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