Over the past five years I have lost three dear friends for three very different reasons. All were formerly homeless. All were thrust in to making difficult choices under difficult circumstances. All did the best with what they had. All were ushered in to my life and the lives of God’s people. All were truly loved and became an integral part of my church family. All experienced incredible victories along the way. All died knowing and believing they weren’t alone. But all died.
Over the past 19 years of loving and walking with many who spent much of their lives living through social displacement, I’ve learned a lot. They have not only been my friends and a part of my family, they have been my teachers.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned it’s that there is an inherent vulnerability in taking Jesus seriously when it comes to friendships of love and gracious hospitality. When a friend passes I am reminded that love and gracious hospitality is a life or death matter.
There is also a peculiar kind of fragility present in a friendship of love and gracious hospitality. It is fragile because recovery from addictions, life-reorientation, and healing from the trauma of social displacement is, at times, fragile. But this beautiful and hard, joyous and sorrowful friendship is understood when we are determined to enter into the suffering and find our way home, together. Home becomes more than four walls and food. It becomes a place where experiences are shared, new stories are written, memories are made, and friendships are found. Home is a place of inhabitation where life is oriented toward a life-giving narrative where restoration is made possible in every way.
In a society committed to filing each one of us away in categories of separation and belonging–race, class, etc–people can never be become projects to be fixed, problems to solve, or prospects to save. People must be seen as image-bearers of God who are to be welcomed just as they are and not as they should be. What I am learning is if I am willing to see them as God’s beloved, His love and gracious hospitality will become tangible to all of us as the reign of Christ breaks in.
I, along with my church family, have loved these friends in life and we have loved them in death. And though it is has been heartbreaking to see their lives come to such an abrupt and unexpected end, we are grateful to have loved them.
So we press in and pray onward. We have many neighbors living on the margins of our cities that are still alive. Some are thriving because of friendships of love and gracious hospitality. Others are still struggling to keep one foot in front of the other. Either way, God’s Spirit is out ahead of His Church calling us to join Him.