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The Gift of an Empty Chair

We have an empty chair at our table because it reminds us to leave space to welcome the stranger and to always have room for love.



There are five people in our family, but there are six chairs at our kitchen table.

Most meals, the sixth chair remains empty. We walk around it, reach over it, pretend it isn’t there. At times I have been tempted to move it and free up a little more table space for just us five.

But I don’t, because that empty chair is a gift.

Our empty chair is a love-gift to the weary mama-friend who calls in tears mid-morning and needs a place to tell her story. It is a grace-gift to young Mormon missionaries who want to share their tracts, but instead get to share our meal. It is a hospitality-gift to the person who stopped by to return a lost shoe, but whom we have space to invite in and say, “Come, be more than a familiar face, be a friend.”

We have an empty chair at our table because it reminds us to leave space to welcome the stranger and to always have room for love. Our extra chair is a gift for our guests.

That sixth chair is also a gift to our children. It is a visible lesson in practicing hospitality. It is a reminder to them that when they see someone sad or hungry, they know there will always be space to invite them to eat with us. The fare on the table will not be fancy, the table itself will almost certainly be sticky, but there is room at our table. The empty chair is a gift for our children: they can be generous with the chair. They can be generous — period.

But mostly, that empty chair is a gift to me, because it reminds me of God’s perfect grace for every changing season of life.

In the first years of being a stay at home Mom, I grieved. Yes, I rejoiced in my children and yes, I rejoiced in the blessings of being able to raise and disciple them. But I grieved the loss of feeling productive in my efforts. Losing my income didn’t even feature in comparison with the feeling that I had lost my impact.

I went from a position of feeling I had a positive influence over hundreds each day to being responsible for just one — and she was a crying, squalling, non-sleeping one at that.

My life was changing seasons and I felt like the master gardener had pruned off every fruitful branch. I looked around and saw empty space and stumps where once there had been boughs of activity and action, and I grieved.

But then one week, in the midst of my pruned-pity-party, I met someone at a park who was sad and needed a listening ear. I invited her home and she pulled up an empty chair at my kitchen table and talked. It was nothing fancy, just tea and sympathy.

A week later, someone else dropped by after work and they seemed sad about going home to an empty house. “Stay for dinner,” I said, gesturing to the empty chair. “We have space.”

Weeks and months and years have gone by, and I could not tell you how many have been ushered into that empty chair. And it is a gift to me, because when I see that chair now what I see is a strong, new bough of ministry which the Master Gardener has grown, dripping with fruits of love and hospitality. It was a bough which could not and would not have grown in a former season, but which God has called forth in His service in this one.

Changing seasons often brings the grief of losing the ministries and relationships in which we felt we were most useful. Pruning always seem so severe at first: branches are lopped and it seems that nothing remains. But for those in Christ, God never prunes for loss, He prunes for future abundance.

The empty chair at our table is a gift to me: a tangible sign that in this less-visible and less-honored season of life that God still has work for me to do and love for me to show. It is not what I expected, but my in-home service of impromptu-invitations to our family meals matters to Him. I know it does. It is carved into the empty chair.

Bronwyn Lea is a South-African born mama of three, braving the wild frontier of mothering in California. Once upon a time she trained as a lawyer and worked in vocational ministry, but her specialties now include speed-diapering and minivan-parking. When she gets to hang out with grown-ups, she loves to study and teach the bible. She blogs at Bronwyn's corner. You can also find her on Facebook, contributing over at, and on Twitter.



When Doing Justly, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly Stand at Odds

If your compassion far exceeds your capacity, here’s one way you can be sure to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.



One of my life verses is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

It is one of my favorite verses because my heart has been so moved by the love Jesus has for me and the sacrifice He made for me that I am grateful to have a way to express my gratitude through acts of justice and mercy while walking humbly with God.

I have found at times, however, the call to do justice and love mercy come in conflict with the call to walk humbly with God. For me, one of the ways to walk humbly with God is to recognize my limitations. I have to put skin to the fact that I am not God which means saying, “no” to ministry requests. It means going to sleep when I could be spending time advocating for the harrowed and helpless in the world. It means limited seats at my table, limited funds in my bank account, and limited energy in my body cannot be ignored but respected and adhered to.

This is hard for me at times, especially when I scroll my Facebook feed and see friends who are caring for their really sick children, spouse, or other family member all while millions of refugees flee war torn countries and babies are slaughtered by the hundreds each day in our country through the abortion industry.

As I scroll, I receive texts about one family member’s surgery gone wrong and another family member announcing a new baby is on the way. I have in mind my neighbor who has inpatient surgery scheduled this week and another neighbor who is trying to hold down a full-time job, care for twins all while battling profound “morning” sickness.

