This time last year I was wearing a thin but determined path between my house and that of my parents. My mom was bravely enduring chemotherapy treatments for leukemia and I was doing my best to fill in the inevitable gaps that formed in the wake of them all. I had never before felt so helpless yet my visceral response, every round, was to run to the place where she was.
It was in those pockets of days, in the coming to and in the leaving from, that I caught fresh glimpses of my parents’ deep welcoming hearts.
Because I had always known it, really. I grew up on a steady diet of open doors and full tables and the breadth of my parents’ welcoming arms was storied. I wasn’t just learning the way of welcome. I was falling, once again, into its warm and familiar embrace.
As a young child, I would secretly sit on darkened stair landings, arms wrapped around my knees, leaning into the cackle of laughter and knee slaps that rose up from the gathering of kinfolk below like kites on the wind. I might have been little but I knew the sound of love and no bedtime was going to keep me from reveling in its music.
There were also summer parties on the deck and while the kids ran wild through the backyard screaming “Ghost in the graveyard—Run, Run, Run!” the adults sat under Chinese lanterns strung on poles and sipped drinks sweating in the thick air. And, always, there were the stories and the hoots and the hollers and it was all just as it should be.
I grew up the youngest of five children. A great number of years separated me from the oldest so my arrival to the art of, and subsequent schooling in, hospitality was seamless due to its innateness in our home. The art of welcoming was well practiced by the time I joined the circle and thus the only real requirement of my quickening heart was to watch and listen and pray.
And that, I did. All of my life.
My parents were always naturals at loving people. And in those weeks that I volleyed back and forth between my place and theirs, I found myself, once again, watching and listening and praying.
I watched as my mother, weak and tired from the various assaults on her body, struggled with how to receive visitors from a sick bed. Always the first one to swing open the door to guests before her illness settled in, she suddenly found herself reflexively rising and then, as the swirling darkness surrounded, settling back against the bedclothes in response to the sound of the door bell. As her illness progressed, one of the hardest disciplines my mom practiced was that of yielding the role of host to my dad and knowing he was walking that path alone.
But, even at her weakest, my mom never stopped throwing open wide the doors of her heart. Whenever I crouched at her bedside to feel the heat rising from her brow or curled up under the covers and clasped her hands in mine, I was received into her deepest places. Not even disease could choke out love born in a broken body. Those fissures of cell and marrow became offerings of humility and grace and I always wept in their holy presence.
For you see, my parents were curators of a welcome life.
Every day was a fresh opportunity to love anew. Every gathering and every meal were opportunities for gracious joy. And every face bore upon it the sacred imprint of heaven.
Life was rich and dripping and they had the eyes to see it and the hearts to share it.
After my mom passed away last April, it seemed as if all the lamps in the world dimmed. The question that hung heavy at the end of every breath was the same for all of us: “How do we continue walking out this life without her?”
Slowly, though, the grief that puddled around us reflected small snatches, glimpses even, of life as it could be. Every morning, the sun broke free from the edge of the world and jumped into the sky, an act ripe with promise.
Our appetites began to return and we shared meals at tables round and worn. And as we dared to face another day, we looked at each other with a hushed devotion, realizing the gift of each other, over and over.
And that, my friends, is how you walk out this road. We become curators of a welcome life. For whenever we choose to love anew, or extend gracious joy, or exclaim glory at all of the faces that mill about, disguised as angels, we breathe Jesus into this world.