This is my living room right now:
This is my basement:
It’s not pretty. In fact, it’s messy, cluttered and driving me a little bit crazy. And I haven’t even shown you the garage, which is full from front to back with used furniture.
For the past few weeks my family and a small group of our friends have been collecting furniture and household items in order to set up an apartment for a Yazidi family of six who will be arriving as refugees from Iraq on December 14.
The parents and their four young children will likely land in America with nothing more than a couple of backpacks, and although Lincoln has a large Yazidi community, this family knows only one person here, a former co-worker. We know virtually nothing about this mom and dad and their four kids, except their names, their ages, and the fact that the husband speaks a little English.
Our case coordinator Vanja told Brad and me a little bit about the Yazidi people — how warm they are, how they never shake hands but always embrace instead (which made me laugh, as Brad, the stoic Minnesotan Nord, and me, the reserved New Englander, are perhaps two of the least huggy people in the universe).
“You will be their window, their doorway into this new life,” Vanja told us, “but your lives are about to be forever changed too.”
Vanya’s statement reminded me of something I read by Henri Nouwen recently:
“The discipline of community makes us persons; that is, people who are sounding through to each other (the Latin word personare means ‘sounding through’) a truth, a beauty, and a love which is greater, fuller, and richer than we ourselves can grasp. In true community we are windows constantly offering each other new views on the mystery of God’s presence in our lives.”
I like that. It’s beautiful and lovely. On the other hand, let me be straight-up honest with you: Vanja’s statement made me a little nervous.
Being someone’s “window and doorway into this new life” sounds like a lot of responsiblity. Honestly, I don’t know if I’m up for it. I don’t know what this relationship might look like. I don’t know how to navigate it. In the same way clutter and untidiness breathe unrest into my heart and soul, scenarios like these, in which I can’t predict or control the outcome, make me uneasy too. I don’t particularly enjoy walking into new and unfamiliar situations. I don’t like social awkwardness (who does, right?). I don’t like not knowing what to say, or wondering if I’ve said the wrong thing.
This is all pretty far beyond the tidy boundaries of my nice, neat, ordinary life.
A couple of months ago I was listening to On Being during my morning run, and the woman being interviewed said something that stuck with me. She was talking about running – specifically about how sometimes, when you push yourself past your comfort zone, past the point you think you are physically able to go, you reap unexpected rewards.
“The blessing,” she said, “is outside of your comfort zone.”
I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot lately as we prepare for the arrival of our Yazidi family a week from today. I’ve already experienced myriad blessings – in the strangers who, seeing my request for donations on Facebook, have mailed checks to pay for groceries; in the friends and acquaintances who have texted, messaged, and called to say they have linens, a blender, a television, a dresser, snow boots, backpacks, pots and pans, beds; in the generosity of strangers and neighbors alike. It’s been beautiful, really, to see our community rally in support of people they don’t know, people who are “different,” people they will likely never meet.
I don’t know how this will all turn out. There are a lot of unknowns here, and the unknowns — that which is outside my comfort zone – are intimidating. But in the midst of all I don’t know, I am also confident that there will be blessings on the other side.