Last week was the birthday of my beautiful bride. It was a celebratory occasion as usual, and a privilege to know that not only did she get to enjoy another year of life, but I got to enjoy it with her. As I reflected back on all the other birthdays we’ve shared with one another, I also cast my thoughts forward to all the future ones we’ll share and the memories we’ll make. So it was both a nostalgic time in thinking through the celebrations of the past, and an expectant one as we look forward to exciting times yet unmade.
The combination of nostalgia and expectancy also bubbled up last week as I had the privilege of wishing a happy 76th birthday to another very influential woman, in this case not a member of the family. But as a young high schooler I had the privilege to get to know Joyce and Carl Dieda, the mom and dad of a couple good high school friends. You see, they were among the first truly authentic Christian people I knew as a kid. They had a nice home in Huntington Beach where I grew up and in which they still live to this day. In fact, I still have their address and their phone number committed to memory … 30 years later!
Mr. and Mrs. Dieda were truly like second parents to me. I always felt safe in their home. It wasn’t that my parents were bad … they just had their personal and relational struggles during my high school years, and in addition to the normal teenage attitudes and weirdness, there were times I didn’t want to hang out at home and needed some normalcy in my life. Safe at home … at Mr. and Mrs. Dieda’s home. I went there often, sometimes under the guise to see my friends Cindy and Cheryl, sometimes just to pop in. They always welcomed me. Mrs. Dieda would offer me something to eat, which I never declined (what teenage football player ever declines food?). And mostly, they just loved me. They “shared” Jesus with me … rarely in words, but vociferously in love and action. Through the years, we’ve stayed in touch. They’ve met Helen and the kids, have consistently sent us all birthday cards, anniversary cards, and encouragement galore under many different circumstances.
I was always safe at home at the Dieda’s home when nothing else felt safe. As much as I appreciated a safe place to go and to spend difficult times without judgment and only with loving reception, I also now realize there was a different purpose to Mr. and Mrs. Dieda’s warm home. They were there not just to make me feel safe at their home, but to point me to where my ultimate home will be, where I will forever be safe. It wasn’t about them making me feel comfortable, it was about them pointing the way. The way up.
Often, I refer to the Dieda’s when I think about how Helen and I have grown through the years and how we like to open our home to the young men, women, and couples we mentor. Or even just open it for ministry. We know … our job is to make it safe at home for others, and to point them to their ultimate home. It’s an incredible blessing to do that with Helen.
So all of that preamble leads me to where God pointed my attention during my reading this week, from John 1-21 – Acts 1-8. Interestingly, it was in reading a short simple initial passage about John the Baptist in John 1:6-8 (Message paraphrase) …
There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.
John was serving God with the primary purpose of showing folks the way home … the way to eternally be safe at home. It was challenging for him because people wanted to venerate and elevate him. Often times in this world, the enemy can use our open heart for serving others and start to push us to “believe our own press clippings.” In other words, for us to start to feel like it’s because of us that people want to engage with us, spend time with us, be mentored by us. No. It’s about Jesus. It was for John, and it is for us. It was that way for Mr. and Mrs. Dieda, and Helen and my prayer is that it is for her and me as well.
Frequently through his ministry, John had to reorient folks back to Jesus … to point to Him and say, “That’s Who you need to follow. I’m not even worthy to buckle his sandal.” That should be our hearts too.
BUT … and this is important … just like Mr. and Mrs. Dieda, there has to be a connection to others, a way for them to begin to see and know Jesus, through us. For Mr. and Mrs. Dieda – and Helen and I pray, for us – it was by helping others feel safe at home. At our home. It doesn’t matter how big or nice or comfortable your home is … I doubt the Dieda home is more than 2,000 square feet, but for me when I went there and spent an hour with them, it felt like a palace. That’s our calling too.
Who are you helping feel safe at home? It doesn’t need to be young teenagers (they’re not for everyone, to be sure – haha) or young adults. We all need to feel a place of safety in the journey of life, particularly when the footing gets dicey. It’s just a heart of welcome, openness, and comfort that allows a home to feel safe. A cup of tea or coffee, a loving conversation … a relationship … can help others not only feel safe at home, but can ultimately help them find the eternal home that Jesus promised when He said, “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” (John 14:1-4)
Maybe you’ve never quite felt safe at home. Can I at least point you to the way that you can find one that will be comfortable eternally? Just as Jesus pointed out, He is preparing one for you right now. But without a relationship with Him, unfortunately you’ll never be able to take residence. Like Mr. and Mrs. Dieda, He wants to help you feel comforted, welcome, part of the family, but here’s the deal … unlike Mr. and Mrs. Dieda when I went to their home, Jesus comes to us, and he knocks on OUR door and we only need to open the door and let Him in. It’s like Mr. and Mrs. Dieda’s outgoing answering machine message …
“If you’re looking for Carl and Joyce, please leave a message at the beep. If you’re looking for joy and peace, those can only be found through Jesus.”
If you’ve never felt that safety that comes from a relationship with Jesus, please send me a message or talk to someone perhaps you know who has. I pray you will open the door of your heart if you haven’t already. I pray we all get to be safe at home eternally together.
Soli Deo gloria!