Sacred Meals and Invitations

This morning I slowly opened my eyes to bright sunlight. As I lay in bed, still sleepy, I reflected back on the last few days and on Thanksgiving, just hours before.

A dear friend arrived on Tuesday from Ghana to stay with us. The first time she ever came to the United States was as an 18-year-old from Karachi, Pakistan, here to attend college in Western Massachusetts. She arrived just days after the 9/11 attacks that sent the world into a spin and redefined wars and border crossings. Mariam has now lived in multiple countries with her family, and writes well on what it is to be globally mobile. She is the epitome of what it looks like to learn and grow across cultures and communicate across boundaries.

Her arrival sparked stories and conversations that have been lying dormant in my heart. These global connections are more than friendships – they are opportunities to share stories, they are ways to promote understanding, they are journeys into our hearts and what is really going on. Every morning we have curled up on my couch with homemade lattes, savoring the sweetness and time. These hidden stories don’t make sense to everyone, but they do to Mariam.

Yesterday we worked together to prepare a Thanksgiving feast. Traditional turkey and stuffing blended with Palak Paneer and parathas with a goal to make sure every guest was suitably full to the brim with food and thanks.

It was an eclectic group of us around the table. In today’s climate, some may consider it a dangerous Thanksgiving. An American raised in Pakistan and an American raised in the military feasted with friends from Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, and Iran. There were no walls and there was no talk of walls.

There were stories topped with cranberry sauce, thankful hearts accompanied by whipped cream. There were linguistic comparisons and nostalgia over favorite foods from passport countries, there were missed references and laughter to make your stomach hurt.

There is something sacred about sharing a meal. In the liturgy of our faith tradition we experience the bread and the wine, the body and the blood in remembrance of a meal. But the sacred act of sharing a meal continues when we, equipped through the liturgy, go out into the world. That is why the meals that Christ shared while on earth feel so important. As humans, our need for food and water, the reaching across a table to share these with simple words like “please pass the bread” bind us together in mysterious and hopeful ways. Author Leslie Verner says “A meal equalizes, for as we dine together, we lift the same utensils to our lips and touch the same bread to our tongues.”

There are times when I lose hope for this country, land of my birth and my passport. I wonder how a place with so many resources and such abundance can collectively operate without generosity, with an ethos of scarcity instead of abundance. I think about the lessons I have learned about hospitality and invitations, living out of abundance from the land of my childhood, and the lands that I have loved and lived in as an adult. I lose hope for myself, for how quickly I get caught up in the pervading attitude of “me first” and others last. I feel anger toward the fact that in a worldwide crisis of displacement and refugees, a nation with room to spare has stalled resettlement.

But when I think about yesterday, about a room full of people from around the world who gathered with laughter and joy for a shared meal, I know that’s not the whole story. I know there is more. I know that there are many opening up their homes and making room for more; many who hate walls and want to build bridges.

And I am convinced that inviting others into our homes is one of the most hopeful acts of resistance possible.

We are going into a season of excess and abundance – my prayer is that we – that I – channel that abundance into loving well and serving more, that I channel it into invitations and hospitality.

The ending paragraph of the book Invited is nothing less than inspired. Throughout the book we see an invitation to a different way of living and being, a way of living out of abundance not scarcity. So I close with her words on this day after thanksgiving, inviting all of us into another way to live.

Lord, pry the film from our eyes, the scales from our skin, the shield and sword from our hands. Equip us to notice the stranger and the strange. Embolden us to be the stranger and the strange. Pull us into the flow of your Spirit at work in the world, infusing our ordinary days with your extraordinary presence. Hold open our eyes to to admire your wonders and delight in your mysteries. Fill us with gratitude for the paths you’ve paved for us, and all the ways you’ve proven that you are Emmanuel, God with us.

Motivate us to always invite, because you never stop inviting. Inspire us to welcome, because you lavish generosity on us and promise to refill the gifts we give away.

Come Lord Jesus.

Let us live like invited ones.

