Monday, January 11, 2010


Last Monday, I walked into my office that is only large enough to house three desks, some file cabinets and a few car seats. Inside there were two babies, a bio mom, two case coaches and our Licensing and Authorization Specialist. The writing that I was planning on doing wasn’t going to be even close to possible during the next two hours. Even if all temporary residents were totally quiet so I could concentrate, one of the case coaches needed my computer to find a placement.

So, I scrapped my plans and picked up a baby and spent some time getting to know her.

For those of you that are just getting to know me, I recently got a graduate degree in Public Policy and this is my first full week at my new job. We have a pretty fast deadline coming up to outline some pretty radical new plans for growth and I have been working to apply all of the discipline and work ethic that I developed while getting my degree to this new project that I’m working on. There was definitely a moment of panic for me when I walked into my office on Monday.

But I work hard to live a life that can be picked up and redirected by God whenever necessary. I try not to get too attached to my own goals and plans so that my life can be dedicated more easily to the needs of others. I accomplish this with varying success. But, I picked up little 3-month-old Alma and listened to her for awhile.

I had tea with the Social Justice Pastor at a large affluent church yesterday who completely believes in the mission of my organization that finds volunteer families to care for children while their parents are resolving crises like homelessness, addiction and joblessness. As a single woman, she has taken a pregnant teenager into her home for 6 months and has been completely transformed by the experience. She is spreading the movement amongst her church as a means of spiritual development and I’m trying to learn from their experiences how I can better develop a network of organizations who do as well as they have to implement the programs. She said to me, “There is something disarming about a child.”

Last week, the other of the two babies was in my office again and since she was only 2 weeks old, I held her in my lap as I typed. I talked to her often and talked a little bit to myself, as well. I looked at her at one point and remarked, “You know, Jesus was a baby once, too.” It seemed so incredible to me as I held that tiny little girl who breathed so shallowly that I had to hold my cheek near her nose to be sure that there was actually life in her that God could have been a baby. The next time you hold a tiny newborn, you think about it. This could be God?

But the pastor I had tea with was right. There is something disarming about a child. Jesus said that whenever we clothe the naked or feed the hungry or visit someone in prison, we are clothing and feeding and visiting him. But something in the way society has shaped us makes it easy to reject Jesus when he is represented by homeless people and terminally unemployed people and incarcerated people. We so often play the role of the wealthy young ruler who walks away from Jesus sadly because he cannot sell everything and follow.

But there is something disarming about a child. The relationship walls society forces us to put up come tumbling down when a toddler asks us a question. “What are you doing?” becomes an invitation rather than the intrusion it would be if a strange adult asked the same question. The best defense is a good offense and the habits of our interactions with strangers keep us protected from harm and discomfort. We avoid eye contact and stay polite but distant. We try hard to project a confident air so that no one takes advantage of our vulnerability. All of these are arms we take up to protect ourselves and those we love. But children are disarming and Jesus was a child. Jesus was also homeless and unemployed and in prison but so many of us find it easier to follow the teachings of Jesus by caring for him when Jesus is represented by a child. There is nothing wrong with this. Putting down our weapons and working towards peace, toward shalom, is good and worthwhile regardless of our motivation for disarmament.

We are better Christians when we do it. We are better people, too.

I make a lot of my decisions based on whether or not I want to live with the person I will become once I make that decision. I find that I want to live with myself more when I take care of Jesus when he represented by people in need, including children.

Jacob and I are considering whether we would be able to take in people in need (or even people who will pay rent). We both value intentional community but I’ll admit, I hesitate on starting right now. I am really nervous that if we disrupt this time of newlywed intimacy, we’ll be damaging the foundation that we build the rest of our lives upon.

I know the counter-arguments: lots of successful couples (including my parents) start their married lives in community with other people, in fact, it might be healthy not to get in the habit of coddling our relationship. But we all know there is a fine line between giving something space to grow and helping it grow by exposing it to adversity. Metaphors abound and I won’t repeat most of them here but, you know, birds need time to fledge so that their wings become strong enough to support them.

I do think the counter-arguments are valid arguments but the reality is that in my gut, I’m nervous about moving out of this stage and into another too quickly. It’s hard to ignore that kind of visceral communication. You know, when my soul speaks to my brain through my guts? I know that often that feeling is just cowardice but sometimes that gut instinct is absolutely right.

I don’t know how we’ll resolve this. There is definitely need out there for our spare room. I don’t mind the inconvenience of sharing a shower. I do fear the opportunity cost of the time Jacob and I use right now to examine - through self-reflection and conversation - our interactions with one another. I am not a very good partner sometimes: I make selfish choices that support my own comfort level rather than making space for Jacob to feel comfortable on a daily basis. I fear that if we bring new people into our home, these choices will become habit because I will be distracted from looking too hard at them.

I’m going to try to trust that our commitment and love for one another will push us to do good things for a relationship whatever context we find ourselves in. I wish I felt as good as that sounds. It feels a little bit better to say that I will trust that if I like myself better for following the teachings of Jesus, then I will be a better partner. It's no dis to my relationship with Jacob; I've just had more practice with things turning out well when I trust Jesus. 30some years is a whole lot more than 1.5 years. I'll get there, though. Jacob is definitely worth it.


Jessica Young said...

whatsa bio mom?
Remember that friend we used to have who thought that you couldn't call or visit with people during their first year of marriage? Who thought they had to give up-temporarily-every ministry they served so they could focus on the ministry that is their marriage? Maybe that's appropriate. I want to honor the part of your viscera that's telling you to go slowly and treat this gently. In many things you are amazing, careful and brilliant, and if you soldiered forth with your fledgling commitment, you'd swim for sure. But it might be okay to tend to this for a while, and to recognize that doing so, as self-indulgent as it sometimes feels, is maybe a way God's asking you to serve.
I miss you. :)

Rachel said...

Thanks for writing. There will be a time for hospitality. Perhaps it's now. Probably it's not. That's just my opinion, though.

How can we create the most love in the universe? How can we guard and nourish and important wellspring of love so that we may later extend it elsewhere?

Love you

Helen said...

What about setting aside the 12 months of marriage to build a good foundation before considering bringing someone else into your home? I think there's an Old Testament verse saying that men in the first year of marriage shouldn't be sent off to war - implying that that's a special year. Maybe Jacob knows where that verse is :)

It's up to you but it seems to me that following Jesus is about being a good wife as much as about hospitality - and you're the only wife Jacob has whereas you're not the only person with a spare room. So you have unique responsibilities in your marriage relationship that no-one else can fulfil and it's important not to add on so much other stuff that they get compromised.

My guess is that Jacob will want to please you and will be supportive if you want to bring someone else in now - but perhaps he would breathe a sigh of relief if you chose to wait a little so you could get to know each other better without the stress of bringing a stranger into your home.

ABG said...

I'm with the comments so far, and especially fond of how Jessica said it.