As I shared previously, I reached out to Becky on Saturday and was met with the warmest hospitality. But to be completely honest, I could not have prepared for the shock that met me when I first walked into her home. -Specifically, the sight of her kitchen.
Walking from the entry hallway, what met my eye as the kitchen opened up was a collage of colors and shapes and figures and words. The kitchen walls were lined with shelves. These shelves, however, were not home to the usual dishes and pantry items. Instead, little lead painted figures about an inch high sprinkled the shelves, arranged in little scenes. These were positioned in front of all sorts of vintage knickknacks with some books or historic posters or advertisements mixed in. (I would share photos to try to help you understand the flurry of colors, but they are on my ipad, which went out of commission recently.)
Becky, with a smile, studied my face as I tried to take it all in. Then she explained that her vintage stove had stopped working a while ago. And with a son with down syndrome, she decided not to repair it, knowing it would just be a safety hazard that would have to be guarded again. And so, the oven shelves were used for storage, and the top was covered with a cloth. What she did have was a microwave and a working (but also vintage) refrigerator – which she very warmly said I should feel free to help myself to any of the food inside.
As I lay down to sleep that night, I stayed awake a good while just wondering what all the next week would hold. Certainly, something very different from what I had been accustomed to on the farms and with all of the other families I had visited! But, despite the unfamiliarness of her way of life, I was also very excited to better get to know this woman, who so openly and exuberantly invited me into her home, and whose faith visibly shaped her and her family’s lives in some rare ways.
Or perhaps not so unfamiliar
A mile walk with Becky and her 11-year-old son to church the following morning gave plenty of time for conversation. I had to admire her for her testimony and for how she, as a single woman, spent time studying in Japan, and later ventured to Johannesburg South Africa, where she later ended up marrying and raising a family in their early years together.
At church, I learned even more about this unique woman through another woman, who had been visiting the church for just 2 months. She told me that Becky is the reason she had kept coming to the church. She shared how Becky had shown her such a Christian warm and hospitality – yes, she used that exact word! – which made her feel welcomed and loved as part of the family of believers there. That gave me quite a pause.
Quick aside for those who do not know me well. The past year especially, I’ve been gaining an appreciation and value for old skills that bring people together. -But also, for the lost art of hospitality. Through the testimony of Rosaria Butterfield (you will hear more on her as I progress in my travels), I learned how valuable and powerful it can be to simply invite someone into your home for a meal. And with this in mind, I have done whatever possible to learn the skills of cooking and to practice hospitality whenever the opportunity presented itself through my (shared) apartment back home. And still, on the road, I eagerly soak up all the tidbits I can from other women (or men) who have skills in the kitchen or in creating a welcoming environment in their home for guests. The ideal I had formed in my mind was that one of the most powerful ways a woman has to show Christ to others is in her home, is through her welcoming hospitality, and yes, through simple and nutritious, home-cooked food.
HOWEVER. Here was this woman, with an almost completely nonfunctional kitchen, and yet God had been using her in the lives of others (and let’s not forget whose bed I was staying in – in my own life too!) to show them Christ’s love. Just as I had found in other Christian’s homes – if not more so here – Becky had a heart for others and was making an impact in their lives, just not through home/meal-centered hospitality.
Intentional about technology
One of the very unique things about this family is how intentional Becky and her husband have been to keep the internet and most all technology out of the home. Books by Neil Postman and other titles pertaining to the decline of education and the impact of media can be found throughout her home. Their family has sent their children to, what sounds like, a unique, classic-style school up until highschool – one that keeps all technology out of the curriculum. And Becky has taken it upon herself to homeschool her 2 older sons through highschool, even teaching some group Advanced Placement courses for other homeschool friends. Up until this past year, not even a cell phone made an appearance in their home. Now, her 15-yr-old son has a cell phone, but it is set up just to use the internet as a tool to search things related to horses (his line of work).
What their family is doing must be working. Their 18-yr-old son is in his first year at Harvard, so proficient in Chinese that they had to find an outside tutor for his area of study. Their 15-yr-old son was competent enough at age 14 to travel alone to and work at a BnB south of London. Now he takes on 40 hours a week of horse care in stables in addition to working through high school courses. And their dear 11-yr-old son, who has down syndrome – perhaps he has impressed me the most. He is able to read surprisingly well and to form written sentences on his own. But he was most charming by how engaging he is in conversation. Goodness, I think he knows more about history than I ever will, as he, with his wooden reenactment musket, told me of some major battles Washington was involved with in the French and Indian war. Though Becky certainly had some difficult moments with his stubbornness, her youngest son actually seemed surprisingly mature and engaged for most of the time. She attributes his progress to the many prayers of her church and to the complete absence of technological entertainment while growing up.
