My Journey to “Welcome”


“May your walls know joy; may each room hold laughter, and may every window open to great possibility.”

– Mary Ann Radwacher-Hershey –

For this new year, instead of making a list of goals, I chose a word.


I lay awake just after midnight, in the first minutes of January 1st, and the word welcome jumped to life in my head.

For the past few months, I’ve been curiously poking around at the impact of community. I’m collecting articles of all sorts–on loneliness, crime, orphanages, homelessness, imprisonment–anywhere that isolation rears its head, I want to learn about it. More importantly, I want to know what Christians can do about it…what I can do about it. How could the Gospel I believe penetrate all these varieties of loneliness? Because I know it can.

This is why welcome is my word for 2016.

Meanwhile, God is doing things in my family that I would have never guessed. Our family is growing by “adoption” as individuals and families are coming into our home for a few hours…or a few months. Like never before, I am getting to welcome in new family members into the ups and downs of my everyday life. Not just company. Not just bringing them into a freshly-cleaned house for pre-planned hospitality. They’re literally living in my space. Literally becoming part of us. Literally looking for a home that we can offer.

Welcome, my friends. Welcome, my new family. Welcome.

At the same time, I am trying to learn how to welcome my brother and parents, in the context of time spent together. I am amazed that I have known them all my life, and yet still their desires and personalities baffle me so often. As part of welcoming them into my heart, I am beginning to discover –or at least trying to discover– what they love the most. “How can I be a blessing to them, today?” I am learning to ask. Not that it is easy…but maybe love is so beautiful because it takes work. It takes real heart, not just the leftovers.

This a year of learning to welcome.

What will the journey of 2016 look like? What new experiences will God call me to welcome into my life? What people will He give me to welcome into my space, my heart? What wisdom can I welcome into my soul? What joy can I make room for?

“….Good should be your objective always, among yourselves and in the world at large. Be happy in your faith at all times. Never stop praying. Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. If you follow this advice you will be working out the will of God expressed to you in Jesus Christ.”

 – 1 Thessalonions 5:16-18, Phillips –

Why choose the word welcome?

Welcome is an expression of joy at the arrival of something or someone. It stems from the idea of a pleasing, wished-for visit.

Making space for welcome in my year means making myself available for the journey God has for me. It means opening my eyes to opportunities I might otherwise ignore. Most importantly, it means becoming like Jesus, compassionately touching all those who enter my life in the days ahead. In His strength, I wish for my face to be a restful home for the weary.

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

 – Matthew 10:40-42, NIV –

That’s why I chose welcome for 2016. It’s about cups of water–giving away lots and lots of clear water to thirsty little ones.

It’s my joy. In fact, I think it is why I was made.

Will you choose a word for the year, or do you prefer to write out goals for the next 12 months? Whatever you choose, let me know in the comments! You all inspire me!

“I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre ― 

Birth of Friendship


“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…'”

– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

We all know why the ugly duckling thought he was ugly.

We call it comparing apples and oranges, that way he measured himself by what he was not.  His fuzzy gray wings–turning white, made for soaring–would never resemble the gleaming, multi-colored plumage of the adult ducks. His ugly feathers made him fear that he would always be an outcast, fitting with neither the adults nor the adolescents. None of the other ducklings were gray. None of the others were turning, slowly, white. But his gloomy contrast to his fluffy yellow siblings was not a true comparison at all, was it? He was a swan, not a duck. When he saw swans skimming across the sky, he felt the connection–the call of the sleek birds that resonated within him.

That’s the grace of sameness, the gift of friendship. When God made us, He formed each of us into a distinct personality, complete with skills, expressions, desires, and a future than no other person shares in the exact way.

But, in the middle of this distinctiveness, He placed a capacity to belong. He sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6). Not just biological families, but in groups of acceptance.

What if God had made us all to be loners, incapable of finding a true place to simply be?