Epilogue of Invited by Leslie Verner


Hospitality – and a Trust Fund

Hospitality—and a Trust Fund by Robynn. Today concludes the miniseries on Hospitality. If you haven’t had a chance to read through them, you may want to go back to the beginning. It’s been a great series, rich in wisdom and practical advice.

olive oil

Tucked into the middle of a book, smack dab in the middle of the Old Testament, outlining the epic adventures of the Kings, there is a tiny tale of humble hospitality that has always captured my imagination. God had made a commitment to keep the prophet Elijah fed during a devastating drought. As the story goes, Elijah arrives at a village and happens upon a widow collecting firewood just outside the village. He asks her, rather brazenly I might add—although he does say, “please”, for a drink of water. Just as she is going to get the water, thinking he’s at some sort of eatery, he changes his order, and asks her to bring some bread too. She turns to him, probably a little annoyed—or at least I would be—and swears that she only has enough flour and oil to make one more meal for her and her son. She certainly doesn’t have enough to even entertain the idea of feeding this additional guest too.  Elijah responds with a challenge to show hospitality even when the resources are low. He tells her that if she’ll make a little bread for him first, and then use whatever leftover ingredients she has for her small family, she will never run out of flour and oil as long as the drought lasts. Here’s the part in the story where the widow and I are nothing alike! She did just as Elijah suggested. I would have balked, mumbled, told him to take off. But the widow followed his advice. She made Elijah some bread first and then she made some for her and her son. True to what the prophet had said the oil and the flour never ran out.  “There was always enough flour and olive oil left in the containers, just as the Lord had promised through Elijah.” (I Kings 17:16)

Last week I posed the question to my Facebook friends, “What’s the best advice you would give on offering hospitality?” The responses were so overwhelming and so rich in content. Those insights inspired the last couple of blog posts I’ve written on hospitality. One friend Kendra Hildebrand, who once, years ago, was in our home as a guest, addressed the issue of expense. It costs money to have people in your home. Even if you prepare simple dishes, or simply set out cheese and bread, those are things you could have used to feed your family. How will the grocery budget stretch to include feeding additional mouths? I love Kendra’s response to her own query:

             I don’t know how widespread this thought is, but hospitality does get to be expensive. Sometimes we have to wait to buy groceries until we get paid, even when there are things we need. I’ve seen this so many times in other counties we’ve visited–whatever the financial situation of the host, it doesn’t matter, they give the best (to their guests). Joel and I have adopted this mindset as best we can, and God always provides a way to give our best.
One time, two weeks before Christmas holidays we had company over. We basically used whatever food we had in the house. A large unexpected expense came up and we couldn’t afford to get more groceries. A couple days later some friends came and dropped off a large bin and a large box of food from the food bank–enough to last us two weeks. (It was) humbling and emotional to say the least. We’ve never looked back. Whenever we feel a prompt from the Holy Spirit to have people over we take it. I think hospitality is also a showing of thanks to God and trust in him. 

Kendra’s story is a modern day version of the widow’s at Zarephath. Kendra and Joel took God at his word. They generously invited others to share the last of their oil and flour and God provided for them.

As followers of Jesus, I don’t think we’re given much choice. Generosity is the only response of a heart so generously cared for. Stinginess is not hard to cultivate. It’s not difficult to think only of your self. I do it all the time. Generosity on the other hand is “other” worldly. It’s not natural.

Today in an email sent out from our church one of the pastors had written this:

            When we are convinced of God’s generosity toward us, we have great freedom to be generous toward others. The Scriptures go to great lengths to convince us that God is more generous than we can fathom. God’s generosity was most fully manifested when He sent His one and only Son as payment for our sins. Furthermore, Paul asserts that since God didn’t spare His own Son, He will “freely give us all things.” God wants us to be convinced that He is not stingy with His gifts and His provisions for us. …When we are convinced of God’s generosity toward us, we have great freedom to be generous toward others. The closer we are to the heart of God, the more generous we will become.

Hospitality is a great way to act out our trust in God. It’s a great way to respond to his generosity to us. If money is tight the natural temptation is to hunker down; put a moratorium on all spending. Yet, the prophet, Elijah, challenged the widow to another purview, a different way of thinking about things. Give first. Be generous. Sacrifice. And then watch how God will miraculously fill your oil jug and your flour canister.

Our December was akin to Kendra and Joels. Money has been weird lately. Death and moving are expensive. Bigger houses cost more to live in. We’ve struggled to bounce back from last summer. On December 4th, after the bills were paid, we had a bank balance of $480. The month stretched long before us. And it was December. I was keenly aware that Christmas was tucked in there too.