Folks at church are fighting for their lives in physical and spiritual ways, and strangers who pass me on the road are clearly battling something as demonstrated by their impatient honking because I won’t take a right turn on red. I want to meet the needs of all; I want to do justice and love mercy, but I’m daily confronted by the fact that I am so limited.

What am I to do when doing justly and/or loving mercy seem to come in conflict with walking humbly with my God?

God keeps bringing me to this answer: prayer.

God invites us to cast our cares before Him because He cares for us.
God tells us to be anxious for nothing BUT WITH PRAYER present our requests before Him.
God commands us to pray without ceasing.

And, when I walk humbly with God, I see the immense kindness in His command.
He gives us a way to do justly, love mercy WHILE walking humbly with Him.
It is by praying without ceasing.

I cannot take a meal or give money to every sick person or family I know. I cannot extend kindness to all my neighbors all at the same time they’re in need nor conjure up sustainable solutions for the refugee crisis and contact all the necessary world powers to make it happen.

I cannot heal all, but I know the Healer.

I cannot provide for all the needs, but I know the Provider.

I cannot rescue everyone in need, but I know the Rescuer.

I cannot comfort all the broken, but I know the Comforter.

I cannot speak peace over every situation, but I know the Prince of Peace.

I cannot be all to all, but I can go to the Great I Am through prayer, lay all the people, problems and pleas for help before the Omniscient and Omnipresent God of all Creation.

I can do this through prayer.

Recently, via an Instagram contest of all things, I came upon A–Z prayer cards designed by blogger/author/speaker, Amelia Rhodes. It is a simple concept packed with a powerful prayer punch. It has served me personally in this tension of wanting to do far more than I practically can do. It provides prayer prompts starting with each letter of the alphabet along with a scripture that coincides with the prayer focus. It ranges from Adoption to a creative “Zero Prejudice” for the letter “Z.”

The cards are well thought out, color printed on sturdy cardstock with blank lines for the user to write in the names of people and/or organizations that are personal to them.

If, like me, your compassion far exceeds your capacity, pick up a set of these prayer cards and unload your burdens onto a God whose competence matches His kindness, both boundless.

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Dangerously Vulnerable

I want to live a more uncomfortable, dangerously vulnerable life — even if it means a few “blood-sucking worms” (or much worse) wreaks havoc along the way.



For those meeting me the first time, my personality can be a little bit overwhelming, mostly because I like to ask questions — lots of them.

When I meet you, I want to know all about you — where you’re from, why you’re here, what you do, where you’re headed … and way more. I want to know: What are your dreams? What is God teaching you right now? What did you learn from your greatest failure? If you could live your life over again up to this point, what would you change?

A total of two of you thinks this dialogue sounds like fun; the rest of you are likely thinking you’d want to steer wide and clear from THAT.

I get it. I really do. Over the years, I’ve become more discerning about, and less vigorous in, my attempts to get to know — really know — a person. Many times, it’s because other people don’t want to, don’t know how to, don’t have time to or are afraid to be vulnerable with me; other times, it’s because I don’t want to, don’t know how to, don’t have time to or am afraid to be vulnerable with them.

Also? Like you, I’ve jumped into that vulnerable space of deep friendship and been burned. So I’ve spent some time on the sidelines of relationship proverbially licking my wounds.

Truth be told, though, when we’re content to move about in the shallows of acquaintance and reticent to move into the wilds of deep connectedness, we are safe from harm but far from adventure. Alone.

And where’s the fun in that?

Let me illustrate.

Growing up, vacationing involved tossing swimsuits, fishing poles, and food into the back of my dad’s pickup truck to spend a week in a rented lake cottage with aunts, uncles, and cousins where we’d swim, fish, swim, eat charred hot dogs with burnt s’mores, and then swim some more.

Thus, upon arrival, it took us kids about 2.3 seconds to leap out of the car, slip on our suits, and splash into to the lake.

Dangerously VulnerableOne year, after swimming for several hours, one of my cousins looked down at her legs and noticed little brown spots. Upon closer examination, she realized that attached to her skin were the tiniest blood-sucking worms!

We all thought that was hilarious. Until we spotted the same little brown creatures on our own legs which caused a mass exodus to the shower where lots of frantic scrubbing ensued.

Mind you, this was day one of our once-a-year vacation, and the thought of spending an entire week at a lake where we couldn’t swim was torture!

But then, my still-to-this-day most resourceful cousin slipped on a giant pair of white tube socks (remember those?). He pulled them all the way up to his knees and ventured back into the water where, lo and behold, he squished his socked feet into the mucky shallows and wriggled past the weeds — without a single blood-sucking varmint leeching upon his skin.

Solidly convinced that our health could be held safely intact by the strength of long, white tube socks, the rest of us subsequently ransacked suitcases for the thickest, tallest pairs.