Intentional about historical perspective
In my last post, I this family’s unique (in comparison to the rest of their church) convictions of nonresistance. Well, they found a really interesting way to get their family involved with others in conversing about this important issue.
As a whole family, they have for a number of years been participating in historical reenactment surrounding the Revolutionary War. But, instead of perhaps the typical colonial outfits patriot military outfits, Becky would sew red coat uniforms for her sons and they would reenact as British soldiers. Now, many at the events they frequented would come up to them and say things like, “Oh, redcoats? So you’re the bad guys.”
But to this, their sons got very practiced at responding that, “Well, we read how Jesus tells us to pay our taxes. So, if I had been living in this time period, I would not be fighting against the British rule, but respecting their authority. But, I also would not take up arms to join them like I am dressed up now because of how Jesus tells us to love our enemies.”
In this way, they raised the eye of many Christian homeschoolers, nominal christians, and non-christians alike with their undervoiced Biblical perspective on the history of the “nation under God.”
This family had an understanding of how much media shapes our understanding of history. Another example of their intentionality around this issue is in how they would allow films into their home. I think they owned a total of 15 films. And Becky shared how intentional they were to have discussions surrounding the films they did chose to allow in their home. One example would be when they watched the “Sound of Music.” They read the book first and then challenged their sons to see how many points they could count that departed from the historical account. They would take this approach with several other films too.
Intentional with family conversations
I was very encouraged to hear how closely their son chose to keep in contact with Becky, even while living away from home at college. He talked through things he was encountering that ran counter to his faith at college, and would find guidance and support from Becky, herself a Harvard graduate, having experienced even in her time the intense (unreasonably silencing of other opinions) pressure to celebrate and approve of the LGBT lifestyle.
Beyond her conversations around college, I was also really impressed by how Becky would keep the door open to honest conversations with her children around the home, and throughout life. During one of our late-night conversations, she shared with me how she saw herself on level ground with her children, before God – all equally imperfect and capable of making mistakes. And so, with humility, she would tell her sons that she wanted them to approach her whenever she was not acting very Christian-like – honoring God through her choices/attitude/behavior.
This vulnerability and support within the home was something that was very absent in my childhood. But the more I learn, the more I see how important and central it needs to be within a home in order for children to see a need (their parent’s or their own need) for Christ in everyday life – the part of life that matters most! Becky’s example was incredibly encouraging. And her family’s life shined the effectiveness that it has had so far.
What I took away
Though it was neat to have a chance to visit historic downtown Boston, attend a weekly swing dance, and get to hear Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 (Horns!!) by the New England Conservatory’s orchestra, the chance to get to know Becky and her family better was definitely the most valuable part of my stay in Boston. (Oh, in case you are wondering why you haven’t heard anything about her husband – he was away all week with international work.) She always was willing to talk and was very encouraging when I told her about my next step in the journey – to visit His Mansion Ministries. In learning more about my me, she gave me a few new things to consider as to why His Mansion could be a very good place to serve and really grow.
In addition to her encouragement towards my travels, she also generously sent me along with a few other special items. She knew that I got so excited when I learned she had a copy of the “More with Less” cookbook, and that I was reading through it all week. Well, when it came time to leave, she told me that I could take it with me. Wow! That is definitely my list of most valuable gifts I could have received! I am so excited to take it with to the next farms and try out all sorts of different recipes from its pages.
Becky also knew how much I admired her library of antique reading material. Most of the books lining the shelves were geared toward children to young adults, written from the late 1800s to around 1940 I believe. I learned from Becky that the modern versions of the classic Nancy Drew stories actually have changed details (things like Nancy’s father’s permission being asked first by the guy who wanted to take her out). I had not realized that! (Knowing this, Becky had some original copies of Nancy Drew on her bookshelf.) Furthermore, things like the Girls Annual or Mrs. Strang’s Annual for Girls were actually put out by Christian organizations way back when they started to realize the push of culture on girls to focus on their looks and buy into the consumeristic mentality. The stories and articles contained in those books and volumes were from a simpler time when many values were still intact. And each story from the volumes would carry the lost charm of generations past – in a way that felt almost like the scenarios could be relived today.
Anyway, Becky generously gifted me with two of these (original print edition) volumes that she had multiples of. What a treasure – and one I hope to pass on for generations if they hold up.
Special in so many ways
A week seemed like too short of a time to spend with Becky and her family. But, that is often how I’ve felt when saying goodbye to the people I’ve met during my travels. There are so many things I will remember from this visit, though. And probably most significantly – God uses everyone differently and gives us each sometimes very unique gifts to use to reach the lives of others. Becky’s life looks very different from the many families I’ve met so far, but her life is certainly just as – if not more – radiant of an example of Christ’s love to others as I have ever seen.