An Invitation to Hope
My kitchen is painted yellow. Because yellow is the color of sunshine and of joy and because yellow is my favorite.
It’s never quite as clean as I want it to be in here. As I stand in the after-bedtime quiet, my eyes follow a trail of red-dirt footprints across this floor that is supposed to be white, and tears of gratitude begin to well. My mind fills with beloved memories, so many memories that are held here.
This kitchen, this is where I serve. Many days, this kitchen is where I live. The window above the sink looks out over the backyard, all the way to the garden, where the corn climbs high and children hide among sunflowers and sugar cane stalks. It looks out at the mango tree that my girls often hang from, all happy and limbs flailing as I pretend I am not worried that they will fall. I have a baker’s dozen I call my own, little girls who are turning into young women more rapidly than I would like, each one knit into our family by the impossibly beautiful, impossibly hard miracle of adoption.
I stand at this window, sometimes for what feels like the majority of the day, and wash dishes and rinse vegetables for dinner and sing worship. The back door is next to the sink, and children trail in and out, their endless questions and loud laughter and muddy footprints filling our home with joy. It sounds rather magical, doesn’t it? It can be.
And sometimes it isn’t. Children bicker and this mama loses her temper and the bread burns in the oven and things can unravel quite quickly.
These counters, nicked and crumb covered, the sink, one side piled high with drying dishes, they could tell some stories. They’ve seen my joy as I gaze out the window at my laughing brood and raise my soapy hands high in praise. They’ve seen tears fall in defeat over seemingly helpless situations as I peel a pile of potatoes and recite psalms to calm my heart. They’ve heard my tongue zing words of exasperation as another child yells playfully through the house and my whispered repentance later as I beg God to make me into the mother I long to be. These yellow walls have held late-night laughter with dear friends and early-morning remorse over broken dreams. They’ve witnessed confessions and achievements and the prayers of so many aching hearts, including mine.
This kitchen is where I returned in defeat the night I came home without the four-year-old foster daughter I had fought for. Sweet friends gathered around my daughters and me to make supper, and their silent labors meant more than words. I remember our first Thanksgiving prepared in this kitchen, my mom pulling the stuffing out of the oven, kids dancing happy, and people—oh so many people—spilling joy to fill this small space. Here we’ve played too-loud music and danced as we washed piles upon piles of dishes. Here I’ve set foster babies on counters next to casseroles for neighbors. Here in this same kitchen, I’ve stood exhausted in the wee-morning hours to whisk high-calorie milk for people clinging to life, and I’ve cried out for Jesus to save them.
I stand here and let the memories flood my heart. In my mind’s eye, I see little ones sitting on counters, watching me bake and eagerly waiting to stick their fingers into whatever it is I’m concocting. I hear the pitter-patter of little feet over the bubbling of the coffeepot and the excited voice of my littlest as she announces that the chicks have “popped” in the first light of the morning, and I feel the way God’s mercy has washed over me in this place. I see hundreds of cooking lessons, little bodies crowded around a big pot, eager for their chance to measure, to pour, to stir. I see birthday cakes—so many birthday cakes—frosted and decorated with butterflies and flowers. I smell whole-wheat bread, warm and rising in this oven, daily, and I marvel at how He has been our daily bread.
I think of people, all the people who have filled this place over the years. Through the conversations and prayer and comfort of this kitchen, homeless mothers have found their ways to better lives, children have been healed and become whole, friends have found rest, and people I have loved have loved me right back. People have known the Lord in this place. I have known the Lord in this place.
I run my fingers over knife-worn counters, and time runs too fast. People are sent out from here. People heading home and people heading off to new futures. One day these girls, too, will head into their own futures. It’s almost too much, this passing of time, the dying of dreams and the budding of new ones, this growing of babies into children and children into women and hearts to maturity. And I cry because I want to hold it all forever, the Lord’s goodness in this place.
I have laughed here, I have wept here, I have created here, and oh, I have prayed here. And in this place, I have known Him more. I haven’t always done it right, and some days I feel that I haven’t been enough, but I know that He has. He has.
Directly above the oven are painted these words of Acts: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.… And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”1 This is my deep desire. I know it like I know my own breath: time passes, and these people will go, heading off to new places and new futures, and only He will remain. I serve meals in this kitchen, but I want to serve what really counts. I want to offer all who pass through this place the Living Bread, the only food that truly fills.
My eyes find the trail of footprints leading to the door, and through bated breath I ask it, beg it, “Lord, if I could have just one thing, could I serve them You?”
Ten years ago I moved across the ocean, from Tennessee to Uganda, full of something that I thought was hope but in reality was more like naive optimism. If you had asked me then how the Lord might most deepen my relationship with Him, I would have had all kinds of answers. At the old and wise age of nineteen, I thought I knew some things. I was going to give my life away for Jesus. I was going to change lives by teaching people the Gospel of Christ and helping provide for their basic needs. God was going to use me. I was going to be the answer.
I did not know the beauty that would find me in a life poured out for Him, the joy of calling little ones “daughter” and pressing into Him to learn what that really meant, the exhilaration of true and undefiled worship in a sea of people who did not speak the same language but worshipped the same God, the thrill of witnessing a life changed due to basic and simple provision of such things as medical care and nutritional assistance.
