IMG_4614LIFE is hard enough. Right? Hard enough to spend time with your own family, pay your bills, and go to work each day without helping those who are also in need–of a visit, or a meal, or a place to call home.

God gives us the freedom to choose. His first gift was to grant our liberty: the liberty to seek our way, or seek His. And His way always seeks others.

Last January our family faced such a choice. Sitting down at my computer during the still, cold week after Christmas, I opened an email from the director of my children’s school. She was looking for a home for a 16-year-old Spanish exchange student.

“Is there any possibility that you could host him?” she asked.

Then she asked us to pray.

We did.

One week later, the answer had us rearranging rooms, buying a second-hand bureau, borrowing a bed, and Jose joined our busy family. Our own five children ranged in age from six months to sixteen years. No kidding. Eight people in a four-bedroom house, just under 2,000 square-feet.

We squeezed another chair around the table, drove two vehicles instead of one, and opened our lives to whatever was to be. And what came was riotous laughter and joy as our hearts opened to this fun, talented young man, who never complained if I ran out of shampoo or time to make dinner or pick the kids up from the bus or drive him somewhere more exciting than our little city in Maine.

What came was energetic card games around the kitchen table, and an epic back-yard snow fort, teaching a young-man to do his own laundry (which he wanted to learn), and learning when and how to say, “Olay!”

And when we said goodbye a week ago, what came was tears.

It’s hard to say goodbye to those we love, whether for a week or a lifetime. That’s why I was so surprised after my husband, Dana, drove Jose to the airport to discover a three-page letter in which he’d written a personal goodbye to every person in our family.

“The five months I’ve lived here have been for me getting to know a second family,” Jose began, recounting the fun times he shared with our children. Then he went on to say, “I leave this house being a different person, and not just different but better… I leave a little closer to God.”

I cried as I read it–overwhelmed by how much I would miss seeing Jose (the first person awake after me!) pouring himself a bowl of Cheerios at our kitchen table each morning. And I realized that I’d changed too, becoming more open to sharing my heart and home, more open to the joy God has in store when we choose to honor him by sharing what we have with others.

We miss you Jose! You will always have a home in Maine. And we pray that you will continually grow closer to God, which is his desire for each of us.

“The Lord bless you and keep you;  the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace,” Numbers 6:24-26.

How has God opened your heart to others?