The High Calling of Cozy (Or Confessions of an Unhospitable Heart)

For years, our sons’ friends used to say, “Mrs. Murray, your house is so cozy.” Despite how quaint this sounded coming from the mouth of a fifteen-year-old boy, I always suspected there were two reasons our house was cozy.

First, I fed these guys. One speaks of the chicken soup, “that literally saved my life that one time,” and another once reminded me that I “made brownies at least the last seven consecutive times I’ve been here.” Food makes a place cozy, I get that.

But I also had to assume they were somehow placating me, awarding our house the runner-up prize behind their blue ribbon, mini-mansion homes. And, in this, I believe I sold myself short.

Lately, I’ve heard it again, that my home is cozy. I asked a few people what’s behind the word, and got these answers:

I feel welcomed.

I feel included.

I feel alive.

Who knew? I’m beginning to see that cozy is a gift, a valuable skill-set that, wielded well, can change the world. It’s what boys with burgeoning vocabularies might call a home that has a feel, a personality, a certain state of being. It is an unassuming art or action that can have grand results.

I didn’t figure this out until our boys all left home, the magnitude of cozy, that is. Bill and I moved out of our house to be a CARES Team in a downtown Atlanta apartment community. 50% of apartment dwellers in our country do not know anyone else in their communities. No one. It’s isolation at its worst, in close proximity to several hundred people. Urban life gone sour. We moved into one of the many downtown apartment complexes, and, simply by spreading a little cozy, we sweetened city life for a handful of people. I like to describe CARES teams as two people who party like Jesus. It’s embarrassingly simple and surprisingly powerful.

Of course we didn’t fix everything. But when we left three years later, there was a real community there, all because we introduced people to each other. Little conversation parties erupted in the parking lot. We shared job listings, furniture, kittens, garden bounty. We cried and laughed and pontificated together. We were the most surprised by this outcome. How can flipping pancakes for your neighbors do what this did? I’d go into the emotional, social, and even spiritual outcomes we saw unfold, but these are personal, ongoing stories, too sacred in my opinion to share here.

And yet I continue to downplay the potential of cozy. Just yesterday I was thinking about Refuge Coffee Co., the non-profit coffee endeavor I’ve begun with others in our community, and I wondered to myself if what I dream about—a coffee shop that trains individual refugees and hosts the crazy, mixed-up refugee-and-indigenous population of Clarkston—I wondered if this dream wasn’t a little too fluffy, too provincial.

And then I read a shocking statement in the book of Matthew. It’s embedded in a little tutorial Jesus gave his disciples on how to minister the Gospel from town to town. One point he made is this: Stay where you’re welcomed and leave where you’re not. Apparently welcoming God and people is a really big deal, maybe, yes certainly, bigger than morality. Jesus then cited Sodom and Gomorrah as a stark foil for the cities that will welcome his disciples:

Sodom and Gomorrah, that ancient pit of inhospitality. (Matthew 10:15)

Fire and brimstone? It’s reserved for the unwelcomers, those who value urban progress over making a home for God and others. For those who pursue their own comfort over the comfort of others. For those who turn God and people away. Whoah, this is a new thought for me. And I am still processing it.

I read on, where Jesus, at the end of the tutorial, described what welcoming looks like. Internally, it means to lose your own life. To set aside yourself in your embrace of Jesus, and to fling wide your arms to welcome the least of these. Just copy Jesus, who was the most, yet he welcomed us, the least.

To find your life, you must lose your life—and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. (Matthew 10:39)

And then there’s the external function of welcome. You do not need a pinterest account to get this right. Cozy is not intricate or difficult. In fact, you don’t even need a home at all to pursue the high calling of cozy.

All you need is a cup of cold water, which I think may be euphemistic for just about anything you have that someone might need. Anything basic and necessary and pure, in that it does not need to be dressed up or complicated. Talk about embarrassingly simple.

