My husband and I have known for many years that God was calling us to enlarge our tent and expand our borders.
Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities. (Isaiah 54:2-3)
The Rearview Mirror
We married at ages 22 and 26, and almost as soon as I became a wife, I became a Christian, and then a mother. We had our (fabulous!) children in years 2, 4, and 6 of our marriage. We started child sponsorship with Compassion right away, one per child. My mother-heart wanted to keep growing, and at that point, we fully expected to have more kiddos.
But then we didn’t.
By this time we had moved a few times for our ministry roles, and settled in to one of the most challenging and rewarding seasons of our life and ministry in northern Maine. This was right after our littlest had her first birthday.
But the next 6 years rocked and forever changed us.
The boundary lines of our lives were growing wider and our tent was being stretched further, but somehow I couldn’t see it. God wasn’t working how I expected Him to.
We began to explore what it meant for our family to expand our borders. If it didn’t mean more biological children, then it must mean adoption, right? A quick look into international adoption showed us that our immigration status at the time disqualified us. After all, we had recently entered a different country for my husband’s work. A quick perusal of domestic adoption looked like it held potential, but that door soon shut too.
I was confused and discouraged. Why did I have a desire to expand our family borders if in reality we wouldn’t be able to bring others into it?
Pure and Undefiled Religion
At about the same time, God was pressing in on us what worship looks like:
Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
With this passage, God was igniting our hearts for orphans and widows even though no adoption doors were opening. We studied it, prayed it, and even wrote a song, “Undefiled Worship”, for our congregation. Then all of a sudden, two of the teens in our youth group were effectively abandoned by their family. Surely this was what God was preparing us for! We invited them into our home.
And they turned us down.
God’s Ways are Higher than Ours
We just couldn’t understand why we felt such a burden to enlarge our tents if God didn’t intend to increase our family borders. I confess I was ready to give up on God’s plans for us in this regard. And instead, we just threw ourselves into our ministries, and started filling our empty bedrooms with interns and missionaries. If God didn’t want to expand our borders, then we would.
But His ways are higher than ours. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Is 55:9)
Little did I realize, this was part of His plan all along.
We began what became a years-long arrangement to provide housing for students interning for ministry. And over time, several stayed with us for one year, two years, our home then becoming their home-base when back from the field.
And what started as a favor to a University we supported became a deeply rewarding facet of our family’s life.
We couldn’t have predicted how our hearts would enlarge to love these young adults.
We could not have expected our children to embrace an older “sister” and “brother” in this way. Our borders had expanded indeed.
Nothing is Up to “Chance”
Then a “chance” meeting with a couple from our church kindled the flame for enlarged borders even more. Even though we barely knew them, they came to our house to share with us her story of adoption. She had placed a child up for open adoption while in her late teens, and had been able to have an active role in his life as he had grown. We couldn’t have known that our “chance” meeting to hear about adoption was another part of our own border expansion. Because it was going to look so different than we could have predicted.
We began to grow closer to this couple, and to do ministry together. We celebrated the birth of their second son with them not long afterward.
And then tragedy struck in the form of a wintery accident, and we had a widow with two tiny boys to love.
Expand Our Borders
Nothing really prepares you for caring for widows and orphans. We just knew we were called to it. God had been whispering to us about it for months…years. And since caring for a young widow in her primary season of bewilderment and grief opens up so many opportunities for withdrawal, misunderstanding, and exhaustion, it is tempting to retreat. But God beckoned us into it, and she welcomed “family”.
We didn’t really know what we were doing, other than loving her and her boys. So we simply made our home their home whenever needed, and tried to listen more than we spoke. We made meals together, changed diapers, cried, and continually offered ourselves to the Lord to be used in their lives. Birthdays, holidays, and regular days were all shared. Our children became like siblings.
Days became weeks, and weeks became months, and months became years. And “Mondays” continued to be a constant for our families to be together.
She emerged from her grief a woman of strength and grace, and her boys triumphed as vivacious and strong bundles of energy and character. And their family ministered to ours over these years every bit as much as we did theirs. Our lives are exponentially richer for this season.
We could not have predicted how God would expand our borders when He began calling. And we would not change this season for the world.
It is ten years since that tragic phone call, and both of our families have moved away from each other. Our hearts remain intertwined, our family borders blurred.
And God is calling us to enlarge our tent even more.
I no longer have a preconceived idea of what that might look like. For us it wasn’t having another child or being able to adopt one. Enlarging our tent has looked like:
- One-on-one discipleship
- Supporting Compassion children
- Hosting people without family over the Christmas holidays
- Bringing large groups of students in our home for meals and games
- Loving our kiddos’ friends and bringing them on vacation with us
- Sharing our faith
- Hosting a life group
- Offering our vehicle for others to use
- Grieving with those who grieve
- Celebrating with those who celebrate
- And reaching out to others for help and prayer when we’ve needed it most.
It has looked so different than I could ever have imagined.
At this point, I simply open my hands to receive whatever might come our way. In these early hours of 2018, my prayer is that God would help me to continue to open my arms up wide. I pray He would expand our borders in whatever way brings Him most glory.Our family's chief purpose is to let Jesus' joy loose. Click To Tweet
We will set extra places at our table, make extra beds, or walk with people through seasons of grief. We will have hard conversations, depend on the Lord to fill us with love, and hold people to accountability.
And we believe that as we expand our borders in this way, we will spread out to the right and left, and our joy will be let loose in the desolate corners of the world.
Amen – may this be so.