So I am wandering around the store, buying school supplies for my baby girl. Fighting back the tears as my mind processes that she is a HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR and I won't get to do this but one more time. My heart tries to refocus and celebrate that I'll throw myself a retirement party once this last one graduates.
But I still feel nostalgically sad.
Then I spot a Mommy with a special needs girl in a wheelchair and a tornado preschooler running circles around them both. This Mommy was calm and firm and in control, in spite of the whirlwind of the little fella and the nervous angst of the special girl. I wanted to stop and say or do something encouraging (what, I do not know, but my heart was just moved by the scene). But they were caught up in the checkout line and gone before I could respond.
A missed opportunity.
But my God used it anyway. He directed my thoughts to back to school, but not supplies and graduation. Instead, to the opportunities we Christ-followers have to minister during times of newness...
Some verses about hospitality flooded my heart.
Be hospitable to one another, without complaint. (I Peter 4:9) Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2) Contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality (Romans 12:13)
To name a few.
I just read a book about hospitality (recommended to me by my eldest daughter - one of the many perks of having adult children -- they contribute beautifully to your spiritual growth!) I urge you all to read it, too. The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield. It is compelling and challenging and delightful. An in-depth read about how to live out the Gospel in community, really using your home as a place of ministry.
So I guess "hospitality" was on my mind. But the scene of the little girl in the wheelchair enlarged my heart to think about what "back to school" would mean for her. Would she be excluded at the lunch table or at recess? Would anyone other than the teacher come over and welcome her to a new classroom? Would she have a heart full of sweet memories stored up to share with her Mommy at the end of the day?
Lots and lots of kids are going to be newbies this back to school season. New class, new school, new town. Lots of families will be new to the area you and I call home and they will be trying out a new church or soccer team or grocery store. We have the opportunity - rather the MISSION - to be hospitable. To step outside our familiar circle and draw them in. To include them on the GroupMe for the team moms. To invite them to lunch after church. To be of help as they find the way to class or the dentist or the tire store. Practicing hospitality.
In fact,the Greek word that we translate as "hospitality" is "phileonexia" or "love of strangers". The idea is not so much about having dinner guests to your home (although that's a great way to be hospitable!) but rather it's about loving strangers. Showing kindness and inclusion to someone new.
My heart wandered down memory lane to a couple of decades ago when our family was new to Westover Church in Greensboro NC. I am not a shy person but walking into the Homebuilders class of 200 strangers left me a bit quiet. As Paul and I stood at the back of that room - alone - a friendly face came up to welcome us. He introduced himself, found his wife, and made us feel at home. A friendship was begun that will bless us forever. I'll never ever forget George and Anita Bachmann and the difference they made in our lives that day.His hospitality not only provided the encouragement we needed that day, it also served to open our eyes to others as they were in similar places in our future places.
As we pack lunch boxes and sharpen pencils, let's ask God to help us be hospitable this school year. To love strangers and include them in our circles. To be less concerned with hanging with our comfortable group and more focused on helping others fit in.
Who knows? You might just meet a George and Anita and I promise you'll be blessed!