And anyone who has given so much as a cup of cold water to one of the little ones, because he is My disciple, I tell you, that person will be well rewarded.
(Matthew 10:42)

There is a group of teenaged Nepali boys who came by our house several times a week this summer to ask if we had a “chob” for them. We hired them a few times to wash cars or pull weeds. The result was that they came almost every day and, even if we didn’t have a chob, they would ask for water. I’d pull out red plastic Solo cups and give them ice water. They’d chug it and ask for a refill. Then I’d send them on their way, their cups sloshing cold water and their heads nodding at my reminder not to litter our street.

After a while, these almost daily interruptions got really annoying. I was working. I was busy. Red Solo cups cost money. Today I see that, in this seemingly innocuous attempt at time management, I was well on my way to becoming an “ancient pit of inhospitality.” By the end of July, the boys caught my drift and quit coming.

And today my heart is broken over what I lost. I am asking God to make me cozy again.

The Chief of Excitement

My friends at Plywood People do much more than let me write from time to time on their blog… they inspire, educate, and encourage me to do good and to do it better. Not too long from now, I’ll post a link to the official Refuge Coffee website, but for now enjoy reading a little snippet of how it’s going. Start here and jump on over to Plywood…

I am a newly minted CEO. Sorta.

This is superbly weird, and if you knew me, you might think so too. I’d rather jump on the trampoline with my grandkids than look at a spreadsheet. My mantra is “I see something shiny.” I can barely string two linear thoughts together. I’m a writer, for real. Being a writer gives me excuses to create more margin for myself than any self-respecting CEO would make for him or herself, and, besides, writers are flaky. Fact.

So how on earth did I get to be a CEO? I’ll tell you, but I may shout “Squirrel!” along the way, so bear with me. Oh, and for your information, let’s call me the Chief Excitement Officer instead of the Executive kind. Excitement may be, after all, my greatest gift…

Continue reading here.

Magical Mystery Tour

This is not a photography-driven blog. And most days I’m fine with that. But when my friend Tina from The Long Farewell sent me pictures from the afternoon we spent together in our Clarkston neighborhood, I found the images eclipsed my ability to write words about them. So, I’ve curated just a few to share with you here.

The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour lures listeners with a druggy sounding promise to “Roll up, roll up for the mystery tour… The mystery tour is hoping to take you away.” Well, I’m hoping to take you in, into the lovely mash-up of Arabic, African, and Asian cultures just .7 miles outside Atlanta’s 285. Into the lives or our neighbors who have escaped unimaginable violence and oppression.

You probably already know about my Somalian friend, Amina, who lost her husband and ten children to extremists in her homeland, who was left for dead by those same extremists, and who was discovered by a Red Cross worker and evacuated, in a coma, to Burundi, then Kenya, then here. Amina, who is the granddaughter of a tribal King and daughter of the king of Kings. Amina, who more than anyone else, connects us with our neighbors. She’s pictured here in one of a string of colorful Somali shops near us.

Amina sets up shop most days in front of our local grocery store, Thriftown. On the day of our shoot, we ran into Boris, a Yugoslavian refugee who escaped Milosevic’s regime only to get stuck here in alcoholism and mental anguish. Amina bought him groceries then told him to “go away.” Firm, but kind, that Amina.

I’ve yet to go to an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, which I’ve heard can take literally all afternoon and evening. But I’m jockeying for an invitation. Several of the shops near Thriftown sell the accoutrements for grinding, roasting, and serving.

Amina, Tina, and I ate lunch at Katmandu Kitchen, chatted up the Clarkston mayor, Ted Terry, then Tina and I left Amina with an Emory student who is one of her vast array of friends (Amina is a human social media machine), and went to the unjustifiably-named Marquis Parc Apartments next door. First, we stopped to see Irene and Bosombo and their children: Dorcas, Deborah, Miriam, Esther, who Dorcas calls her “white sister,” and baby Emmanuel.
We then visited the dust bowl (a filled-in pool that serves as a playground area) and ran into a few friends to round out our day…
I’ve given up wishing for words. But I do wish I could be self indulgent and show you more pictures… I’ve got them if you want to see them. But for now, Namaste.