In sweet abandon, let me be spilled out
And used up for Thee.
–Broken and Spilled Out, Steve Green
About 10 years ago, Robert and I started repairing the historic maid’s quarters behind our 1919 prairie bungalow. It’s the same little apartment where, in the 1940s, a former maid stashed love letters from the homeowner’s son. The soldier sent them to her while he overseas fighting in World War II.
We’ve always referred to the apartment as the cottage, but that might be a little pretentious. It is clean, but plain and tiny. There is nothing historic about it except it’s filled with a few antiques. It was originally about 200 square feet, but we cut into the garage to make a small bedroom.
For most of the past 10 years the cottage has remained empty. Anyone can live there for free, but we can’t rent it out because our home is governed by historic preservation ordinances. We’re prohibited from leasing it because it remained empty for more than a year.
After Robert and I remodeled the cottage, we prayed that God would send someone who needed it. A short time later, my former husband called to say his former significant other had fallen on hard times and had no place to go. He wanted to know if we’d consider letting Tracy (name changed to protect the fabulous) live in the apartment. We said yes, of course, because when you pray for God to send you someone who needs help you can’t be picky. You can’t say no.
So, Tracy came to live in the cottage and stayed for eight wonderful months. It was a blessing for everyone.
The next person to stay in the cottage took advantage of us. This person, H., frequently took long trips out of town and left the air conditioner running for days on end. People told us H. was wonderful — would be terrific with our kids — but instead, H. came home stoned and drunk all the time and broke half our stuff. I told God not to send anyone else like H. to stay in the cottage.
But, then God sent Guy, Robert’s brother who’d been missing for two decades. Emaciated and on the edge of despair, Robert rescued Guy from a small war zone in Stockton, California. He brought him home to Oklahoma to stay in the cottage and for four months we nursed him back to health, both physically and mentally.
We thought Guy, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in childhood, would stay in the cottage for at least two years. But, unbelievably he was approved for a wonderful apartment just a mile from our house. He lives in downtown Oklahoma City by all the cool coffee shops. He has improved greatly and we are very proud of him.
I have to tell you, though, that having Guy out back was hard work. He became my fourth child and I had the laundry to prove it. And, every single day for four straight months he interrogated me about how he could get his poetry published. He’s sure he’ll make millions off his poetry and be able to buy me a house in San Francisco’s best neighborhood. I can paint it lavender he said. Or any other color I want. Of course, he will live behind us — in a bigger cottage.
It didn’t matter how many times I told Guy I didn’t want to move to San Francisco, he was convinced it was the best thing for me. You know — maybe he is right!
A few weeks ago, Jeff, Rachel and Milhouse came to stay in the cottage. They were moving from the south to the west and passing through Oklahoma City. They only stayed a night, but we were happy to offer them a cool place to rest their heads. I was so glad to finally meet Rachel. We met through blogging several years ago, and I cherish her and her awesome Gen-Xer-ness.
Over the years, others have stayed in the cottage, but I’ll save their stories for another day.
Every time someone new plans to stay in the cottage, we spend days preparing for their arrival. Washing sheets, curtains and quilts. Painting and rearranging. Buying new towels and candles. Sweeping, mopping and wiping down surfaces. Testing the air conditioner. Buying a new space heater or fan. Putting fruit and bottled water in the fridge and cookies on the counter.
These humble offerings come from the lonely places inside Robert and me. As individuals, we have many wonderful friends. As a couple, not so much. We married in our mid-30s and have struggled to find a community together. We’ve accepted that for now it’s not meant to be, and I have to tell you, this acceptance comes with a great sense of relief. We have our hopes and plans; our children and each other and we have God — breaking us open and spilling us out and filling us back up with His love.
I wish the cottage were better. I wish it had hardwood floors and a claw foot tub. Better windows, nicer furniture. It is very humble. But, we offer it up just the same. And, we don’t ask for anything in return, because, what would the point of that be?
Recently, my friend Chloe arrived from San Jose by way of Albuquerque. She stayed in the cottage for three nights. But, her visit was different because Chloe came to be intentionally broken and spilled out for me. In this era of spiritual guides and life coaches (plenty wonderful, by the way), Chloe offered something different. Something completely unexpected. She is an Intercessor and while she was here she took my hand and she stood with me on the edge of this desert and told me not to be afraid. She said the wilderness won’t swallow me, for He has parted the Red Sea.
From the Book of Matthew
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”