Welcome the Stranger

When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.  (Lev. 19: 33-34)

This passage became more meaningful to me in a personal way over the past 10-1/2 months while our family hosted an AFS exchange student from Germany.  Nele arrived in mid-August, attended St. Ursula Academy with our daughter for the entire school year, and just this morning I dropped her off for the departure.  By now the bus is en route to New York where they will disperse to their individual destinations.  As with so many experiences in life, you just can’t know what something is like until it takes place, no matter how much you prepare.  I had no idea how it would be to have a “stranger” living in our midst, day in and day out, for nearly a year.  Our home has plenty of physical space, but a completely unfamiliar person, an additional teenage dependent, crowded me in ways I did not foresee.  Compared to the familiar contours of relating to my spouse and children, the sudden presence of a new person was like a head-on collision that forced a confrontation with aspects of myself I’d rather avoid. The truth is:  I’m more selfish, less flexible, less patient, and more controlling than I wish.  Early on, Nele’s morning routine seemed too rushed, which made the school departure a bit stressful.  Similarly, arranging transportation for her social outings presented periodic challenges; I’d feel resentful and then compound it with self-criticism for my resentment.  But a more important truth than my own flaws, I gradually learned, is that it’s impossible to welcome someone if you’re gripped by negative emotions.  I couldn’t be perfect, but I needed to be honest. In other words, if I welcomed myself, faults and all, I could welcome Nele.  From that place of greater kindness to myself, clarity and calm communication about whatever matter was at hand became possible.  “Please come upstairs by 6:50 am.”  “We can drive on Friday but not Saturday.”  At the drop-off this morning, I received our copy of the yearbook for the local AFS group.  On the front, one of the taglines says, “A short experience that lasts a lifetime.”  Very true, I expect.

Blessing (By Christine Valtner Paintner)
Holy Presence of God,
You shimmer across time and space
and through each person and creature.
Create in me a welcoming space
to usher in the grace that newness offers.
May my heart be spacious
and my spirit free.
May your infinite compassion
grow in me like sunlight across a field,
luminous and radiant.


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2 Responses to Welcome the Stranger

  1. Interesting, indeed. This year, Peter and I, who have been child-free for more than a decade, welcomed “strangers”, two sons, one 40+ and one 30, both back home for extended periods of time. One in graduate school locally, one in between postings for Doctors W/O Borders, they had become, in all these years, people whom we had to get to know again as living companions. In addition, we had a 30+ year old student from Italy in one bedroom. Also we have our apartment renter, a single speed bike racer who waits tables locally. Doors opened and closed, softly but audibly, at times after midnight. The fridge began to look like a diet from another country, with our Italian on a vegan regime, and unrecognizable vegetables overflowing shelves. And who ever heard of fermented soy beans! All of a sudden, microbrews were crowding the space where the V8 had been, and there were lots of various half eaten burrito wraps taking up residency in the back. The dinner table setting was a constantly changing scene as two were home, but one wasn’t, or no one was home for dinner but arrived at 9:00pm to eat whatever was leftover.
    I found myself surprised by my struggle at times to realign myself emotionally and spiritually with the merry go round. My belief that hospitality is the primary virtue of the church, especially the home church, was challenged by my sometimes irritation with those large men’s shoes in the hall, and the empty cups, glasses, and sandwich plates in the TV room. I also found that, though the family sees everyone often, it is not by living together for the last decade. My patience was tried, sometimes, but theirs must have been, too. Yet there is the great unfolding: my sons have had in the time when they lived elsewhere, developed (odd?) opinions, learned a life worth of information, got mature points of view, that we have not had the casual space to explore before on weekend fly-throughs. As in all formed and re-formed community, I had the time and blessing to hear and see them as respected equals, to move past what merely pricks my awareness as “not the way we do it”, and move on to the deeper and more profound blessing as “strangers” become friends, respect and liking deepen, and the Divine is recognized again in these wonderful men.

  2. Peg Conway says:

    Very well said further articulation of my experience, Sheila! THanks.

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