We cleaned out our spare bedroom this weekend. It’s a room we’ve used as a defacto second living area these last couple of years. With our computer desk and a small table for the girls, it’s the room with the crayons and the scissors and the space on the floor to read books or play board games. Among our family, three-fourths of us use this room to fulfill our need for some time alone to recharge and ready ourselves for the noise on the outside. (This is, of course, a delicate dance, since one-fourth of our little family feels this always as a personal rejection.)
But seasons are changing. We moved the computer desk to our bedroom. And we moved the art table to the girls’ room. And we threw away some things and reorganized some other things and wondered again why we have so much stuff and before long, the mess cleared and there was a big open space in the little room.
Room for another.
And yesterday afternoon, another arrived. Our dear friend Du — who is more like my third daughter than my friend (though I’d like to think I’m not really old enough for that) — is moving in with us. She’s starting PA school at the end of the month here in Midland, and simultaneously her family moved to other areas of the country to pursue small business ventures. Thanks to another oil boom and a chronic housing shortage, rent in Midland is exorbitantly expensive. (“On not getting by in a rich town” could be a whole other series of essays.) Rent here is the highest in the state… far higher than a full-time student can reasonably manage. While I’m sure Du could live with another family from her refugee community, I know the close proximity would inevitably mean she’s being asked to help translate for someone at the hospital when she should be studying for a final exam. And the cultural factors at play would mean it’s nearly impossible for her to turn them down. It’d be enough to give me a nervous breakdown if I were in her shoes…
So we asked her to come stay with us! And selfishly, there are other reasons I want her here. Sometimes Jacob works a lot, and when his schedule turns insane it will be nice to have another grown-up in the house. I feel like Alea needs more opportunities to look around and not be the only Asian in the room. Du is the perfect role model for my girls. And quite simply, we love Du. She fits perfectly with us.
We met when she was about 16. If you’ve known me for a long time, you might remember our business Scarlet Threads and how we started working with refugee women in our community to make quilts and children’s clothing. Well, Du’s mom Aye was one of our first seamstresses, and Du, a high school student at the time, became our translator when she had free time. Her family is from Myanmar and they are part of the Chin minority group. And though Du’s story is not mine to tell, it is one of great adversity, unbelievable bravery, sheer grit, and focused determination. When I say her life (and those of her family) could be a movie, I’m really not kidding.
In short, I’m her biggest fan and I’m excited we’re going to have more time together, even if it is just in the margins and space of two busy lives moving in two different directions. Jacob cares for Du as much Bas I do, and one of my favorite things about my husband is his generous and kind heart. It goes far deeper than mine, truthfully… but it’s under a lot of quiet layers so most people never see it. My girls are also excited to have someone else moving in with us. They’ve already scoped out her collection of fancy high heels and are dying to try them out. All that being said, I know there are going to be times when it might be challenging for all involved to have an extra person in our rather cozy little house or, in her case, to join a family with significantly different habits and customs.
But, challenging at times or not, I know it will be good. And in some ways, we also did this for our girls. If there’s another seat at your table, ask someone to dinner. If you have a spare room, consider filling it. If you have plenty, share. If we want our kids to really “get” these things, they can’t be intangible lessons that we just discuss. We can’t talk about how we “should” share our belongings and then not really do it… or worse yet, only give away what we don’t want anymore. We can’t talk about how we “should” be hospitable… but then wait until “someday” when we have a bigger table or the dining room finally gets painted or we have matching service for a party of 15. After all, if God is in the present moment, then his invitations for us are found here too. I want my girls to grow up knowing that.
There is, of course, more than one way to skin a cat as they say. (Seriously though, who said that?!) And there’s more than one way to teach our children how to respond to God’s invitations in the present moment.
I have friends who are foster families and run foster care ministries right now. They open their homes — and introduce their kids — to a string of vulnerable children who need a place to stay. I have nothing but mad respect for their sacrifice and choice and intentionality. Sometimes I look at them and “should” on myself for not following suit. You should do that, Carrie. You have room for another child. But truth be told, I also think in this season of our life, foster care wouldn’t be in the best interest of our particular kiddos or be a good fit for the unique shape and challenges of our family.
I have another friend whose family has moved from their home into a tiny house as they launch a ministry to the homeless in our area. As I wonder where we’re going to fit this extra side-table we just moved out of Du’s room and longingly wish for just a few more square feet, I have nothing but mad respect for their simplicity and minimalism and sacrifice. Sometimes I look at them and “should” on myself for not following suit. You should do that, Carrie. Get rid of all this crap and be less encumbered by stuff. But truth be told, I also think in this season of our life, I feel a deep call towards cultivating a home that’s a safe refuge not just for our little family but for others who may need space to breathe and a place to rest. I want to create a place that says “There’s room for you here” — a shelter that embodies this picture from Colossians:
“So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe – people and things, animals and atoms – get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross.” Colossians 1:19-20, MSG
And you might hear my story about Du and start “shoulding” on yourself and think, “Gosh! Maybe I should find a college student and give them a place to live? Maybe I should have a refugee move in with me?”
No, that’s not the point. I mean, it might be – but that’s between you and God and not the point of this essay.
So often we take the good things God has uniquely shaped for others, crafted just for them like well-tailored coats and dresses, and we try to step into them. We suck and wiggle and twist and hold our breath thinking, “I can fit if I just don’t move.” And instead of feeling joy at seeing the beautiful garment God made for our friend — a custom-made calling — we feel shame that ours doesn’t look the same.
But what if that’s not it at all? Have you ever considered that — while never easy or sacrifice-free — the adventures God invites you on aren’t designed to make you miserable? They aren’t “heavy or ill-fitting.” (Matthew 11:28) Having Du move in with us doesn’t feel like a “sacrifice” or a “good deed” to our family. It feels natural and right and healthy and whole. It feels like life in all its fullness and joy. Even though nothing in life is mess-free or uncomplicated, and I don’t expect this to be without its hiccups, in the balance I know this is a decision that will bring good things to each of us – Du, me, Jacob, Cora, Alea, and even LeLe. (Who always wishes there were more people around to scratch her belly.)
Sometimes I imagine what the world would look like if we didn’t “should” on ourselves but instead looked for ways to naturally and authentically live into the calling God has put on each of our lives to be “repairers of the breach and restorers of streets with dwellings.” (Isaiah 58:12) What if we celebrated the way God is moving in each other’s lives. And then, if we feel the Spirit prompting us in any way at all as we observe his movement in the lives of those around us, we looked for the places where he might be inviting us to step out and join him on a new adventure in our own life. In a world with so many different needs, the last thing we need is everyone trying to respond to the same one.
So in the months to come, if you see another person in our family photos… celebrate with us! But don’t “should” on yourself. Instead, share with me stories of the adventures God has invited you on… it may be in ordinary places and spaces or it may be something grand and exciting. And if you’re a parent, share with me how those journeys are shaping your children. If I’ve learned one thing so far in life, it may not be easy and carefree to step into these adventures, but they always bring deep abiding joy (maybe not always immediate happiness), a fullness of life, and peace… even as they stretch and pull and reshape us.
“So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding” … there’s room for each of us and each of us to say a unique “yes.” There’s a custom-made calling for each of us, and it’s found exactly where we are.