A couple times a year we go on trips with our student ministry. For a few of these trips I find myself driving a van full of teenagers. Over the years, I’ve added up some real miles on these vans. Each trip is always unique, but there are certain similarities that repeat over the years. For example, you can always count on a loud and playful atmosphere in the van. It’s part of the fun, actually. Recently, we embarked on our second annual Fall Retreat. On the way home from the retreat, one my students asked me a question about driving a van full of teenagers. She asked something to the effect of, “Do you like it when everyone is loud and singing all the time or does that get annoying?” I smiled and answered, “No, I don’t mind at all.” The more I thought about it, the clearer the irony became–the loud and rather chaotic van noise is actually a beautiful sound. It’s proof of life lived to the full.
This past Monday was one of those days you just try and survive. It was an onslaught of frustration and stress, like the week just declared war against you. I lived in the tension for the greater part of the day, looking forward to going home and finding refuge in a nice meal and hours of mindless TV watching. But things didn’t turn out like that.
I like to coin my own phrases. My wife tells me this is very “Michael-Scott” of me (you know, the boss from the TV show The Office), but I do it anyway. One of my coined phrases is “There’s always room at my table.” I started saying that a few years ago. I guess it’s because there is something incredibly significant about sharing a meal with someone…and when people sit at my table, I just feel good about myself. Sometimes we serve food at church and I love seeing how many people we can fit around one table. When you think about it, there is something special happening when we share food and drink and invite others to join us. We open up our lives and give of nourishment, but we also give of ourselves. The whole ordeal is quite intimate. It’s a beautiful picture of the Christian life–a life of reckless hospitality. A life focused on giving and receiving.
Last summer I spent a few weeks in Ecuador. I quickly learned how giving and welcoming the Ecuadorian people are, and also how quickly you become family. During our stay, we took a couple of days to visit a small town on the beach. It was quaint, with unpaved roads, small buildings, and houses running throughout. Children played barefoot in the street. It only took a few minutes to walk through the entire town and the whole time you could hear the ocean crash upon the shore.
We stayed the weekend with a couple named Carlos and Jeanette. Carlos was an Ecuadorian and his wife, Jeanette, was from Georgia. They had been married for many years and most of their lives were spent in the states. Now, Carlos and Jeanette were both retired and they decided to move to Ecuador for their golden years. They had an incredible house that sat right on the beach on the edge of town. It was a two-story house, with views of the ocean no matter where you stood. Carlos built the house a few years earlier and had made trips back and forth from Georgia to Ecuador to supervise the construction and progress. I soon learned Carlos had a lot to teach us.