Except one of my cousins wasn’t having it. There was no way she was sticking even a toe back into that water — tube socks or not. No amount of coaxing or convincing could lure her into our space, and she spent the rest of the week sitting on the pier watching the rest of us play. She. Was. Done.

Now I don’t know how you feel about tiny, blood-sucking worms, but I’m hoping you can see at least the loose connection between our lake experience and relational vulnerability.

Brene´Brown, author of Daring Greatly, describes vulnerability as “uncomfortable” and “even a little dangerous at times.” But she goes on to say that “nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”

I want to live a more uncomfortable, dangerously vulnerable life — even if it means a few “blood-sucking worms” (or much worse) wreaks havoc along the way.

Who’s with me?

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When One Suffers . . .

Just as a physical pain grows and is gradually felt throughout the body, it is the same when one suffers within the body of Christ. We must make a conscious decision to respond to it. A number of choices lie before us.



Several years ago, our pastor called upon a couple in our church who were celebrating fifty years of marriage and asked, “So, what’s your secret to a good marriage?” Without hesitation, the husband said, “Realizing that we really are one.”

I’ve heard many bits of wisdom about marriage during my seventeen years in it, but that one has stuck with me. Recognizing, feeling, and knowing that my husband’s hurts, stresses, and dreams are as real as my own because we are one is a truth I need reminding of over and over again.

A similar reality confronts us as followers of Jesus in the larger Body of Christ.

Paul put it this way, “…there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (I Corinthians 12:25).”

In a day and age where our social media feeds are full of causes and issues to think about, it’s easy to take one look and dismiss a post with “That’s not my issue.” In the Body of Christ, however, this cannot be so.

Because when one suffers, we all do.

I was reminded of this recently while reading Journey to Heal, written by Crystal Sutherland. It’s her story of sexual abuse, how it impacted the trajectory of her life and the process of turning to God amid unspeakable pain. She offers deep insights, practical questions, and truth for those pursuing a continuum of healing for a wound in which scars will always remain.

I felt searing pain in my soul reading her story.

Though I have not personally experienced the pain of sexual abuse, I’ve been honored to walk with several who have. Many of you probably have too. Like every beautiful and worthy thing, it can be a challenge when we’re confronted with the reality of our own fear and pride in such a journey. In theory, we all want to minister the love of Christ to the hurting, but if we’re honest, it can be easier to shut off and shut down.

Author and priest, Henri Nouwen, once said, “Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to a place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.”

Sadly, he’s right.

Just as a physical pain grows and is gradually felt throughout the body, so too is the suffering within the body of Christ. We must make a conscious decision to respond to it. A number of choices lie before us.

1. We can obsess about it

When One Suffers

Raise your hand if you can attest to how dangerous diagnosing yourself on WebMD can be. I’ve talked myself into and then, out of multiple serious illnesses after such “research.” That strategy doesn’t work too well for my mental health. Nor is it a good one for the church’s spiritual health. We cannot hope to be an agent of healing by panicking in fear, relying on our own strength or by going off half-cocked and pelting another with advice that may actually hinder healing. While none of us can be an expert on every subject, we can all walk faithfully alongside one another with the help of One who is. God is fully capable of leading and guiding us in the healing process that He, Himself, started. It all begins by listening to His voice.

2. We can minimize or dismiss it

How many times does a wife tell a husband, “You ought to get that checked out?” only to hear “It’ll be fine.” That response can have disastrous consequences. Just as it has had for the church. Unfortunately, we are often guilty of minimizing the impact of sexual abuse as well as other traumatic experiences with “let bygones be bygones” or “forgive and forget” platitudes. As Crystal points out, “There are no quick fixes or simple solutions. Ultimately, healing is a journey that requires God’s help.” We must be mindful of that in order to walk patiently with another towards healing.

Or . . .

3. We can validate it and seek the Expert

With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can acknowledge even a confounding wound for what it is and do so without fear. To genuinely legitimize the pain of another is a healing gift to the soul. We can do this in a moment when someone shares their heart in social media about any topic or as part of a lengthier journey we walk side by side. No matter what opportunity God puts in front of us, it is always a beautiful one — one in which we can learn from, grow in and war over. The enemy would love nothing more than to isolate every one of us — to seal us in a coffin of fear and shame nailed shut by dissension and division. We must never let it be so.

Our response matters. It is why we must carefully consider it when faced with another’s reality that scares and confuses us. We can obsess about it. We can dismiss or minimize it. Or we can feel it acutely, validate the pain humbly and consult with the The Great Healer, expectantly.

When one suffers, we all do.

Together, we are the Bride of Christ. As the wise husband who stood up in our church said, we must recognize, “We really are one.”

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The Gift of an Empty Chair

by Bronwyn Lea time to read: 3 min