Fourteen and a half years ago my husband and I moved to northern Alberta where jobs were more plentiful and land was cheaper than in the place from whence we came. Newlyweds, we were, venturing out on our own, away from family, to a place where there were only a few people that we kind of vaguely sort of knew... I was unprepared for how lonely I would be and how very bleak and cold the winter would seem. We tried going to a few different churches and liked them all, but none of them truly "fit" until one day we walked into the church that is now "home."
The people were so friendly and kind! Even though the style of worship and the way they did things was different from places that had felt like home before, these people loved. From the first Sunday we felt connected and so we went back again. And again. Weekly, we were invited into homes. Gradually, we began to make friends with neighbors and coworkers. There is a unique sense of community in rural areas and as much as I don't like the cold temperatures here, I love the warm hearts!
Eventually I wanted to reciprocate all the kindness we'd received, but felt completely inadequate for the job... Not only because of the number or people who'd been so kind, but they all seem to be such extraordinarily accomplished hosts/hostesses!
I got a bright idea. We would host a Christmas open house and invite all the people who'd been so gracious to us. I could handle the idea of preparing a variety of finger foods and desserts. My husband agreed, so we invited all our new-found friends and neighbors and I spent two weeks cooking and baking. The day and time came and we sat and waited. We looked at each other and wondered if we were crazy. Would anyone come?
By the end of that day more than forty people had filled our little home. We'd laughed and loved and felt loved. It was glorious! A new tradition was born. The first tradition that was "our" tradition--not something either one of us had brought into our marriage, but one we had created together.
Today was our thirteenth Christmas open house. More than sixty people filled our home with laughter and love. I'm so thankful that "when I was a stranger you visited me." So incredibly thankful for the many friendships that have developed over the years. Thankful for a Love that supersedes differences, that goes beyond culture, heals wounded hearts, and makes a family of strangers.
I always thank my God when I pray for you...
Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother,
for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God's people.
Philemon 1:4, 7