Love your neighbor as yourself…

Kim Janous

We have a drink in our family we call, “hot honey.” When my kids have scratchy throats, coughs, or just need a little comfort, I will add a dash of honey and a squeeze of lemon to hot water. It’s the kind of love infused drink that can change a morning. I am beginning to see it might change the world.

Where was God calling you to risk? 

About three years ago, my husband and I started to wrestle with the comfort in our lives. We had recently moved into large house in a neighborhood where most of our neighbors enjoy the same earthly comforts. While thankful, we were stuck on this question: “Were these gifts given just for us to enjoy?” God was growing our awareness about privileges we had always taken for granted and at the same time starting to break our hearts for the poor and oppressed.

I was captivated by verses like Isaiah 58:7: “to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away.” We looked for ways we could serve as a family by raising money or serving meals but these felt distant and separate from our life. We would walk around our neighborhood and think, “How will we ever regularly see and know the needs of the poor and the marginalized?”

Then one day, I was reading a blog post that mentioned the ministry Safe Families for Children. I clicked a link and spent hours watching videos and reading articles. A few weeks later, a representative was sitting with our church small group explaining how we, as a group, could become like an “extended family” and provide community for isolated families.

We spent the summer praying and God led us, as a group, to jump in–each in our own way. Our family (along with another) committed to being a Host Family providing short term respite care to children while their parent(s) struggle in crisis. Other members of our small group committed to being Coaches providing support to both the birth and host families by organizing and communicating needs to the greater church family. Then, many in our church and neighborhood stepped up to be Family FriendsDSC_0366

befriending the isolated parent, building relationships with the children through special outings, babysitting or transportation, providing financial or material support, and praying.

What were your tensions/fears in that? 

We had so many fears walking into this! This is not just serving out there. It is opening up our door to bring the mess in here. In to our home. Our already messy home. I did not feel like I was excelling at family management as it was. I’ve been known to send my kids to school without lunch or forget to pick them up from the bus. I couldn’t see how I could add more children – hurting children – to care for. My three are handful enough!

I was also worried I wouldn’t know how to care for their wounded hearts. When families are isolated during times of crisis, many children have had to endure experiences that have caused great pain. We didn’t have specialized training in this. I worried I would fail these kids and their families.

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How did you fully lean into Christ? 

While we don’t have specialized training, the reality is we have everything we need in the Gospel. While we were still against Him, God sought us out and made space for us at His table. Because we have experienced this hospitable love of God, we can extend this radical hospitality to others, even strangers. We’re not offering a program. We’re offering a place at our table, a bed in our home, a relationship.

But relationships are messy and real. And real is hard. I was a hot mess of tears the first two weeks of our first hosting. My heart was breaking as I listened to the already horrific stories these kids had experienced, many of them shared as nonchalant realities. I felt helpless and I struggled with hopelessness. “How can their life ever be better?” “How can hosting them in our home for a month do anything against systemic poverty and societal brokenness?”

Then one day one of the girls woke up with a sore throat. I made her hot honey, just as I do for my own children. As I stood at my counter stirring my love offering, I heard God’s whisper: this. This is how you fight injustice. This is how you love the poor. You make them hot honey. You do their laundry. You sing them songs at night. You help them with their homework. You keep them safe. You care for them in a thousand, mundane ways that seem insignificant but, put together, are the brick and mortar of a relationship. Those once strangers are now loved like family.

This kind of love is not formulaic. Real love is risky and unpredictable. Entering into relationship with the children and their families has quickly pushed us to the edge of our human capacity to pour out grace and unconditional love. As we have watched some moms continue making poor choices, we are reminded this is not a transactional ministry. We don’t offer to do something for her so that she can do x,y,z. We are learning to just open our door and leave the end of the story up to God.

How has this played out? 

As we have hosted various families, our church and neighborhood have grown in awareness of the needs in our greater community. Our hostings have provided our neighbors, of all different faiths, the opportunity to come together and play a part in God’s redemptive story. My children are learning to love fiercely. One mom has asked us to be her daughters’ god-parents and I’m one of the first people she calls when hurting.

Last year, in the community next to ours, an infant was found dead, left by the side of the road. When I heard the news, I wondered how the story might have been different had that overwhelmed mom knew about Safe Families. If someone had willingly walked into her mess to let her know she didn’t have to face life alone. If someone could have kept the infant safe while supporting the mom to find the resources she needed. If the church, doing what it’s called to do, sought out relationships with the marginalized and welcomed them with radical hospitality.

In some ways this seems like a big undertaking but in many ways it’s as simple as being a neighbor and opening our door. We remember that we were once strangers, alienated from God, now made a part of His Family. He shows us how to love out of the depths of Him- beyond our capacity- and to use His gifts in the best ways, overflowing His comfort with hospitality and, just maybe, a cup of hot honey.

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