We did what we’ve always done in those types of situations. Lowell and I looked at each other and then we looked at the birds. Jesus told his followers who were stressing about similar things: “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?  Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?” (Matt 6:25-26) It’s the type of bird watching we’re good at.

When I look back on December I’m still astounded. Everyone got Christmas presents. We ate celebratory Christmas treats! We had a turkey dinner with all the fixings. We enjoyed wonderful evenings with delicious meals with three groups of friends. My parents came to stay for two weeks. My brother and his family came for four days. I have no idea how that happened….but I think it probably has something to do with using the last of our oil and flour early in the month!  God generously met our needs. He kept the containers full!

This is the type of trust we’re asked to live out. Give. Invite in. Share. Be generous. Make sacrifices. It’s illogical, it’s irrational. It’s a strange and unusual proposition. It’s a strange and unusual provision.

Picture Credit:

Hospitality – A Humble Primer Part 2

pot with quote

Friends – today we continue with the Hospitality series by Robynn. If you missed the first part click here. We would love to hear from you in the comments. What would you add? 

  • Many of us learnt hospitality from the gracious reception we were given as expatriates living in a “foreign” land. Pakistani’s are pretty much the definition of hospitality…In what other country do you meet someone on the street, have a small gupshup (visit) with them and then get invited back to their house for food- which is of course always the best they have to offer and never what they have for themselves. (They demonstrate generous) selfless giving (FB: Emma)!
  • When you’re hosting a regular event—a meeting that meets each week, a Bible Study, a “Life Group” –don’t feel the need to always serve something to eat. In fact don’t make anything the first time. The first time people show up they are looking for patterns. If you serve a sweet treat that first time they expect it each time.  Make one the second time and they’ll be surprised and pleased. After that you can randomly make something if and when you have the inclination or the time.
  • Be honest. If you’ve had a rough day…don’t try to fake it. People see through it anyway…and honesty and transparency pave the way for others to admit they’ve had a rough day too. Vulnerability attracts people. It gives permission for others to be their true selves.
  • Intimidation muddies your anticipation with anxiety. Remember the people who are coming are regular people! They brush their teeth and spit in their sinks too. They shout at their children. They probably snore or grind their teeth. I hate to be the one to break it down for you but intimidation is really pride at its root. Humbly welcome others into your heart and into your home.
  • If you’ve already welcomed pets into your home be sure to be considerate of non-pet loving people. Do your friends have allergies? Did they grow up in cultures where domestic beasts like dogs and cats and hamsters and rats were considered unclean? Do they have secret residual childhood fears? Lock the critters in their kennels or in a basement bedroom.
  • If you’re having friends over for a meal keep it simple. Make a one pot something: soup or stew are perfect choices. A side of bread and it’s a meal! One pot meals are easy to make. They are easy to dish up. They make your guests feel relaxed and nourished. There’s a feeling of home surrounding a savoury bowl of soup. Just share what you have & enjoy each other (FB: Mae). Hospitality is more about fellowship than feasting. Bread and cheese (and chutney) can make a lovely lunch (FB: Alison). Just welcome people into your everyday life. Don’t put on a show on any front, including the food front. Be yourself. Give your guests space for themselves (FB: Angus).
  • I love what my cousin Lauralea wrote on Facebook: If you’re a nervous beginner, start by inviting those with a known gift of hospitality; not only do these gracious people have the ability to make you feel comfortable and at ease in their home, but they’ll bring it to your home as well, so that your first forays into the uncharted waters of offering hospitality will be grace-filled affairs and build your confidence and joy. Start simply. Tea and cake, soup and crackers- and it doesn’t have to be gourmet or home baked; it’s not a competition. It’s about sharing Jesus with each other. When you can relax into it, those who come to share Jesus with you will be able to relax and will meet Jesus in your home (FB: Lauralea).
  • The Arabs have it right. The guest brings light to the house. Guests are treated with honor because the fact that they want to visit you is high praise in itself (FB: Tim).
  • Hospitality can be a gift of service not necessarily offered in one’s home. It can be welcoming a new person at church (or) preparing coffee for an event (behind the scenes) to set a comfortable atmosphere (FB: Cynthia).
  • If possible, when preparing for a dinner or party, do all or most of the work ahead of time; this allows you to leave the kitchen and be involved and enjoy your visitors (FB: Anita). However, if you’re running behind, set the table so that when the guests arrive, they know they were expected and that there is the promise of food to come (FB: Mary).
  • Turn up the heat or turn down the AC depending on the time of year. When your guest are freezing or sweating, they don’t want to hang around. Turn the thermostat back to what you are used to after they leave (FB: Anita).
  • Be mindful of guests from different cultural backgrounds. Offer Pakistani and Indian guests something three or four times. Their culture demands they refuse the first several times. They don’t want to be rude. They don’t want to trouble you. Persistence in asking is important for the conscientious host. There are several cultures where leave taking is a kin to a tv mini series! It’s dramatic and stretched out, involving asking permission to take their leave and a long belabored goodbye at the door. Apparently in Ghana the host walks the guest half way back to their home before saying goodbye. South Asians walk each other out to the gate.
  • There are sweet nugget verses in the Bible that speak to hospitality. My favourite is 1 Peter 4:9, “Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay.” Or Romans 12:3 “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice” Or Hebrews 13:2, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!” Notice the happy adverbs, ‘cheerfully’, eagerly! You never know who might show up!
  • A friend, that interestingly we met through hospitality, posted this excellent article! Laura was in and out of our home in India. She saw our messes—physical and emotional. Read this and see what you think:
  • When you do the work of preparing to host expected guests: making the beds, cleaning the toilets, dusting the shelves, pray for those that are on their way. Pray for their journey. Pray for their time in your home. Pray for their deep blessing. Pray for the energy to serve and the affection to love well. Ask God to use your whole family to be a source of blessing and healing and joy to your guests. Pray also for yourself and your family. If you’re tired, if you lack the vigor, if your household is out of sorts—ask for grace, ask for The Ever Present Helper to show up, to offer His own hospitality to those who are on their way, and to those who already live in your home. Not all situations turn out the way you want, but it’s always an opportunity for God to stretch us and teach us something about ourselves or about Him. (FB quote: Leslie; FB inspired: Leslie and Shannon). And then later if it’s appropriate, pray again, together with your guests before they leave. From our own experience, taking time to pray with guests before they leave is the most meaningful part of the evening for us. When we forget, it’s the first thing I regret (FB: Mary).
  • I was reminded by my friend Nancy of Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out includes an entire section entitled From Hostility to Hospitality. I highly commend it to you as another resource to transform the heart in the area of hospitality.
  • In response to my post entitled, Hospitality–A recovered gift, a reader’s friend offered to send me her book, Table Life-Savoring the Hospitality of Jesus in your Home. While I haven’t yet read it I do offer it to you as another resource.

