Friday, May 20, 2016

On Gratitude for the Thursday Night Ladies [and ten months together]

I'm sitting here, as often happens each week, plopped in the middle of the living-room floor, candles still flickering, crayons still sprawled about, a sea of food covering the kitchen counter that all needs to be put away and I haven't looked yet, but I'm guessing the cushions are off the sofas, tossed about in the other room, little chocolate hands left marks in random places, and the trash is likely overflowing.

For the past three hours this place was straight up chaos, as it often is on Thursday nights. Littles running rampant like they run the place or something, and beautiful women eating a little slower and talking a little longer--tonight I had to pause for a minute as I was walking out of the bathroom and into the chaos--just stood there and took it all in.

With tears flowing down my cheeks, I cannot even believe that the Lord would be so sweet as to provide, to entrust me with these dear friends and our Thursday nights together. He has truly done abundantly beyond anything I could have asked or dreamt up ten months ago.

I love these ladies fierce, y'all.

Back in August when a friend and I met two families in the park across the street from my house, I never could have imagined how our gracious Heavenly Father would  be to use that meeting to forever impact my life. One of the ladies we met that afternoon, shared how she had been living in the area for over a year and only one or two American women had ever even talked to her. Can you imagine that? It broke my heart and I desperately wanted to be her friend.

We parted ways that evening, one-another's phone numbers in hand, having no clue if I would ever see this sweet lady again. BUT GOD! He had a perfect plan and had gone before me in SO many small ways. I met up with my new friend from the park the very next week--she and her little girl went with me to a bookstore and for an ice cream--and the rest is truly history!

God used our friendship to solidify a desire He had put in my heart months prior--to use my home as a refuge for those feeling lonely and alienated. A few others with the same heart gathered with me and prayed that this home could be a place where women from all different tribes and tongues could find meaningful friendships, share vulnerable areas of theirs lives with one-another, and discuss where our ultimate Hope comes from.

So last August, this dream became a reality every Thursday night! Most weeks we share a big meal, talk about our lives, talk about stories or do fun activities together. Most all of the women coming have connected to our group through that ONE dear friend we met in the park that day--talk about God's perfect plan! Whew!! And none of it would be possible without some AMAZING American friends who come faithfully, bring food and joy, and walk with these ladies too.

One of my favorite memories of this group was when we got to celebrate one of their sweet little girls' second birthday party--with a houseful of like thirty people from all over the world! We have rejoiced together, laughed until tears poured out, wept together, prayed together, miscommunicated and disagreed about things, learned from one-another, needed one-another, come up with all the inside jokes together, tried to practice different languages together--with much laughing--and lived a year of life together and I am forever thankful and indebted to these ladies. They make me better.

Ya'll, they are the most brave friends I have known--they willingly leave everything that's familiar to them--their families, their culture, their FOOD--and trek half-way across the world where they then land in this corner of "the natural state" where they (or their husbands) purse intense degree plans at the University while they also raise babies and manage all the tasks of normal life, yet not knowing the language at first, not having a car, not having many friends to call on for help in their times of need and so on.

As Americans, we often tend to shy away from people who look, act, or even talk differently from us. I want to encourage you, wherever God has placed you in this season, to just pause and look around you--take note of the people around you who are different from you. Sojourner literally means "guest," "stranger" and even one who "belongs to another."

We mustn't forget that WE ourselves are indeed aliens, strangers, sojourners on this earth--we await a heavenly citizenship, a better country which God has prepared. The reality is, if we do in fact "belong to another," why wouldn't we jump on any opportunity we are given to befriend and care for those who might seem quite different from us, those who are sojourners in our midst and yet share a similar situation to me or to you--when we look with eternal perspective, right?

Every week these ladies thank me and tell me that I don't have to do this every week. What they don't understand is that what I do is easy--what THEY do on a daily basis is the hard and brave part! And ya'll, none of us are perfect but man, they are so incredibly kind, sincere, and trusting. They are EASY to get to know and even easier to love deeply. These ladies are some of the most kind and generous friends I have. And if you only knew some of their stories--some of the miraculous ways God has protected them and provided for them in the midst of realities you or I could not even imagine--these ladies are my heroes and beloved friends.

Tonight, paused in the hallway gazing out over the chaos--all I could hear was the Father saying, Courtney, this is how much I love YOU--that I would willingly, joyfully take a sojourner, an exile like yourself, someone that was far from me and I would choose to bring you near to me even when it cost me greatest sacrifice ever made. You don't even understand the heights and depths and breath of my unceasing and unchanging love for you. And as much as you love these ladies--I love them more then you will ever know.

As we squeezed one-another tight, all the kisses on the cheeks, utterances of "Masalama" and "In-sha-allh," the tears just fell yet again as they herded out the door--God has and continues to teach me SO much through these beautiful friends and our Thursday nights together. I can't wait to see what plans are in store for our little community in the months and years to come! What a sweet ten months it has been--learning from and loving you ladies!

As a side note, it was perfectly fitting, of course, for our last official Thursday night of the semester to involve half a dozen kiddos running around, two grand-mommas visiting from the other side of the world, and a dozen women from near and far--yes you never could have guessed--all getting facials and foot massages and being told to "relax in the quiet like we're at the beach"--HAHAH as if that were possible! Wouldn't have had it any other way!

"As I have loved you, you love one-another. Greater love has no one then this, that someone lay down his life for his friends."
Now off to tackle those dishes and hunt for all the hiding crayons!