Instead, He created a niche, a place where we could say “What? You too?” There’s another person who “gets me,” more of the same kind as me, people who accept that I am one of them. This sharing goes beyond external preferences to the inner person–there are people that, however different, still embrace and understand.

Of course, we’re all at different places. Just because God created us to be relational creatures doesn’t mean that relationships are pain-free, does it? I remember lying on my bed as a little girl, crying, because I just wanted a friend–a real friend. Some days even now, I ache for the far-away people I love, wishing I could just give them a hug or hear them laugh. In a curse-laden world, loneliness still happens. Estrangement still happens. Sin still separates.

And yet…

Yet, there is light in the dark, however fragile it may seem. With gospel-grace, some families cling together in redeemed relationships. Some friends still live out fifty years of fellowship, growing closer as the decades roll. Some marriages, bound together by the love of Christ, still endure till death truly parts. In a world where it is easy to get lost, we still have the hope of finding a home.

Some of you read this with sadness-you haven’t yet found a home as secure as that. Has God made you relational in vain? Has He given you a capacity that He will not satisfy?

For you there is a home–and a home for every one of us, whatever the state of our families or friendships!

Ultimately, your craving for a place was created to be filled by the Only True, Living God.

HE is your hiding place, the secure home where you can rest and be known fully. HE is the One who will take you in and be Father and Friend, the One who understands you because He made you like Himself.

We sons of earth all share an image, like a wax seal imprinted on our foreheads–a seal that proclaims “You are in the image of God.”

There is no surprise that we feel an affinity for one another–a bond unites us, the Signature of the same Artist.

And yet the greatest tie is between each of us and this Artist–and we discover that we were formed to be like Him. Like Him–not as omnipotent deities, but as living, feeling, eternal spirits with knowledge and capacity and ability to love. We were formed to be glorious replicas of Christ, on a smaller scale. But, oh, what we have done to mar the resemblance!

Still, do not fear. All is not lost. You and I are not doomed to search forever for belonging, only to find that no other says, “You too?”

Jesus stepped into a planet He made, walked on dirt that a breath of His could have turned into more men, touched plants that a single word of His could have cause to shoot up to the heavens or wither to the dust. He was not so “Other” that He was untouchable–He made himself touchable. And, in being touchable, He gave Himself over to still more vulnerable things: to the anguish of one friend turning another over to death, to the ridicule of such an unimpressive physical figure claiming equality with the High God, to betrayal from all, to being scarred.

How, how, how could a hunger-less God be faint with famishing pains in a desert? How could a God sweat anguish, first in the wilderness with the brine of humanity and then in a garden with His very blood? How can God have blood, have dependency on the rushing liquid trapped in narrow veins? How could God be Immanuel, with us? He came. Felt, hurt, bore–all this. For us.

Now, when we meet Him on the road, we look around in surprise and say, “What, you too?”

And He shows us the deep scars that can erase ours, and smiles. “I too.”

And then, as He sets His love on you, something changes. The sin of your heart breaks you and you run to Him. Something happens.

Whatever may come of human affairs–all the intricate, endless relational tangles–something truly remarkable has happened.

“Friendship is born at that moment.”

You’re not an ugly duckling anymore. You’ve found a place to belong. Free in all your God-planted individuality and gifting and unique opportunities, you don’t have to search for a nest. And with His two words “I too,” the bond of love pulls your heart into a family of God’s bought ones, siblings also adopted, twice-born, accepted.

You are home.

“You are not alone
I will always be with you
Even to the end

You don’t have to work so hard
You can rest easy
You don’t have to prove yourself
You’re already mine
You don’t have to hide your heart
I already love you
I hold it in mine
So you can rest easy

Do not be afraid
Nothing, nothing in the world
Can come between us now

You work so hard to wear yourself down
And you’re running like a rodeo clown
You’re smiling like you’re scared to death
You’re out of faith and all out of breath
You’re so afraid you’ve got nowhere left to go

Well, you are not alone….”

