The Story Behind the Ancient Crockpot

I love a good yard sale. The bargain hunting, the people you meet, the range of junk and treasure you find—it’s an excellent Saturday morning amusement. (And it means I started my Christmas shopping by the end of May.)

We were out one Saturday on a wild goose chase of yard sale signs. The sight of dishes triggered my memory. There was a new, sudden refugee family arrival in only a few days. A flurry of texting later, and we had a list of items we still needed to set up their new apartment as a home.

                                                                                                              r. nial bradshaw on Flickr


                                                                                                          r. nial bradshaw on Flickr

We pulled up in front of a small rancher. In my mind’s eye there were awnings and carefully sculpted shrubs but that could be a bit of projection. Two elderly women stood talking in the shade of the lip overhanging the garage door. One was portly, wrapped in a cardigan. The other was petite and skinny. She had a canvas money apron tied to her waist like she was a carnival vendor. Their conversation floated over as we started looking. It was about nurses and medical problems and faith.

The portly woman left, and Scott asked the tiny lady about the fishing lures. She laughed at her ignorance and walked to the door that led into her home and yelled for her husband. The door was open, and the breeze wafted over the distinct smell of nursing homes and sickness. Her husband hobbled out. He had suspenders on over a white T-shirt and a large ball cap, the sort with the mesh—though this could be an image in my memory from a hazy photograph. Thick compression socks braced his calves. 

I paid the woman for the silverware I’d found to add to our preparatory stash, then walked across the road to see the neighbor’s wares. When I returned, the man in the hat had Scott laughing at fishing stories. And the woman came beelining toward me. 

“Your husband tells me you’re collecting things a refugee family. Tell me—what else do you need? What can I give you?”

I smiled appreciatively and tried to shrug off her offer. In spite of my polite protests, she began to make a circuit through the piles of her possessions, holding items up as she came to them. Her flitting movements were a plea: Please let me help you. Please let me give you these artifacts of my life so they can make someone else a home.

I couldn’t refuse her. A few careful yeses and firm nos later (she would have given me everything if I'd let her), I had four paper sacks filled with kitchen items and woven blankets at my feet.

With every addition, I thanked her profusely. With every thank-you, she would repeat, “Oh, honey, it’s not me. It’s from above.” Here, she gestured with both hands to heaven. “Thank you for helping these people. I’m just glad to know these things are going to someone who needs them.” 

When that family walks into their kitchen and sees that massive metal strainer or the 70s-era crockpot still in perfect working order, when they make bread or cake in those pans, when they curl up under the warmth of one of those blankets, they will never know that they came from the hands of a sweet woman in a tiny rancher in our small New Hampshire town. They will never know her generosity or the earnestness of her love in wanting to make them welcome here. But I do. And I thank God for her—even though I don’t know her name.

The Greatest Humanitarian Crisis of Our Time

It was a year ago. I sat in a room filled with pastors, seminarians, and local church members. We gathered for the day to learn about one thing—the Syrian refugee crisis. It was already five years into the civil war which would send millions fleeing for their lives, but as horror piled on horror we were finally asking "What do we do?" 

After lunch, the World Vision presenter diverged from his presentation to draw our attention to a young woman quietly sitting in our midst. With tear-filled eyes, he passed the microphone to her. She had only recently come from this war-torn world we were talking about in the safety of a New England seminary. Curling hair framed her face as she shyly spoke in accented English. Her words were simple: "I just want to say, thank you for caring for my people." Even now, my eyes get watery.

In the year since that day, the refugee crisis has become an increasingly charged topic. The word "refugee" swirls in the midst of a political firestorm. And sadly this political battle has spilled into our Christian communities, creating division, anger, and pain. I'm convinced, though, this is an issue Christians could surround with united concern and compassion. We have a uniting call—to fight our way through the mess of the conflict to see the path of Jesus. We can work together—as the body of Christ—to clear away the fog of politics and of culture and the stories we see on social media to see what Christ-likeness looks like in these particular circumstances.

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Hospitality: Spiritual Disciplines

I sometimes joke that I have the spiritual gift of feeding people, and it’s true that more times than not, entering our home will result in some sort of edibles placed before you. It’s the way Scott and I are wired—to have people into our home and, of course, to feed them.

But is hospitality for everyone? Or just for those of us who find it enjoyable or part of our calling?

Some fall into the trap of thinking they can’t be hospitable because their home isn’t big or clean enough, or they aren’t a good enough cook. Others become crippled by a combination of perfectionism, pride, and comparison, concerned about not measuring up to the standards of others.

Hospitality, though, is about much more than good food and a nice house, in spite of its typical portrayal. Hospitality is not about what is provided as much as how it is provided. Hospitality is all about welcome. It’s about extending open arms to other people and inviting them into a safe and warm space. Hospitality is about expressing the welcoming love of Christ to others—both friends and strangers. So, the most lavish banquet in the best decorated of homes could express little of the biblical sense of hospitality based on the attitude of the host, but simple bread and water could incarnate the welcome of Christ himself.

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Kinship and Embrace: Or Why My Neighborhood Isn't Sketchy

Scott and I recently moved to New Hampshire, what we fondly refer to as “the land of the free,” to the outskirts of a cute up-and-coming town. At some point in the process, I heard someone say that we were in a “sketchy” area. Why? Because down the road from us is a “club” which hosts meetings for people in addiction recovery.

Every day, a few minutes before noon, I see cars parking along our street, and I watch as women and men, some arriving in pairs, begin the walk down the hill. Apparently this person was convinced the recovery center would pull in “all sorts”—thus the “sketchy” label. But if you watch the people walking to their AA meetings, or returning to their cars, they look very normal. Some of them drive nice cars. Many are dressed in business attire, clearly slipping away from work on a lunch break. Just normal people, putting one foot in front of the other, profoundly aware of their weaknesses, fighting to put (or keep) their lives together. When I see them, I don’t think they’re “sketchy”—I think they’re brave.

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Around the Family Table

There’s always been room for one more chair at the table. For several years, we held at fifteen around the tables stretching out of my grandparents’ dining room. Then boyfriends came, who turned into husbands, and added one, then two chairs. Now the arrival of the next generation brings new lives to the table. There’s never been a question of how we’ll fit everyone—we just nestle in a little tighter and slide another chair into place.

What fond memories I have of this scene—the cheerful bustling of the holidays, the laughter. We always seem to forget which way to pass the food, sending the bowls of corn and mashed potatoes into a jumbled cross-armed handover. Four or five conversations simmer at once, with some able to dip into all of them.

Over the years this family has pulled others into its fold, like some sort of very friendly amoeba. It’s a family with open arms, willing—and eager—to pull another person into warmth of being known, being loved. And the thing that’s so beautiful about it is that I don’t think it’s even a conscious or “intentional” decision.

I know I am running the risk of putting my family on some sort of pedestal—which is hardly my intention. But in an age in which so many of my generation face strings of divorces, family factions who will not speak to each other, aunts, uncles, and cousins strung across the country, and grandparents they see at best on Christmas or Thanksgiving, I feel so blessed to have a family that is functional, intact, and likes each other the majority of the time. I know that it’s a rarity.

It’s not completely idyllic—we all have our quirks and foibles, and we aren’t immune from the occasional familial spats, disagreements, and frustrations. But we know that the next holiday will find us squeezed around that same table again, engaged in the same antics as we have year after year. We’re family.

And what of the family of God—Christ’s beloved church?

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