Home, home, home. On returning to New Zealand, the hospitality we received from friends and former-acquaintances-now-friends made us quite reflective.
Hospitality as a spiritual practice is something that has been on my mind for a few years, and at the forefront of my church leadership.
This is the last of a three-part series on some of the different ways people have welcomed and hosted our family this year. I’m planning a further series on the practice of hospitality soon. In the meantime, you can catch up on the first part here and the second here, if you like.
I asked Facebook for a place to stay in Auckland.
We have a lot of friends there, but that’s not quite the same as knowing people who can fit a family of three into their house and life for a week or more.
We were keen to spend some good time in Auckland to see Baby Walter, who had just come out of heart surgery (and the womb, only a little earlier!).
So I posted a status update asking if anyone would be able to have us for a bit. And the lovely IMB offered the Avondale home she shares with her fiance TB and their cat, Tiger-Lily.
We didn’t know her well at all; it was an unexpectedly generous invitation. So I wasn’t too sure about accepting. You know, I didn’t want to impose.
A couple of times in this year of receiving people’s kindness, I’ve think I’ve been too quick to turn down invitations, thinking that we would be too much trouble. I’m trying to learn to take offers at face value. If someone’s under no pressure and offering freely, even out of the blue, then probably they’re not hoping we’ll refuse.
So I’m now trying to accept invitations in good faith. If IMB was offering, who was I to say that she didn’t want to have us? I couldn’t help a little back-and-forth emailing, pointing out just how difficult we might be (dietary restrictions, jet lag, hippie parenting, etc) and giving her an out, but she was having none of it.
She and her partner TB were so kind to us. They cooked and cleaned, taught SBJ to high five, played with him (and ducks), inspired him to whisper ‘cat’ to Tiger-Lily, and coped beautifully with his noisily announced jet lag (his body clock had him sleeping 4pm-4am for the first few days).
When we left, they gave us a thank-you gift. That’s the kind of hospitality on offer at their house.
I know that I’ve missed out on both giving and receiving in turning down invitations in the past. Our week-and-a-half in Avondale was a lesson in trusting the offerer. We were very lucky to find new friends through their generosity and bravery.
We missed out on staying with friends in Hamilton on our way up the country in May, so it was great to stop in on them on the return trip in September.
We have known M and R since before they were married, and it has been wonderful to see them grow together.
When we arrived, M was hosting an impromptu overseas missionary meeting in their lounge – double hospitality!
There were many kindnesses in our less-than-24-hours in their home, from giving us their bedroom to giving SBJ shoulder-rides and a trip to the playground.
Perhaps the most significant kindness in my direction was that they understood when I needed to just go into the bedroom and not come out for the evening.
It was a bit of a bad day, and I ran out of energy. It was really important and lovely that I felt able to disappear and gather myself. It’s a rare gift of hospitality to give that sort of permission. Thanks, guys.
Our last stop before arriving back at SBJ’s godparents’ in Wellington was his birthplace, New Plymouth.
For the first time, we came as visitors to our former home, staying with the lovely McKs, members of the church I pastored.
Not only did they welcome, feed and shelter us, and ask, seriously and genuinely, how we were, but they opened their home for a church lunch so we would have a chance to see as many people as we could.
It was a whirlwind visit, and not nearly long enough, but it was a significant, still moment in our flibbertigibit year. Our boy will always have been born in Taranaki. West Baptist will always have been my first church, the community that most shaped me as a pastor.
As we left on State Highway 3, we were treated to the unusual sight of three more mountains on the horizon: Ruapehu first, then Ngaruhoe and Tongariro, all snow-covered and shining. They’re hundreds of kilometres away and hardly ever visible from there: it’s the first time I’ve ever seen the smaller two from so far away.
It reminded us of Psalm 121:
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
We have good reason to know that this poem does not express a literal promise that applies to our lives in Aotearoa. Its importance lies in a broader view and a longer timeline.
As we swooshed down SH3 to our new hometown, narrowly avoiding a serious car accident, in hopes of settling down after nearly a year of wandering, it was helpful to have the very solid mountains remind us of our very solid God.
This life is uncertain and not at all mountain-like, but it is held in the palm of God’s hand.