When Andrew and I were writing our vows, we talked about the kind of family we want to be; and the kind of home we want to foster. One recurring theme was hospitality and building a home with plenty of inviting plates, serving dishes and cutlery so that anyone who found themselves at our table would feel welcomed. Not just welcomed, home.
Home is important to me. My life has been a journey of finding homes all over the world: in Brazil and Atlanta, in Nashville and Mexico, in Murfreesboro, Lenoir City, and Kingsport; and now, in Durham. I’ve come to realize that home is truly where your heart is. There are pieces of my heart in many places in the US, and in other parts of the world.
Much like I seem to find endless stores of love for my nieces and nephew, when I can hardly imagine how I could love any more little beings; I seem to find endless homes for the pieces of my heart that long to wander, as well as for the ones that long to nest, create, entertain and welcome.
In our vows discussions, we talked about our dream to create a home where all are welcome at the table, no one is excluded and all voices are heard and valued. The table we spoke of was both metaphorical and physical. The table we spoke of is currently in storage, awaiting transport to its new home in North Carolina.
Its first home was my first solo apartment. I moved in shortly after I was called as Associate Pastor at Scott Boulevard Baptist Church. Scott Boulevard became home to me even before I had finished my chaplain residency at the children’s hospital. During my first week, I made many phone calls on my breaks and during lulls in my call shifts; to introduce myself, and ask how I could be in prayer for these new people I was meeting.
I was at my cubicle having my afternoon tea break and calling Vera. I signed off and said goodbye, and she said “ok, bye bye. I love you.” “You DO? But you’ve never even met me!” I said, pleasantly surprised. “Oh, I don’t have to meet you. I just know.” From then on, I knew I was home. Every time over the years when a church person would get worried about my glove supply or the proper warmness of my winter coats, I knew I was home.
And at the first churchwide Thanksgiving lunch I got to be a part of, when I learned that these lovely, sneaky people had taken up funds to help me get a table – appalled that I planned to serve my family cookies and cider without a proper table (and I imagine also appalled that I ate my dinners on the floor or at the breakfast counter), I knew I had found the most special home away from my traditional home of parents, siblings and grandparents. Each of them became parallels of those comforts for me, and it was glorious.
Our partnership lasted – blossomed, bloomed and thrived- for six beautiful years. My table hosted so many people: friends new and old, a fun gathering which I called a Cobbler Open House where I served 3 kinds of cobbler, patterned after Norma’s cookie open house; friends who were in need of a listening ear and a box of tissues, and my parents for fancy brunch during a trip they took here to meet my sister’s first Little Bit, the original NieceyBear.
This week is my last full week of work, at this place and with these people I have called home for 6 years. Man, I came SO close to earning a sabbatical! This week, I wrap up visits, but not relationships. Those will live on through the Legacy Ministry and through the most important lesson Scott Boulevard ever taught me: hospitality and welcome are two of the greatest gifts a person can offer another, and they can become a way of life. When that happens, it’s true that you risk vulnerability and pain because all good things, even good lives lived in faithful service; and in-person relationships eventually come to an end.
The payoff to this risk, however, is a treasure box of memories, hidden in the heart for safe keeping; not too deep so that they can be easily accessed when that feeling of love and welcome and acceptance needs to be felt in the hardest storms of life – like big transitions.
I’m grateful everyday that I chose 6 years of risking love and care. The pain from losing beloved saints over the years is soothed by the memories of serving together. And so, the pain of not coming to your homes or standing on your porches every week will likely last a while. The soothing memories, and the box of cards where I have stored every letter I have received from SBBC over the years will last a lifetime.
And when people come to my table; new friends I have made at work or in the neighborhood, or maybe a nice couple from Andrew’s school come for a meal in our home, they will know the story of this marvelous table that represents only a fraction of the love and care I received in my first ministry call.
Thanks be to God for Scott Boulevard Baptist Church. And thanks to SBBc for 6 years of growth, love, care, and memories.