Advent Reflection on Hospitality

Today’s gospel reflects a decision. To accept God’s calling and risk rejection from society, or to hear what God asks of us and to say no.

“Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word”

Mary made the decision to possibly sacrifice her perceived innocence, her future marriage, and her womb with more certainty than I could ever imagine. She said yes to becoming the mother of Jesus even though it meant that she would be an outcast.

Lydia’s House is a prime example of the hospitality of taking in (and thus becoming) society’s outcasts. Many of us here have felt left out in many ways, whether because of our gender, sexual orientation, or the color of our skin. Like Mary, Lydia’s House says yes to the beautiful gift that is each community member, even though it means we are considered separate. We try not to pursue the consumerism, violence, and greed of the masses, which makes us weird. But the beauty of community is that within the house and our incredible support system, we have a place where we don’t feel quite so different. Lydia’s House consists of all of us here in this room, which means we all give and receive in different ways. What I love about the community is that it depends on everyone saying “yes” to receiving the blessings others have to share.

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Now I can’t speak for all of us, so I asked some of these lovely people about the ways they see hospitality at Lydia’s House. Making and eating dinner, participating in work days, lending a listening ear, donating tickets for fun activities, visiting each other in the hospital, and walking alongside each other in times of crisis: these are the ways we accept one another.

The way that Lydia’s House offers hospitality, outside of traditional limitations, emulates what Christ did. What he offered to the outcasts was not of this world but of the Kingdom of God. And it was exactly what they needed. When the sick were healed by Christ, it was spit, mud, and their own faith which healed them, rather than the elitist, exclusive rituals of the temples. Lydia’s House can’t offer mansions and yachts to each guest and volunteer, but what good would that do anyway? We all need the kind of healing that doesn’t come from the material. Accompaniment, support, and love are more along the lines of what Christ offered, and what I believe he asks of us.

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Most importantly, Christ so dearly loved the outcasts (the lepers, prostitutes, and of course his own mother) that he became one. That is true hospitality; not just accepting those who are considered different, but giving up everything of this world to be considered different too. The way that the outcasts are treated impacts us all. To paraphrase Lilla Watson, only when we recognize that our ‘liberation is bound up in each other’s’, can we make real change for all. This is why I am so grateful for Lydia’s House and all of us here who give up certain privileges to be a part of the Body of Christ. You recognize that the oppressors need freeing just as much as the oppressed (Desmond Tutu). Thank you for saying yes to each other, and to me, through hospitality, and giving me the strength to say yes to God’s calling to be an outcast.

Reflection written by Rachel, Lydia’s House Associate Volunteer

Advent Reflection on Joy

There is a profound difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is circumstantial. It’s easy to obtain but also easy to lose. That’s certainly been true in my own life. Lots of things make me happy – thing like going to a good concert or just sitting at a coffee shop and drinking a warm drink. We’re told that everyone is entitled to the pursuit of happiness, but that’s just it, isn’t it? It’s always a pursuit because the coffee gets cold or the concert comes to an end. We have good moments and bad moments, but it’s really hard to make the good moments last, especially when I’m fixated on trying to be and stay happy.

Well, thanks be to God that God didn’t make us only for happiness. God made us for joy. And that is something altogether different. Because happiness is about me and mine, but joy? Joy is always about us. Joy, like love, is always so good that it has to be shared. Happiness may be the language of America, spoken by our founding fathers. Joy is the language of the reign of God, spoken by the word made flesh and dwelling among us, if we only stop to hear it. It isn’t of our making – it’s of God’s.

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Joy, the kind that we just have to share, is often unplanned, and it catches us by surprise, usually in the back of the throat. Here at Lydia’s House, we’ve had many moments of joy recently, big and small. It was joy when many of us had a game night a few weeks back. As we played Nertz and Telephone Pictionary, I was surprised that suddenly I couldn’t stop laughing. My face hurt from laughing, and I simultaneously felt a bit like crying with joy as I heard guests laughing too, more than they’d laughed in a long time. Our joy was unexpected and real, and I feel closer to each of you with whom I got to share it.

And it was joy when we recently celebrated one of our guest’s 60 Days at Lydia’s House. After she let herself receive love and affirmations from the gathered guests, she said it perfectly when she said: “I imagine this is what heaven feels like.” Then too, great laughter and also joyful tears as we stopped to feel the texture of heaven all around us.

