We can be at home with members of the family of God, wherever in the world we find ourselves. What an amazing truth and gift, as Sharon Brown so movingly writes this week in our home series. I rave about her novels in the Sensible Shoes series, in which her characters live out the spiritual disciplines in a rich and layered way. I never thought fiction could be such a wonderful vehicle for bringing the spiritual disciplines to life. Read them! And please join me in reading her story about a speaking engagement where it all went seemingly wrong.
Recently I found myself far away from our home in West Michigan in order to speak at a conference in Edmonton, Alberta. My first morning there I was introduced to Sue, my volunteer guide for the weekend. “It’s my job to make sure you’re taken care of,” she said. “Each of us makes sure our presenters get where they need to be.” So we talked that morning in the hotel lobby about shuttles and meal times, workshop locations and other logistics. The conference was a well-oiled operation, and the first day of leading my intensive six-hour workshop on responding to the love of God through the practice of spiritual disciplines went off without a hitch.
Until I ate something for dinner that did not agree with me. And my reaction to that something was so violent that I ended up flat on a couch in the presenters’ “green room” with a conference center medic trying to get my blood pressure to register.
Far away from home.
Because the medic could not get my blood pressure stabilized, the paramedics were called at 9pm, and I was transported by ambulance to an Edmonton hospital, with Sue sitting in the front seat, holding my purse. “I’m not leaving you,” she insisted whenever I (rather incoherently) suggested that she should go home to get some rest. “This is what I signed up for.”
This was SO not what either one of us had signed up for. But she never complained. At 2am she and her husband, Howard, were still sitting beside me in an Emergency Room waiting area, me slumped over in a wheelchair, an IV port still in my hand, and Sue with her hand on my shoulder, gently rubbing my back and saying periodically, “The Lord is here. Jesus is with you.”
Yes. He was.
The hospital staff asked if Sue and Howard were “family.” Yes. They were. They are. Far away from home I was reminded of what it means to be at home in the body of Christ, to be loved by brothers and sisters who have only just learned your name.
“As the Father has loved me,” Jesus said, “so I have loved you. Now abide in my love.”
I love Eugene Peterson’s rendering of that verse: Make yourselves at home in my love.
This is the theme I write about, the theme I speak about, how God invites us to know ourselves as he names us: beloved children who have been called to make ourselves at home in his love. And when our hearts need to be assured and reassured of that love, what a gift to have brothers and sisters embody it, reminding us that wherever we are, we are at home in him.
By the grace of God (and through his power being perfected in my weakness), I was able to lead two more workshops just hours after being released from the hospital. Food poisoning, the doctor declared, after investigating a myriad of possibilities.
What a terrible experience, those who heard the story through the grapevine declared.
But I had a different testimony. I got to see the glory of God. I got to see the love of God made incarnate through his people. I was given an experience that brought to life for me (again) the words I long for all of us to embrace in ever deepening ways. “I’ve loved you the way the Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love.”
Even—and especially—when we’re “far away from home.”
Sharon Garlough Brown is an author, retreat speaker, and spiritual director. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Sharon has served on the pastoral staff of congregations in Scotland, Oklahoma, England, and most recently in West Michigan, where she co-pastored Redeemer Covenant Church with her husband, Jack, for many years. Her spiritual formation novels, Sensible Shoes and Two Steps Forward, follow the journey of characters who are learning to rest in the love of God. Her third novel in the Sensible Shoes series, Barefoot, will be released by InterVarsity Press this November.