We used to live alone.
You know, in your typical American single-family dwelling. But on top of that, we didn't even really have neighbors. At least not ones within view unless you count the little cabin "next door" that was only used on occasion. We designed it so that we lived a quiet life, in a quiet place, with lots and lots of privacy.
Not because we don't like people but because we wanted the opportunity to raise our little people without so much distraction. And so we chose a somewhat remote location nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just off the Appalachian trail. It was our piece of paradise that looked an awful lot like an aging double-wide trailer on a hilly three acres of land.
It was the creek, for me. Forget the old house with its leaky roof ... oh, how I loved that babbling stream of water and the weathered bridge that led friends and family over to us for a visit.
Here's the thing about those visits, though. They were usually planned ahead of time and always temporary. Even if we had overnight guests for a week or more, eventually they went home and our space was empty again ... except for us.
But you know how we tend to be a little different when other people are around? Most of us, anyway. We're more inclined to guard our words, or soften our tone, or encourage our kids to use manners that maybe get a little dusty between visits. Not that this is a good thing, of course, but the truth is we'll often doll ourselves up for guests and then let our hair down when it's just each other.
I remember when God started teaching me the art of hospitality. As a painful introvert it was hard for me, not only to open my door to people, but to be the instigator of their visits. He started nudging me to invite people over which was an idea I pushed back against pretty hard at first. I didn't want to have to "perform" too often and preferred to just spend my time with the people I could be me with.
Also, it was exhausting trying to get my family to behave the way I wanted people to perceive us.
Scoot ahead in time with me a little. God decided to transplant us into an environment where it seemed we'd always need to perform or we'd have to be okay with letting our hair down in front of people we'd prefer didn't know we had hair, at all. Life does throw us some trials, doesn't it?
So now in our life of hospitality on steroids, we've found ourselves having to learn to breathe with our heads underwater. There's no time for a performance anymore which means what you see is largely what you get. Quite literally.
Who among us is totally comfortable with that reality? I don't know about you, but I prefer to be able to nurse my weaknesses in silence, without spectators or judges. I don't want people to know so much about the weaknesses of my family. I want to be able to quietly work through those things one by one, as I feel able.
I used to think that was always how God did things ... one at a time. After all, He created the world one day at a time. But then I noticed, He didn't only create one thing on each day.
He did the work that needed doing, in the order (and with the timing) in which it needed to be done. It's the same with us. Some days He just switches on the light for us to see ourselves as we couldn't in the dark. And then on other days, He plants a seed and causes it to bear fruit almost simultaneously.
That's what happened here in the Kingdom of Thailand, the land of a thousand smiles. God took away our privacy in order to teach us to live authentically. But He didn't do it in such a way as to cause us to say, "Whatever! I am who am I and they can take it or leave it!" Quite the opposite.
He caused us to bleed in front of others. He ordered things so the innermost parts of our hidden lives have been brought to the surface. Closets are strikingly absent in Thailand. You can often easily see the entire wardrobe of a person as it hangs outside to dry or on an interior rack that's not enclosed. We've found our lives, since becoming foreign missionaries, to be exposed in much the same way.
We're imperfect. Scabs and scars from the past have broken open here. People have born witness to the oozing of that which we'd prefer had stayed hidden.
Our kids are imperfect. I'm no longer ashamed of that or exhausted from trying to pretend they're not.
Our family is imperfect. The patchwork of our immediate circle has frayed at the seams more than a little.
I don't enjoy the vulnerability of exposure but one thing is sure ... it grows you in a way the veil of obscurity never does. Without the mask, we're free to allow God to show us our true selves so that each day the us others see might more closely reflect Jesus.
Some things are worth being uncomfortable.