– Andrew Peterson, lyrics from “Rest Easy” –

Never Forgotten


Is there a scene more to despise

Than a sparrow forgetting the air where she flies?

Or a trout disdaining the river he breathes?

But, oh how much worse when I forget Thee!

. . . . . . .

But there is a scene that I recognize

The sparrow cannot forget her fledgling’s cries.

Or a trout forget to swim up the river

Your sweet, “I remember Thee,” standing forever.

. . . . . . . .

This sparrow is missing the glory today,

The trout has no joy in his watery play.

But I have now this unfading delight

That though I forget, my Savior will not.

“…they have forgotten the Lord their God.” (3:21)

Recently, I read through the book of Jeremiah. Israel was seeking things that do not benefit her (2:8), forsaking the fountain of living waters (2:13), forsaking God Himself (2:17,19). And, in all of that, proclaiming her own goodness (2:23). God’s charge: adultery (3:1) But, how merciful our God is! “Yet return again to me….” (3:1). What does she give in return? A brazen face, a refusal to be ashamed.

This leads up to that dreadful pronouncement–You have forgotten the Lord (3:21). And inside my soul, I tremble, for this is the sin that I dwell in every day. See, outright rebellion begins with that small choice to forget. “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1).

I seem to be a record-time forgetter.

I pray.

And God, to my amazement, hears.

He answers and I could shout.

Because of His awesome timing, His creative answers to my pleas, His mercies that span wider than I had dared dream.

And the next instant, I forget.

 I feel, in an moment, like a lost child in a monstrous world of enigmas. Situations are screaming at me. Questions of right are nagging me to decide between one desire and another. I can’t–or maybe I don’t want to– loose my death-grip on life. How can I possibly shudder enough at this idea–I’m always forgetting God.

My heart flies, undone, to the Rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:2). I lean, panting against it, a child afraid of the dark and afraid of the Light. There is a voice, an ancient, ageless Word:

“I remember thee” (2:2).

Me! He remembers ME! In spite of my constant cycle of forgetting Him, in spite of my daily relapse into the things I’ve grown to hate (Romans 7), in spite of the sin that still clings like a rotten cloak–He REMEMBERS.

Over the many past weeks as we’ve studied love, I came closer and closer to the realization of my utter deficit of love. In the same way, as I see my heart’s forgetfulness, I begin to understand just how unbelievable it is that I could forget how much God has done. But dwelling on my lack of consistency will not solve my problem.

Only dwelling on Christ’s faithfulness, his totally reliable memory, will give me the strength to run back to Him again after another episode of straying. He has set his seal on us–graven our names into his hand  (Isaiah 49:16). There is a good reason for me to turn in disgust from my sinful forgetting–to repent and cry out for forgiveness. Our crime is not diminished by His mercy. But at the same time, I am not to continually live in sorrow over this error!

We have a glorious hope and a God at our side who wants to fill His dear ones with joy in Him. Like a lost child, run home! Whenever you see that you’ve gotten off the road, turn around and run back!

There’s a feast waiting for us when we get there!

“Go back, go back to the ancient paths, Lash your heart to the ancient mast,

And hold on, [girl], whatever you do, To the hope that’s taken hold of you,

And you’ll find your way, You’ll find your way

If love is what you’re looking for, The old roads lead to an open door,

And you’ll find your way, You’ll find your way,

Back home.”

– Andrew Peterson, “You’ll Find Your Way” –

“His Grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.” – John Newton

The Bridegroom She Abandoned

closeup of eyes

“The quality of mercy is not ‘strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.”

– Williams Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

– – – – – – –

You can see her pausing at the dark doorway, staring into the calmed dust of the street. Dark eyes search the night. Her heart thumps at a rustle of cloth in the house behind her back. She freezes, waiting for her husband to roll over in their bed. She lurks there in shadows, half-way between home and the city.  Finally his breathing deepens, steady, even.

