Testimonies for Epiphany: Christ with us in the ordinary, through our stories and in our homes – Katie Straight

When Thomas invited me to share about how I seek to represent “Christ with us” in the everyday—in our home and to my neighbors, my first response was, “Me?! Why me?”  I am broken. Not just in an external cosmetic sense, which is to say I may/may not have showered…since the boys were born…and nothing coming out of our house will ever be Pinterest-worthy (with the exception perhaps of the delicious meals that Justin creates).  I mean I am broken below the surface.  I am wounded and scarred and frightened and struggling to reconcile the facts of this life with the God-man we call All Powerful, Healer, Father.  I often feel more as though I am surviving than thriving, resting somewhere between the courageous foolishness and foolish courage that marks our faith on our best and worst of days—believing in what is unseen when the seen, the reality around us, feels a precariously placed, teetering glass bulb at best, a shattered vessel at worst.

I lost my big brother nine years ago…he died of accidental trauma to the head at the age of 32—it shook me in ways no words can capture.  Since then we have buried my grandfather, then my dad, my grandmother, and my uncle.  In the midst of these losses, Justin and I fell in love and got married…we left the house that he built and moved to the Dominican Republic to work for a Christian microfinance org.  Though we bristled at being called such, we became professional missionaries in the sense that our culture likes to define it.  We sought to spend ourselves on behalf of the “poor” by offering opportunities to escape extreme poverty through business creation. And in the midst of it, we learned more about our own poverty than we knew how to manage.

Besides the externals—we were nearly washed away in a Haitian river, I survived an accidental lethal overdose of malaria medicine that had me in a Dominican hospital for three nights not knowing if I was going to live, and if so, at what diminished capacity—besides these external stresses, God was also revealing to us that our internal brokenness, our stubborn desire to do life on our own terms, our unwillingness to walk through past pain, our inability to receive and thus also show His grace to others, was killing us. The frail foundation of our marriage crumbled around us and we were forced to pull the emergency chord and come home to the US to seek good counsel and a strong community to come around us. We fought for our marriage and we continue to fight for our marriage, holding onto God’s promises and His power when we ourselves were and are too weak.

With each loss, wound, and disappointment I have wrestled with the truth that God is all loving and yet not afraid of pain—I have screamed, wept, cursed, demanded explanations, and, much more rarely, on my best of days, rested in the promise that all our tears will one day be wiped away and all things, ALL THINGS will be redeemed.  I have begged Jesus to show himself as healer of my wounds and choked back tears whenever the praise song, “Blessed be the Lord” asks my heart to say, “on the road marked with suffering, when there’s pain in the offering, blessed be the Lord.” I am a cracked vessel, no doubt.

Why do I share this with you when I’ve been invited to share practical, ordinary ways to manifest the spirit of Epiphany, the God with us, Jesus in flesh?  Because Jesus came to the broken and the thirsty and allowed himself to be broken and thirsty for us.  “I thirst,” he said on the cross.  “I thirst.  I know what it is to thirst.”  And I know of no other way to share Christ than to first be honest about my brokenness and my need for Him.  I cannot invite anyone to drink the Living Water without admitting that I am desperate for it too. I cannot say, “Come, YOU need this water.  Oh no, I’m good.” No, I need to lap it up in my hands, water splashing down my face and neck, and say, “Come! Drink with me! I am thirsty and you are thirsty!”  …and that only happens when I’m willing to be honest and transparent with my life and my story—which is really God’s story isn’t it?  His power at work in my, in our, weaknesses?

Because you also are broken.  Forgive me for being brash enough to say this when many of you I don’t know personally, but I am confident of this. You also are broken.  You are wounded and you carry scars that may or may not be visible to the naked eye…disappointments, losses, physical and emotional pains, fear, loneliness—evidence of a life lived on this side of the here and not yet.  You thirst for living water and the food that will not spoil.  And it is our meeting one another, broken and thirsty, at the foot of the cross that unites us into community if we are to be one at all, isn’t it?

I do not believe we have a voice at all until we are willing to voice this.  Not only to ourselves…but to our neighbors too.  We must be willing to be seen as we are, scars and uncertainties exposed alongside the glory of God at work in us.

And it is through this being seen that our neighbors begin to allow us to see them, to love them by truly seeing them, by recognizing their pain and validating it as something that our Father sees and cares about.  “Comfort, comfort my people,” He tells us through Isaiah 40. “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and tell her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sin.”” Our call first is to honor the pain. And then to share a vision for redemption—not through ourselves but through Him who is our living water.

To be honest, this season of my life has been the most challenging by way of feeling as though I am in any way, shape or form expressing “Christ with us.”  In the past, however misguided my assumptions, I could lean heavily on my work as my ministry…whether working internationally in development or working locally at Jobs for Life, my professional investments have provided me a comfortable and concrete “outlet” for my “good works,” a way to safely share the love of Christ as occupation…with deliverables and goals, neat and tidy—and rather invulnerable.

Now, as a full-time stay-at-home mom to our twin boys, I don’t have a list of works that make me feel like a good Christian.  If anything, I feel pretty beat up at the end of long days of seeing all too clearly my own shortcomings.  There is nothing like two crying babies to reveal the depths of ones own depravity. But His promise is that He is in me and works through my weaknesses…in the ordinary as much as the fantastic.

So I find that now I have to listen harder and lean into the Spirit more to hear how he wants to order my day…To take time in the morning while the boys sleep to be with my Father and sit with his Word and pray that His love is what the boys (and Justin) will experience through me.  And to apologize to them, though perhaps they do not understand it, when it is my sin that rears its head more readily.  To be open and willing to sit with our neighbors when they pop over unannounced…to say yes to the invitation to walk, or come over for a glass of wine when all my introverted mind wants to do is shut down and all my body wants to do is sleep.  To be intentional about trying to live in an open home, where neighbors and friends feel welcome—to hold it loosely—God’s house for us to share, just as our stories are God’s for us to share.

And so it is too with hosting neighborhood pizza nights or Thankspigging, our annual come-as-you-are and bring something to share party for neighbors, friends, and total strangers.  We provide the “beer, wine and swine” we like to say, you bring something to share.  At the heart of it is God’s command in Deut 14 for the Israelites to take their tithes and use them to have a big party in thanksgiving to God.  To actually trust him enough as a good and loving Father to throw a party in his honor to say thanks, to dance, to get to know some new neighbors and share some real joy with them.  Because our Father likes parties and our Jesus is the Master of the Feast.  It’s so simple and so imperfect, but people come, a contribution in hand—deviled eggs or blueberry pie—and we all together make it a party and meet new people and forge friendships and maybe even forget the burdens we carry for a few hours of celebration and thankfulness. And I do believe that Christ is there with us.

As He is here with us now and in the most mundane of days, in the most inglorious of tasks, in our homes and neighborhoods—Because His spirit is always alive in us, testifying on our behalf…not despite our brokenness and thirst, but through it.  Thank God.  By his grace, we are invited as a church to be to willing to share our stories, admit our thirst and believe that God can use us exactly as we are, exactly where we are.

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