Friday, December 19, 2014

Welcoming the Stranger

The following is an Advent reflection written by Therese Diola, one of this year's Little Village House Volunteers.

I feel as though society gives the words “strange” and “stranger” a negative connotation. The word strange is defined as, “ unusual or surprising in a way that is unsettling, or hard to understand”, while some definitions of the word stranger include, “an outsider”, and “ a person who is not a member of the family, group or community.”  It is a common lesson told by parents to their children to not talk to strangers, and a wise lesson at that. It’s easy to fall into the comfort of routine, familiarity, commonalities and usual friends and family. However, if there’s one thing I've learned from this year it’s to make a whole-hearted attempt to change one’s view of a stranger into that of understanding as there is so much to be gained in the transition from stranger to friend. I have experienced this first hand with my roommates.. The strangers I was reluctant to live with at first have welcomed me into their lives as I have welcomed them into mine. From them I have learned and will continue learning an endless amount. They are helping to shape who I am and allowing me to view the world through their eyes.

Additionally, working with Trinity Volunteer Corps, I have been given the chance to grow relationships with who many would consider to be “others”. I have had the incredible opportunity to work along side adults with varying developmental disabilities and they've shown me what a force they are to be reckoned with as I've been a witness to the positive impact they are making on many lives.

Though they each have their own gifts, talents and wonderfully unique personalities, they are all similar in their eagerness to help, welcoming hearts and desire to build meaningful friendships. Before I began working with these individuals, I imagined how important my efforts would be in helping the Trinity Volunteers succeed and including them in society. Yet I've found that it is their warmth, their kindness and their acceptance of others that has shown me what true and pure hospitality is. They've allowed me, someone who they just met no more than 4 months ago, become a part of their lives and their friendship  has provided me with a deeper understanding of joy in life. When I think of all the Trinity Volunteers’ sincere and complete acceptance of everyone, I think of the many times in scripture where we read of Jesus’ love and compassion to everyone, including strangers that society deemed as undesirable and unworthy.

Ya know, it’s easy it is to become distracted and overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of life, making it easy to lose focus in our relationship with God, viewing Him as a Stranger….I've experienced this firsthand. Yet, the amazing thing during times when we feel like this, is the fact that God knows us even better than we know ourselves!

In Matthew 25:35, Jesus proclaims: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in”. Even Jesus calls Himself a stranger! In verse 40 He proclaims, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." Where do I see God? I see God in my friends, in my family, and in the strangers I encounter daily,  as we are all created in His image. I feel connected to him through the people I meet and the relationships I grow. I believe that receiving strangers by opening our ears, minds and hearts to others, allows us to fully and wholly give ourselves to God. By getting to know others, we get to know God Himself.

So let us welcome the stranger! Imagine all the people who missed the absolutely incredible and wonderful opportunity of being a part of Jesus’ birth because they had no more room for strangers…stinks to be them!!!

One of my favorite passages found in Hebrews 13:2 proclaims, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

What a wonderful message and realization this brings to mind and I can say for certain that I am surrounded by angels constantly, and these angels are all of you!

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