It’s 5pm on Sunday night and the flies and gnats and mosquitoes are gnawing on every inch of your exposed skin. Around you, forty children are piled up on the deck and in camp chairs and on benches around the fire pit and on top of the tree house and on the hammock. Half the children you see are scarcely clothed; the other half are completely clothed in last season’s appropriate attire. Babies have snot running down their noses. Toddlers have pooped their pants. Two seven year old kids make inappropriate comments about one adult’s breasts and then have a fist fight over a chair. Two teen moms pass their newborns and take selfies, over and over again. The air is thick with body odor and hours old poop and of all the kids you see, only a handful look engaged or slightly happy. No one is listening to the five minute story being shared about Jesus because their tummies are grumbling with an entire day’s worth of hunger.
At 5:30, after all the story telling and praying, you help wrangle all 40 children to the front yard for dinner. The kids fall over one another, tripping all the way to the front of the line where they grab a plate and sheepishly load their plates with BBQ chicken and pasta salad and watermelon. One girl, about the age of six, can’t make words so she simply nods her head at the things she’d like to eat. They kids guzzle 8 gallons of lemonade and eat 60 cupcakes and manage to use 90 paper plates and 98 cups and 2 rolls of paper towels. The meal is mass chaos and the children are half-standing and half-sitting and everyone of them is wild-eyed, calling out one another for trying to eat all the food. Babies cry and are carried by four year old siblings and toddlers look lost in the fray. Teen moms flirt with the one twenty-something man who is father to triplets and the conversation spilling from their mouths as they vie for his attention is shocking.
At 7, after rounds of corn hole and games of basketball and endless games of tag and hide and seek, the now 52 children are sent home for the evening. They walk home in a pack, chasing one another down the middle of the road, slapping each other in the back of the head and cussing a blue streak because they think you can’t hear them now. One straggler still sits on the picnic table because he doesn’t want to go home and for a moment, you find yourself really looking this one kid in the face and you’re struck with the way your heart feels in your chest. You sit down and you have a one-on-one conversation with the kid with the chubby cheeks and he smiles at you and you smile at him and for a second, you see the image of Jesus in his shiny face.
You’ve just lived my every Sunday night.
On Sunday nights, we feed the kids from our neighborhood and share a story about Jesus around a fire. Some of you know this because you’ve seen the pictures I’ve posted on Instagram. I don’t often blog about these meals here, but I do share snippets of story and a picture over on Instagram every Sunday night because I like the way the pictures say all the things I cannot process or set right in my heart.
But as I’ve been letting Jesus search all the recesses of my heart, our Sunday night meals have served as the means by which Jesus is shedding some light on some things.
When I tell you that every single Sunday night, no matter how many volunteers we have at our disposal, is extreme chaos bordering on the edge of rioting, I mean this with every inch of me. You’d have to live it to believe it. There is food everywhere and kids licking everything and so much mean-spirited hollering you’d think we have rival gangs right here on Avent street infiltrating the second grade. I have seen more booty crack on Sunday nights than I want to see in my entire lifetime and the snot, well, I can’t even go there. Every fiber of my DNA coded with Type A tendencies rare back in full on high alert mode on Sunday nights just trying to just go with the flow of disorganization.
But here’s the deal:
Jesus has been reminding me that I am showing up to the chaos every Sunday night because I believe despite all the dysfunction, He is working in our midst to change lives.
And He’s right.
If I didn’t believe this, I’d quit. It’s too hard to feed and wrangle stinky kids who just wanna make a mess of my yard. It’s costly and time consuming. It’s heart wrenching and soul exhausting. The chaos makes me hyper aware of my own sin. And who wants to keep doing something that makes our sin jump up and bite us in our own hiney? Not me, that’s who.
But this is what radical hospitality is and this is how we are to live it.
We’re to keep showing up and entering in and believing that Jesus is using our showing up to change lives.
Because Jesus is changing lives-particularly mine.