She's a Maniac 

As part of our Adult Forum study on the risks and barriers to Christian hospitality, we discussed the movie The Blind Side, the true story of the relationship of Michael, a homeless young African American high school student, and a well-to-do family who open their home and hearts to him. This movie illustrates many of our barriers to Christian hospitality: race, social status, economic structure, stereotypes, and exclusivity. But we focused on the scene when the mother, Leigh Anne (played by Sandra Bullock), defends her family's actions to her friends. After being chastised, one friend says to Leigh Anne, "I think what you're doing is great . . . you're changing that boy's life." Her reply is, "No, he's changing mine."

Much like Leigh Anne's experience, those who practice Christian hospitality are surprised and pleased to discover how much they learn from their guests and how much their guests minister to their needs. Christian hospitality isn't just opening our door to others; it's opening our minds and hearts - listening to other's life stories and learning about their experiences - and allowing them to get to know ours. What you get out of such a relationship - the "rewards" - can be totally unexpected. I know firsthand, because I have experienced it.

Most of you know (because I brag about them often enough) that I work with our high school youth group WHAM and that last summer we went to Nicaragua for a week-long mission trip. While there, we had all the "expected" guest/host experiences. I, as one the lay leaders of WHAM, had a dual role as both the host of our own students and the guest of Fabretto. Our relationships with the Nicaraguan people - the Fabretto staff, the school children, the residents of the small villages - became very personal and deeply emotional. Everywhere we went we were greeted with hugs and music and dancing. Although there was a language barrier for many of us, we communicated through our actions and our smiles. They wanted to absorb everything about us as we became willing participants in their lives. Although I was a stranger in a strange land, and I was emotionally moved and physically challenged every minute of the trip, it wasn't until our return trip that I received my "unexpected" reward.

Our flight home was delayed in Managua so by the time we got to Miami, through customs, re-checked our bags, we literally had minutes to catch our flight to Chicago. So everybody took off racing through the airport hoping to catch the next flight. I was walking as fast as my short legs let me, and, of course, I lost sight of our group far ahead of me. All of a sudden I see this bright orange shirt running towards me, and realized it was Andrew running in the wrong direction. I assumed he either had to find a bathroom or lost something along the way.

Now to understand this story, you have to know a little bit about Andrew. Andrew is a New Trier football player whose neck seems to enter the room before the rest of his body. He is also a WHAM regular which may seem contrary to his persona. Andrew has that "jock" attitude that implies, "I'm cool and I'm tough." But on this trip, we saw a very different side of Andrew. He was a work horse and became our go-to-guy when we needed strength (we have a picture of him lifting a boulder). The Nicaraguan kids adored him and everyday he was covered in mud from playing soccer with them. At one particular dinner at a local restaurant, he sat with one of the quieter members of our group, trying to get to know him a little better. I noticed these things about him because I realized I had stereotyped Andrew.  I'm not going to say he was a perfect angel, as was evident when we let him go souvenir shopping with Steve Crawford . . . but that's another story. The trip was a huge success because he was a part of it.

Back to my airport story . . . Andrew, in his bright orange T-shirt, finally catches up with me and, seeing that I'm exhausted, shakes his head and says, "Patti, if I carry your backpack, can you walk a little faster?" It was a simple question, but it took me by surprise. Suddenly our roles were reversed and Andrew, who tries so hard to be the tough guy, became the caregiver. That's when I realized that he is indeed a sweet, funny, gentle giant.  This was my "unexpected" moment and it came from an unexpected relationship.

Andrew also gave me a physical "reward." It was at that moment I realized I needed to get in better shape.  I now fast walk two miles a day on the treadmill, listening to a dance/club satellite radio station.  The music is fast-paced, energetic and makes me feel young again! It takes me back to the 80's (which may have been the last time I exercised) and makes me want to put on legwarmers and a sweat band. On the outside, I may look like Cloris Leachman on Dancing with the Stars, but inside I feel like Jennifer Beals from Flash Dance, sweating to the song, "She a Maniac."

So thank you, Andrew, for these unexpected gifts of Christian hospitality.  And for giving me the impetus to exercise.  On days when I just dread the thought of getting on that treadmill, I imagine myself being chased by a bright orange T-shirt, and the tough guy wearing it didn't appreciate being called sweet and gentle! So I've got to keep going because I've become "a maniac, maniac on the floor, and she's dancing like she's never danced before. . . "