My husband was born in the United States but his family is originally from Liberia. Most of his relatives live here, spread across the U.S., and his mom is only 10 minutes away from where we live. Although all American citizens, they have brought so much of their Liberian culture with them- music, food, clothes, accents, and all.
For a young German/Swedish country/suburban Minnesotan girl, this was culture shockfor me when my husband and I got married. It was a whole new world for me.
But it was always interesting to learn and see how another culture lives life. What is normal for them, how they handle situations. Their beliefs and values.
You would think almost 9 years of being in their lives, I would have it all down. But no, I love how we can continually learn and grow and let the Holy Spirit bring new light to our lives.
Recently, my mother-in-loves husband was in an accident overseas and after a few days was flown home for surgery. A couple days after he got back, we went to visit and there was a house full of people there visiting him already. And people were coming in and out constantly for just the hour we were there- as expected. I've learned that in the Liberian culture, when someone dies or is injured or new life is brought into the world, everyone visits their home. And not like a couple minutes "Hi and bye, now I'll let you get back to your life" but, "Hi, I love you and I'm staying for many hours, if not all day."
I watched my mother-in-love bless our kids with gifts, love on them, give them hot chocolate and snacks and feed my husband his most favorite Liberian food.
And I watched her greet each visitor who came and making sure everyone got comfortable in their home.
And at one moment in the afternoon, my mother-in-loves brother walked into the kitchen with a man who was visiting. Uncle Joe introduced the man to my mother-in-love, Helena, and she said hello. Then the man walked up to the kitchen counter and Uncle Joe said he was looking for food and hungry. The man stood at the kitchen counter for a few minutes as Helena finished chatting with some other friends who had come to visit. The man just stood there and waited to be served with food. And then Helena set to work preparing for him, a stranger (in my eyes), and for everyone else there, some food. Not thinking anything of it. She had already made pots of rice and Liberian food and started warming it all up for whoever wanted some.
Nothing too strange as I sat there watching it all go on in front of me, but my mind and heart were reeling.
When we left that day and got in the car ride home, I told my husband about what I had witnessed in our time there. I didn't want to be judgmental but I told him how rude I felt it was for that man to come in and expect food from people he just met. He should have ate before he came, left to get food or ate after he got to his own home.
I was quite shocked that he had JUST met my mother-in-love and stood at the counter expecting to be served by her. I mean, she was already busy serving us. (Oh boy! How selfish is that thinking on its own!) Plus, her injured husband just got home- People should be bringing food for them! I just felt it was very rude and that may have been quite judgmental of me but I am just being honest with how I felt about the situation, at the time. We are all "in process", right?
My husband giggled and said, "Meg, I knew as this was happening that this was exactly what you were thinking about it." He proceeded to tell me that although he sees why I would think that, a situation like that is completely normal in their culture. If you know many people will be coming to visit, the host always has food available for anyone who walks through that door, stranger or not. And then he told me basically if you meet someone once, they become family anyways. If you encounter and spend even 1 day with a person, you are connected to them, in some shape or form.
And in that moment, I realized that my mother-in-love, Helena, shows love like Christ loves. This was a pure display of humbleness, generosity and kindness. First of all, I feel like people should be coming to take care of them (but I hadn't even done that myself!). And second, I felt that she shouldn't have to serve people, but she found so much joy in feeding her guests.
I mean, I'll bake a yummy treat if I have a CLOSE friend coming over for coffee or tea. But to make a full blown meal for numerous guests that will stay for hours and there might possibly be strangers I would have to feed too? And the reason they are all there in the first place is because we had a large personal situation?What a Holy Spirit conviction for me to experience... Because what is more Christ-like? What is my attitude? Where is my heart?
The selflessness Helena showed- the pure love to a stranger with no strings attached was so humbling for me. And such an example of how I should love others. I'm almost ashamed to admit my thoughts in this instance but am so excited for the possibility of growth in our lives, if we just let Jesus in. As our hearts change and our minds renew to be more like Him.
And what a way to do it! With food! So simple yet a concept I am just now grasping fully.
I think about other circumstances in my life. There is a friend in my moms group who clearly has a gift for cooking and baking and you know that when she signs up to bring breakfast that morning of moms group, it's going to be good. She always has these huge warm, delicious and homemade pans of eggbake, bread or cinnamon rolls rolls and it just tastes like it was made with so much love, and just for you! And you feel like it blesses her to bless all of us with such great food as we sit around our tables and chat, eat and dig into God's Word. It feels like her gift of food is a way she shows us love.
I think of our Easter gathering this past weekend (and all our family get togethers, in fact) with my family. My mom spends days preparing food for 18+ people and a has an array of food available for us all throughout the day. Delicious, mouth- watering food! We sit around the table together and eat, laugh as we tell stories, cry as we go around the table telling eachother reasons we love one another. And it's centered around that table and breaking bread together. We make memories. We never forget the one time the Thanksigivng turkey was cooked upside-down (and actually seemed a bit juicier because of it.) I see my mom cooking and feeding us, loving on the grandkids all day long. My dad doing an endless stream of dishes in between tackles from the grandkids. Love, being poured over us all. This extension of God's love.
I think about The Last Supper that Jesus had with his disciples. What food they may have had, what did the atmosphere feel like, how Jesus loved them so intensely even in that moment.
And just realizing the simple affect food can have on people and relationships. It forms bonds and forges friendships. It can be a complete outpouring of Christ's love. This simple act, joyfully feeding someone. Family. Friends. Or a stranger.
So this revelation was not a "Poor me, I'm such a sinner," moment but, rather, a "Wow, I've had such a sucky perception of this and I am so glad that I can change that!" I love when Holy Spirit speaks to us in those ways and helps me to transform into Gods likeness and love how Jesus loves.
So thank you Helena (mom), for showing me how to love. Even a stranger.