She slips into the dark. The faint laughter of midnight carousing makes her spine tingle. Lamps flicker, a few streets away. Men’s voices shout, muted in the foggy air. A hungry gleam shines in the woman’s eye as she slips into the dark, unseen.

Her business was committing adultery.

Certainly not a very nice subject.

And yet God set aside a book to tell her tale, a story of her and the bridegroom she abandoned.

Unexpectedly, this woman’s story brought my soul to its knees.

The man showed incredible restraint, if you ask me. He married her, knowing full and knowing well how much she was a creature chained to the night. It called to her. The night called… and she always, always went back.

And so did he. She would run away from home, relapse to the old ways and the new men and the over-and-over auction of her soul. And each time, he went to find her.

How much love does it take for a betrayed husband to keep seeking?

I imagine that sometimes she hid, curled in an alley, silently cursing his relentless pursuit. And yet, when food ran out and men scorned her and she received kicks instead of payment, he was there, picking her up. Again, coming with the rescue she did not want.

Perhaps, when he took her in his arms again to take her back, his bride, she would wonder just why she left him at all. Her head would fall heavy on his shoulder and perhaps they both had tears in the dark when he carried her back home.

Shaming the name of her husband was how she lived.

Every day she flirted on the streets

Every day her actions spat upon his honor.

Yet still he unbarred the door and set out into the mud-slung streets and called in the dark for his rebel bride.

– – – – – – –

The unexpected twist in my heart came as a memory forgotten, just rising to the surface.

Because, light flashed, and I was that woman huddled in the alley, abandoned by all the lovers who had promised me happiness.

It was my husband calling me in the darkness, his voice strained and kind and full of sorrow.

Jesus calling, calling, calling.

Because I’d gone straight back to the mud after being cleansed. And it wasn’t the first time.

“After Gomer ran off with another man, God sent Hosea to buy her back and bring her home.  Then God said about Israel, about us, dead in our sin: “…I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.  There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.  There she will sing as in the days of her youth…”  The word Achor means “trouble”.  From the ashes of the Valley of Trouble came new life, green and lush.  Forgiveness. Rest. Resurrection.”

 – Andrew Peterson –

So in a dark, dirty ally, my Bridegroom crawled to get to me, through all the filth of my betrayal and foolishness.

And so, my eyes opened and in the story of a forsaken Israelite man and his traitor-bride—in Hosea and Gomer—I found a mirror.

Jesus, my husband, my Hosea.

Here I am, your wife, your daughter, your Gomer.

Praising you with my lips and so often chasing other gods with my heart.

I don’t know why you keep bringing me home.

“Let Thy grace Lord, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.”

– from the hymn “Come Thou Fount” –

“Oh, that my ways were directed to keep your statutes” (Psalm 119:5), my Hosea, my God.

Forgive me; forgive those traitorous kisses to idols.

Jesus, I am Yours, forever.

“I stumbled and fell in the road on the way home
Hosea, Hosea
I lay in the brick street like a stray dog
You came to me like a silver moon
With the saddest smile I ever knew
Hosea carried me home again, home again

You called me out to the Valley of Trouble
Just to look at the mess that I’ve made
A barren place where nothing can grow
One look and my stone heart crumbled
It was a valley as green as jade
I swear it was the color of hope
You turned a stone into a rose, Hosea

I sang and I danced like I did as a young girl
Hosea, Hosea
I am a slave and a harlot no more
You washed me clean like a summer rain
And you set me free with that ball and chain
Hosea, I threw away the key
I’ll never leave”

-Andrew Peterson, from his song “Hosea”

The redemption of Gomer is the story of my redemption. This love is more than I can understand. What did Jesus have to go through to buy you back from justice’s auction?

“….Just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her…that he might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.”

– Ephesians 5:25,27, NKJV –

Thank you, Public Domain Pictures and Petr Kratochvil, for today’s photo.