Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Family Huddle

As I’ve mentioned a few times in the last few weeks, the ex-pat life can be pretty challenging. Loneliness, illness, frustration, alienation – these things are the things that send many foreigners back to the motherland.

We’ve often been reminded by wise people that staying overseas for the long haul requires both strategy and support. Endurance on the field calls for intentionality towards those two ends. But the reality is that we haven’t always known what strategy to take or where to find the support. In those times, we prayed for the grace to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

And when we least expected it, that sustaining grace came in the form of another ex-pat family. A Canadian family, (which seems to be the BEST kind.) Several years ago, we were introduced to the Huddles by a mutual friend. They have known us now for more than four years, way back to when we were just newlyweds, childless and still finding our footing in Zambia-land. They invited us in, offered us a bed, provided meals and shared with us their lessons learned from living in different places around the globe.

The family Huddle consists of two parents and three kids. Each one of them deserves a gold metal, a purple heart and a memorial tree planted in their honor for their dedication to authentic hospitality.

Jeremy and I grew up in families where receiving “company” was an absolute ordeal. It required swift transformation into the best version of ourselves. We were expected to be on our best behavior, polite, and well groomed. We did not complain, we did not cry and if conflict were necessary, it was quickly removed to the back room. In short, we were charming and delightful – till the company left – at which point we’d breathe a sigh of relief and resume whatever had been put on hold until it was “just us” again.

Comparing notes with other North American friends, we’ve gathered that our growing up experience was not unique. (Donning my imaginary psychologist hat,) I’d assess that Americans are in fact afraid of hosting others because they are afraid of being known. AND… If they know that we are messy and impatient and coming unglued, they might not like us and then we’d be… rejected. And that fear of rejection keeps us putting our masks on and taking few relational chances.

Ex-pats, however, tend to view this whole “company” thing differently. Ex-pats are people who have developed a hobby out of taking chances. They’ve already abandoned the familiar in favor of the adventure, putting themselves out there in every way possible. These people don’t sleep, eat or cook quite like anyone back home, making it not surprising that these folks “do relationships” differently too.

In the last four years, we never felt like “company” in the home of our Huddle friends. The kids went about their business as the family did its thing. People shuffled around to make room for us on a moments notice. Everyone had good days and everyone had bad days. Unlike anything we had ever known, the natural rhythms of their lives never halted when we walked in the door. With them we experienced life in all its variety – no paint-by-number-pre-fab-fake anything. None of this was “normal” compared to what we had previously experienced, and yet it was all so winsome and compelling that we couldn’t help but be drawn to it.

We observed. We learned. We took notes. We reconsidered our past.

And after four plus years, our conclusion is that authenticity is the heartbeat of a thriving life.

It is because of this family that we became attachment parents. Our ministry flourished as we saved thousands on alternative lodging. Our marriage survived drought because of their gracious provision. Our bodies remained strong because of their presence and proximity to the hospital. Our village outreach blossomed because of the personal renewal we found in their home. Our own hospitality to others relaxed and enlivened. Our emotional intelligence grew, and our humility also.

Yes, she has serious work to be doing, but is still willing to take a coloring break 
Never had we experienced friendship quite like this prior to the Huddle family…

Thank you does not seem nearly enough.

My aim is to sing their praises from the rooftops, expressing our gratitude through highest adulation. But I would be sorely remiss if I did not also take this opportunity to also extend a challenge to this community: so I must ask - Are you inviting people into your homes? Are you receiving them with armloads of your real selves? Are you fearlessly giving or cautiously masking? Are you a part of making lives thrive?

These are not fluffy questions and I resonate with all the hesitancy surrounding an answer of 'yes.' But may I commend to you that it is worth it. I and my little three person family are proof. Don’t know where to begin? Find THE HUDDLES located in THE CANADA and they will teach you their ways.

We were in Lusaka this past weekend helping our friends pack up and ship out. Their time here has come to an end and we are aching for the loss. A large part of us wants to plead for them to stay, offer to build them a hut next to ours and to promise untold riches if they would just never leave us. But at the same time, we love them enough to know that this move is good for them – for their careers, education and family wellbeing. And it is because we want what’s best for them that we helped them pack without chaining ourselves to their front door in protest. It’s also why I cried like a baby as they pulled away, calming myself only after Bronwyn told me I had oatmeal coming out of my nose.   

waiting for the girls - I told you - this family is authentic

We know that God will certainly grant us grace in our friends’ leaving. But we also know that the Huddle family is irreplaceable. Their unique blend of friendship, generosity and listening ear, their distinct personalities and family dynamic – to them there is no equal.

Bon Voyage Huddle Family. You have been more than good to us, and we are eternally grateful.

The whole gang: our shirts say "team huddle" - we'll let you in the club if you want

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