When George and I got married, it wasn’t like we made a conscious decision to take people into our home.
They just kept landing on our doorstep.
A student arrived at university to discover his dorm room had been double booked. Another student’s apartment burned down. A steady parade of others have needed places for a year or a semester or a summer or a couple of weeks. We’ve officially fostered once, and unofficially adopted dozens of times. And, without fail, we always receive at least as much as we give. God has a way of using these people to stretch, teach, convict, bless, encourage, test, and inspire us. It’s one of the secrets of the upside-down kingdom. Give the glass of water, He says. Just do it. You won’t be sorry.
So, when someone needs a place to stay, our default answer is yes. We look at the calendar, consider the situation, and pray. But if there’s an empty bed in the house and no clear reason to say no, we say yes.
And that’s how we found ourselves hosting Tomoki.
Tomoki is a nineteen-year-old baseball player and university student from Japan who wanted to come to the US for two weeks and stay with a family. An acquaintance of his posted the request on our church’s message board, and our son Luke (who hopes to take his family and the gospel to Japan one day) asked us if we’d consider it.
Empty bed? Check. Works with the calendar? Check. Prayer for direction? Check.
We’re halfway through Tomoki’s two-week visit, and so far he’s seen Yu Darvish pitch for the Texas Rangers, visited two universities, the Dallas World Aquarium, Jubilee Farm, the Sixth Floor Museum (where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed JFK), the Dallas Museum of Art, Northpark, and the Galleria. He’s attended a large American church service and a lively prayer meeting, held a baby for the first time, and taken lots and lots of pictures. He’s experienced a live concert at a coffee house, a pot-luck dinner on Labor Day, eaten his weight in Tex-Mex, and will try to consume his first Texas-sized steak tonight.
Still to come? A high school football game, the Fort Worth rodeo, wake boarding at a local lake, and more.
Meanwhile, we’ve juggled schedules, re-learned what flexibility looks like, and tried to hold all agendas loosely. Luke has been a cheerful and tireless tour guide, and Sarah has generously sacrificed Luke’s presence at home much more than usual. Yes, we are stretched, but it’s doable, and Tomoki is deeply grateful for every experience and opportunity.
Even if he wasn’t a dear, eager, polite guest, I’m convinced we would be blessed in this giving. But he is a dear, eager, polite guest. And we are definitely blessed. In fact, I think I may have already received my greatest gift.
Night before last, Luke was home studying while their children slept, and Sarah and I were sitting in my kitchen, visiting with Tomoki. He doesn’t know much English, but he carries a digital pocket translator, and asks a lot of questions, and somehow we muddle through communication.
In the course of our conversation, Sarah asked what it’s like to follow Jesus in Japan, where fewer than 1% of people are Christians. Tomoki’s mother is a Christian, and he has attended church his whole life, but he told us he doesn’t know any other believers his own age. Not one. This revelation led to a discussion about bravery and boldness — all accomplished through hand gestures and quickly typed searches on his translator — and before we knew it, we were considering how hard things can be gifts from God.
I told Tomoki about Jacob’s near-fatal drowning and how we’d seen God work in so many beautiful ways, and it was a powerful, worshipful experience for me to distill those truths into their simplest form to share them with him. In the telling, I reminded myself once again that God only gives what is good, and as soon as I turn to Him, trusting His goodness and thanking Him for His faithfulness, my suffering becomes a blessing.
He listened intently and nodded his understanding, and then he got excited and asked for a paper and pen, because he wanted to show us something.
First he drew this:
Then he drew this:
And to the side, he drew this:
He pointed to the first drawing and said, “This is Japanese kanji for . . . .” He tried to think of the English word, then shook his head and typed furiously on his translator, showing me the words that appeared on the screen: “bitter” and “hard” and “rough.”
I read them aloud, and he nodded enthusiastically. “Yes! Yes!” Then he pointed to the second drawing. “This kanji for ‘happiness,’ and this –” he pointed to the drawing of the single line, “means ‘one.'”
Sarah and I both leaned in, not yet grasping the point, but smiling our encouragement as he struggled to complete his explanation. He picked up his foot and deliberately planted it in front of where it had been, pointing to his foot, and saying, “This? What is this?”
We laughed at our own confusion and tried to guess his intent. “A foot?” . . . “Stomping?” . . . “A step?” He typed again, then said, “Yes! Step!”
Then he pointed to the drawings again, and suddenly we saw — how adding the “one” line across the top of “bitter” turns it into “happiness.”
“It is one step from bitter to happiness,” he said, exultant, and we gasped and clapped our understanding and delight. In that moment, stories and cultures collided, and a Texas kitchen erupted in celebration.
One step — one cross-shaped, trusting step of faith in a loving, good, and sovereign God — gives purpose to pain, turns mourning into dancing, and transforms everything (yes, everything) into a gift.
We’re hosting Tomoki for two weeks. And I have a visual of grace that I will never, ever forget.
Who is receiving the most? You tell me.