I did not know the pain that awaited me on the other side of the ocean, on the other side of humility, where I would recognize just how little I had to offer. I did not know that a baby girl would call me “Mommy” for years and then I would have to give her up. I did not know that I would carry the responsibility of looking into a mother’s face and telling her that her child was not going to live. I did not know that I would forge deep friendships with people imprisoned by addiction I could not help them fight no matter how I tried. I did not know that I would provide care, for months at a time, for people living with HIV, desperately begging God to spare their lives, only to later find myself holding their hands as they slipped into eternity with Him on the other side.
And I did not know that in the middle of much pain and grief and loss, I would experience a joy and a peace that far surpassed human understanding. Reality would shatter my optimism, but I would realize that my positivity was only a cheap substitute for true hope anyway. The Lord would take the darkness and make it my secret place, the place where I knew Him more intimately and deeply than I had ever fathomed possible. In the middle of the hurricane that surrounded me, I would experience a true Comfort so deep, so clear, that it simply could not be denied. It was Jesus. He was near.
In our pain, He is near.
During sleepless nights and the death of friends and the breaking of families, Christ is all that remains constant and He is the only One who is sufficient. He holds my hands. He cups my face. He is near, and He whispers of a day when the pain is gone and I can fall on my face and worship Him forever.
Over the years, my packaged faith of all the right and wrong answers has been enveloped in a personal touch from the living God. My grief was His grief and my joy was His joy. In my darkness, I knew Him and He knew me. In the midst of pain I would not have chosen, He was real and undeniable and true. When life was not what I expected, where hope was not what I thought, He carved a space in my heart for Him.
This didn’t make the pain easy. Some days, prayers seemed to go unanswered and loss overwhelmed our lives. I still laid prostrate on the bathroom floor and beat my hands against the hard tile and begged the Lord that I would not have to bury yet another friend. I still cried tears that threatened to take my breath away as I realized the depth of the suffering of the people around me, grief that would never end, not until Jesus comes back.
No, He didn’t make the pain easy. But He made it beautiful. He held me close and whispered secrets to me and revealed things about Himself that I had not yet known. He scooped me into His big loving arms and held me in tenderness unlike any I had ever experienced.
I did not find all the answers to my questions. In fact, I might have more questions now than I did before. But I have found deep intimacy with the One who formed me and knows my heart. He has taught me His secrets in the darkness. He has taught me true and unwavering hope in Him.
Truly, this life is a far cry from the picture-perfect one I once imagined, with a few kids and a white picket fence. Our house isn’t nearly as organized as I would like, and dinner is often late. We make a ruckus in the grocery store, and we don’t get through all the schoolwork I intended for this week, ever. We are late to church and sometimes we get there and one doesn’t have shoes and one forgot to comb her hair. We can be a bit of a mess, but we have a God who makes up for all we lack, a God who promises beauty for our ashes and streams in the desert and grace for today.
And I feel as though He has given me this promise: these days are sacred. God is good to us here and now, working all for our good, and He is daily peeling back the scales, opening my eyes to see. It’s not what I once imagined; it’s better.
Our house is always full, but it never really feels too small. Over the years we have made a habit, a lifestyle really, of opening the doors wide even when we feel like we can’t possibly stretch any more, of making ourselves available to those God brings into our lives and seeing His goodness as we open our arms to Him and to others.
He always brings them. People flock here, for a glass of water, for a friendly smile, for a story of redemption, for a place to belong. He has filled our lives and our home with beautiful, broken people, and He has shown Himself to be God who mends the broken and uses the cracks to reveal His glory.
The stories I tell in these pages are not my own. They are the stories of many more faithful than I who have also known these things to be true. They are stories of those God has entrusted my heart with, and I pray my feeble words could honor them. They are stories full of truths that are not unique to me but are true for anyone who has known Jesus in the darkness and known even the dark season to be a gift.
It’s a daunting task, to write it all down, to beg God for words that would truly point to only Him, to invite you in to see all of it, the good and the ugly, the joy and the pain, my heart bled out here on paper. But on the other side of this daunting task, on the other side of the risk of sharing my vulnerable heart with the whole crazy world, is the chance that you might see Jesus here, in our kitchen, here in our lives. And maybe you would see Jesus in our mess and in our brokenness and you would be encouraged that there is grace and purpose in your mess and brokenness as well.
And maybe you could read these words and know a real and true and enduring hope that can be found only in Jesus. A hope that met me in the places that I didn’t expect, the places that I would not have chosen to walk through. A hope that was birthed amid pain and wreckage.
And so I invite you in to join us, dear one. Not because we have any answers, but because I know the One who does. The kitchen isn’t big, but we will make room. Come on in. For a glass of cold water, for a friendly smile, for a story of redemption, for a place to belong. My most daring prayer is that you would find the Lord here, in the pages of our stories and, more so, in the pages of your own. He has been my companion in the most devastating trials and greatest joys. His deepest desire is to be yours, too.