Joy this Advent is taking on a new meaning for our community, as we have been waiting expectantly not only for the coming of Christ but also for the joy of new life within our own community. A baby girl was born to a guest on Saturday morning at 4:40 am. I feel so blessed that Meridith and I were right there during the birth, seeing this new baby take her first breathe of oxygen, open her eyes, and see her mom for the first time. For me, it was one of the best moments of my life thus far and a true miracle. In that moment, too, unexpected tears of joy, so much so that Meridith had to try twice to cut the umbilical cord because she could hardly see. Meridith and I, and each of us gathered here, are like the shepherds who stand in wonder as the truth is revealed – glad tidings of great joy. Like the shepherds, we can’t wait to welcome home this mother and child and worship God in awe of this miracle of life.

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We know that it won’t be all roses for this new mom or for our community as we strive to accompany her through the first few sleepless months. I’m quite sure there will be times when none of us feel especially happy that this newborn baby can’t fall asleep or isn’t feeling well. But there is deeper joy, even in this. There is joy in knowing that this new life speaks to us of good news to the poor, of healing and liberty from past hurts. This baby girl is for us, each and every day, a sign that God is working in this community. As the mother said last week a couple days before giving birth, God is talking to her, and she is listening. It is a message of joy in our souls, spoken to us as God becomes a little child to dwell among us. May we recognize Christ in our midst every single day. Glad tidings. Great joy.

Reflection by Lydia’s House Co-Director Elizabeth

Advent Reflection on Freedom

Galatians 5 reads:

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”

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As I reflected on freedom for the better part of this week, Galatians 5 wouldn’t leave my mind. I kept thinking “There’s a lot of ways that passage could read. It could say “For Love, for justice, for good works or for mercy Christ has set us free.” To say for freedom Christ has set us free almost seems too obvious confusing, like saying “It is what is.” But I don’t think this is a typo.

If it is for freedom that we have been set free, the most important question to answer is “what is freedom?” My first thoughts on freedom had to do with a childish view of this concept: I thought to myself “ being free means having no rules, doing what we want, being completely uninhibited.” However, nothing about my Christian walk, or even just my life’s observations, tell me that it is for a life without rules or inhibitions that Christ has set us free; that this is a good kind of life or a life we should aspire to.

My own experience says that boundaries, rules, commitments, and mutual obligations made in love are what gives life meaning, and indeed are at the heart of the life together found in the early church and any church. Lord knows, they are an important part of life here at Lydia’s’ House.

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So if Christ set us free for Freedom, what does it mean to be truly free? If we read on in Galatians we see that Paul defines freedom as not submitting again to a life of slavery. Here is this community we have seen slavery in many forms: addiction to drugs and alcohol, abusive and controlling relationships, bondage to exploitative work for the sake of survival, self harm, self defeating thoughts. If Christ has set us free for freedom, we at Lydia’s House believe strongly in being a community where people of all walks of life can be set free from addictions and from a past of bondage.

Paul goes on to tell the Galatians not to use their freedom as opportunity for the flesh but to serve one another. Freedom isn’t a chance to do anything we want, but rather to serve. When I think of my own journey of the past years, if I use an immature definition of freedom, I have made myself anything but free. Six years ago I made a lifelong commitment to Ben, 2 and 5 years ago we made a life long commitment to Annie and Sam, I joined the Catholic Church , together our family bought a house in this neighborhood, making a large financial and time commitment to being in Norwood, and of course, we sacrificed a lot to help open this house. We gave up free time, available money, and continue to be on the chore and house duty rotation, doing things here instead of, perhaps, things that seem more gratifying in the short run.

But what I’ve found is that I was set free, and with that freedom I’ve chosen to enter into mutual and life giving commitments, commitments that I hope will lead to the liberation of others. Perhaps the greatest sign of our freedom well used is this: that through it freedom spreads. My freedom is not freedom to spend my money or time on things that only benefit me but put others in bondage; my freedom is an opportunity through love to serve others and to give them a chance too at the fullness of life. And the good news is, through this giving I too become even more free. It doesn’t make sense on the surface, but I can attest that these commitments have given me the very freedom that Paul speaks of.

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Paul concludes this speech on freedom with “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We see at Lydia’s House every day those who live in this house and make up this community truly loving one another. This community is a community where we’ve all chosen to live in the freedom of Christ—not a self serving freedom, but an others centered freedom. We’re embracing new rules and commitments that make community work, and fighting hard to throw off the yoke of our past bondage or disordered thinking. I think it’s fair to say that everyone living in this house and some outside it are more free because of the way we’ve chosen to love and care for one another.

This Advent season, take time to ask yourself “To what am I in bondage? “ And then ask “As I wait expectantly for the coming Christ what is the freedom for which he comes to set me free?”

