenae says
Well. I’m bawling. Thank you for sharing this holy ground. Surely “He sets the lonely in families.” We’ve been the ones adopting others in… and recently we’ve found ourselves being adopted. I’m so grateful for God’s good design of community and family.
Oh Danita – Yes, He sets the lonely in families and now I want to hear more about your adopting others and now you being adopted story. It’s a busy week so you may not have the time to answer now, but those are the kind of comments where I wished you all lived next door and I’d put the coffee on so I could hear the rest. 🙂
Merry Christmas to you and yours.