This post was written by Mary Norris Tilmes, former Charlotte Fellow. She lives in Charlotte with her husband.
When I decided to do the Charlotte Fellows Program, the part I was most anxious about was living with a host family. In college, I was incredibly blessed with a rich community, and for that I am forever thankful. But because of it the transition after college was much harder; the people who I’d done life with for the past four years were scattered across the country. (Things people don’t tell you—leaving college and your people is HARD!!!)
I found myself moving to a new city where I knew almost no one and living with a family who had three young children under the age of 6. The two boys shared a room and the youngest daughter essentially slept in a makeshift room that also served as the basement/laundry room. They gave the best room in their house to a complete stranger. If I stop and think about it now, that gesture in and of itself is a clear picture of the Gospel. But more than inviting me into their home, they invited me into their lives–their joys and triumphs as well as the hard, messy stuff.
The biggest thing I learned that year is to invite people in. Not when it’s convenient—not when your house is spotless and decorated and picture perfect—but when it’s not. My host mom, Virginia, and her husband Mark made it clear that they wanted to be more intentional with their neighbors that year. Instead of leading a community group at their church they decided to take a step back and have a different family over for lunch or dinner from their neighborhood. With three kids under 6, I remember Virginia telling me that if she always worried about having a clean house she would have no time for anything else.
Now that I have a home myself, I often reflect back on my time living with the Spykermans. There is dignity in the fact that God made our hearts to desire and create beauty, but if I’m not careful it can quickly become an idol in my heart. It’s a problem when I walk in someone else’s spotless, perfectly decorated house and feel inadequacy, envy, or shame at not measuring up. I want my home to be a place people feel comfortable but not inadequate. I’m learning the balance of desiring a place I love but not holding too tight to my own expectations.
The truth is often messy, and that’s where redemptive work begins. Virginia said people shared with them all kinds of hard stuff in their lives over meals at their table. I believe their neighbors and friends felt more comfortable being vulnerable because everything was not picture perfect—it was real and raw and messy and redemptive.