walking into target is rarely an occasion for me. i’m typically in a hurry, ready to grab what i need and go. tonight, however, was different. rushing through the parking lot i looked up and caught the eye of a friend i hadn’t seen in quite some time. as soon as she recognized me she lit up and ran to hug me. literally. she ran. we had a really wonderful (all too brief) time of catching up on some basics and then it was (all too soon) time to say goodbye. in response to my “it is sooooo nice to see you” her husband responded, “it is so nice to be seen.” we laughed and hugged our goodbyes and went our separate ways. later, as i walked back to my car, i realized i was still smiling. it’s been a complicated season and i’m a complicated person (who isn’t) so i never know for sure how people will feel when they see me. cristi’s response to me, however, left no doubt. she lit up. she ran to me. she held my gaze and didn’t let me avoid answering her questions about me. she saw me. in so doing she, quite literally, welcomed me. all of me.

this experience is convicting to me and causes me to consider how i welcome others. in person. on the phone. via email. or text. 

brene brown says that one of the best gifts a parent can give a child is to simply light up when the child enters a room. this could apply anywhere. the best gift a partner might give could be to light up when their partner arrives home from work. or a run. or a nap. the best gift a disgruntled caller could give the customer service rep might be a lightness in their voice. a child could answer their phone in a voice that says, “i welcome your communication” when their parent calls rather than sounding as though they are barely conscious. actually listening for the answer to “how are you” might be an offering. it is, however, so painstakingly difficult to give such gifts.

welcoming others requires effort. it also requires vulnerability.

while i’m quite confident that cristi’s response to seeing me was automatic and authentic, it was also risky. i could have made a “you’re crazy” expression and postured for a quick, dismissive side hug. her husband and daughter could have teased her for her squeal and unabashed excitement. it’s vulnerable to fully welcome someone. you often have no idea what you’ll receive in return. 

what if i run to you and you turn from me? what if i greet you with the cheeriest of voices and you roll your eyes? what if i welcome you graciously and i can tell you have no interest in sharing time or space? what if i initiate and you never respond?

welcoming others without regard for what we will get in return is costly. too often we’re more concerned with how we will be seen than with how we will see those we encounter. we edit and posture and position ourselves. we weigh the possible outcomes and offer up only as much enthusiasm as is “warranted,” making sure we don’t give more than we might receive back. in all, we’re too preoccupied with our own self consciousness and how we might look to authentically welcome others.

we all love to watch others be welcomed wholeheartedly. we can’t look away from reunions at airports, banners in lawns welcoming babies or soldiers home, or bold declarations of love on youtube. last week i cried when a teen ager yelled out from the silence of a waiting crowd, “that’s my sister!” before her drum corp took the field for a very formal performance. what must it have felt like for him to yell from a hushed and full grand stand and what must it felt like for her to hear his voice? i am guessing that the last thing on either of their minds was how he looked as he yelled.

what might it take for each of us to forego our self conscious editing to welcome others boldly, meaningfully, and “loudly,” thinking not of how we will look but of how the other will feel? if you need to practice, i invite you to practice with me...i will receive your welcome and welcome you in return. fully. with running abandon.