Reflection written by Lydia’s House co-director Mary Ellen

The Lydia’s House 12 Days of Christmas

During this Advent and Christmas season, we at Lydia’s House are celebrating with 12 special events over the course of the next three weeks.  We couldn’t be more excited about it!  For many of our guests, the holiday season has been less than joyful in the past, so we’re hopeful that Christmas 2014 can be a way to reclaim the hope, freedom, joy, and welcome that Christ offers us through the incarnation.  We’ll make Christmas cookies with volunteer Anne Housholder, sing carols to the elderly with the help of the Puopolo family, and watch the movie Elf on loan from Laura Menze.  We’ll even celebrate our own “Lessons and Carols,” sharing our favorite Christmas books and songs right here in our living room.

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Last night, 12 of us attended the Cincinnati Zoo’s Festival of Lights, courtesy of our own Associate Volunteer Rachel Kohl, a zoo employee.  Past and present guests, live-in volunteers, and regular supporters got to pet an armadillo,

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meet some real-life reindeer, take a skip down Candy Cane Lane,

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and ride a rhino!

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A police officer even loaned us his hat for a photo!

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We look forward to continuing to live out the Christmas spirit over these next couple weeks and into the new year.

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First Sunday of Advent: Hope

When I was 14 I spent a summer on the islands that line the coast of Georgia. It was a science and ecology camp and we spent most days studying sea creatures or discussing the ecology of the sulfur scented marshes.

One evening stands out particularly in my mind. It was the night of the new moon, and the counselors took us down to the shore by flashlight. The area was a wildlife preserve and had none of the boardwalk lights I typically associated with a beach. I remember thinking the stars were especially bright in the absence of artificial light.

When we reached the water’s edge we turned off all the flashlights and adjusted to the dark, giggling nervously. The counselors encouraged us to bend down to the just damp sand and rub our hands lightly along the surface layer. Immediately my little patch of ground lit up with glittering, glowing flashes of light, mirroring the sky above me. I’d had no idea this plentiful phosphorescence had been there the entire time. I never would’ve known if not for the dark.

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Advent is a time where we hear a lot about darkness and light. For the next few weeks at Lydia’s House we’ll be dining by candlelight, with each lit candle signifying an idea demonstrated by Christ’s emergence in this world. Tonight begins the week that we’ll be dwelling in hope and trying to sort out what it means to be people who hope, who are confident in the presence of light even when the darkness looms large.

Those of us who live at Lydia’s House have often come here through darkness. That darkness has taken many, many forms: Abuse. Addiction. Loss of children. Mental illness. Hopes dashed. People who were supposed to love us who hurt us instead. Rejection. Violence. Self-inflicted harm and suicide attempts. Broken relationships. Poverty that keeps you up at night. The dark has been very, very dark indeed.

And yet. And yet, there’s not been one person who has stepped through this door who has not thrown off her own glimmers of light. It is breathtaking at times, the speed at which those who have known the darkness spark with kindness, with regard for others, with care for children of Lydia’s House and with a desire to care for those in need outside the community. The women who move here are typically still reeling from the scope of the darkness they have witnessed, but the darkness has not overcome them.

I could tell so many stories about the ways light flashes forth here at Lydia’s House. Much of it is subtle, from dishes washed for one another to notes of encouragement left in boxes. There have been times when I’ve gone to comfort a weeping guest only to find that another guest has beaten me to it. I’ve seen chores done without resentment for a housemate who was sick, and then I’ve seen the healed housemate do that same chore for the volunteer who was away from the house later than she anticipated. I’ve seen hours spent creating crafts of beauty for the joy of each person at a meal. I’ve seen former guests work to care for current guests, sharing resources and knowledge. And the meals…oh the meals! Though any one of us could open a couple of cans and call it dinner none of us do. Even the less experienced among us work to put good home cooked food on the table, often after many hours of planning and labor. The care we take of one another shines bright, even in the dark.

The gospel reading from Mark for today includes the following words from Christ:

Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”

I believe one of our tasks as followers of Christ is to watch. We’re to watch for the light shining in the darkness, to believe it is there even when it takes time to see. We’re to exclaim over it, to tell others about it, and to journey into the dark places knowing that light is present to us there also, and it’s especially striking there. May we join together this Advent season in training our eyes to look for the light, to point it out to those who can see nothing but the darkness, and to uphold it as ultimately stronger than the forces that would try to overcome it. May our eyes behold the glimmers and flashes that daily erupt in our midst this Advent season. Thanks be to God.

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“Hope Reflection” by Meridith, Lydia’s House Co-Director