A Tegen-Style JUSTembrace

I miss JUSTembrace.  I miss my home, my neighbors, my church, my friends.  I miss my family in Chicago.

It’s the end of October – when I get back to Chicago it’s going to be Holiday Time!  We will be decorating and baking and stocking the freezer with Turkeys and the fridge with all the necessities to throw 12 Holiday Feasts over the next two months!

I can’t wait to fill our house with our neighbors time and time again.  Setting the table and decorating the house for friends whose only holiday invitation in years will be ours is one of the most joyful things I have the honor of doing.

Today I got a gift that really helped me get past any dread of stacks of dirty dishes, or hours of baking or dirty foot prints that are all bound to drive me crazy over the next few months.tegens

Today I got invited to lunch at the Tegen’s.  Grandma Tegen has been having her weekly dinners for years.  I’m guessing decades.  The table was set with love and thoughtfulness.  The meal was extensive, southern and DELICIOUS!  The company was sweet and friendly and relaxed.  The dessert was amazing.

Grandma Tegen kept getting my name wrong, but only as she was working very hard to make me feel welcome.  I was served like I mattered.  I was talked to like I was family.  I was laughed with like an old friend (ok, I guess I am an old friend…).  I felt so loved, valued and cared for today.

As I sat at the dining room table, this historic place of family and hospitality, I was brought to tears as I realized this is the feeling of JUSTembrace in Uptown.  The atmosphere we create in our home, the meals we prepare in our kitchen, the house we decorate and the hospitality we extend are literally giving the experience I had today at the Tegen’s to society’s most marginalized and forgotten.

“This must be what it feels like!” I thought.

I tried to imagine how factors like homelessness, loneliness, isolation  mental illness, poverty and powerlessness might add to the experience.  Wow.

Being “home” – especially back at SWU where I’m surrounded by reminders of theological ideals, evangelistic tactics, church growth goals – it is easy to be discouraged that “just throwing dinner parties” isn’t legitimate “work”.

How wrong.  How horribly wrong.

I’m so grateful that God allowed me to receive the gift of hospitality from the Tegen’s today to remind me that the work we are doing in Chicago to live a lifestyle of restoration is indeed the right thing.  I’m encouraged to return home with a more singular focus and to fight the lies that we should do “more”.  What we are doing in our dining room, living room and in the streets of our neighborhood is fundamentally critical.

Grandma Tegen, thank you for the reminder. I can’t wait to come back for some more fried okra soon!!