The world gets more and more complicated it seems. Time is zipping past at faster and faster speeds. We need friendships of depth. We need community to sustain us all. Hospitality creates a place for that. Try it. Take a risk. Invite a friend over for coffee. Invite someone over for a simple meal. You’ll be glad you did!

I want to close with a true to life story of dear friends AJ and Alex, who moved a year or two ago from our vibrant community here in Manhattan (Kansas) to a more small town/rural area in also Kansas. The people didn’t necessarily rush out to welcome them. Hospitality wasn’t proffered. Here’s what AJ wrote: We have been faced with re-defining (hospitality) since moving to a place where it’s not practiced or sought after. When we moved here, you never would have known, except for the small town gossip train chuggin’ by. We have just recently started to be more “hospitable” thinking that if they don’t offer it to us, then we’ll offer it to them.

Hospitality is a state-of-mind, a practice of transparency in living and an act of constant availability. It doesn’t have to be someone sleeping on your couch (although it could be), it can be a great conversation on the street that leaves someone feeling reassured about life and welcomed by humanity.

Hospitality is complex because people are complex. It’s never the same from moment to moment and I think the ever -changing atmosphere is an incredible challenge given to us by our Great, Kind, WELCOMING and Loving God.

Reader’s we love that you have engaged with these pieces on hospitality – what stories, advice, or thoughts can you share? 

Picture Credit: word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

Hospitality – A Humble Primer


Hospitality—a humble primer by Robynn

A couple of weeks ago I received a kind email. A new friend at church had written honestly with some trepidation.

Hi Robynn!

I was hoping to catch up with you on Sunday but got pulled into the nursery.  I would love to chat with you sometime about small groups and see if you have any advice for me!  We are starting a new group and we have never been in a leadership position before.  You just seem like you would be so good at it. You are so warm, gracious, and humble and I am curious if you have any words of wisdom for us.  We are so excited, yet a little nervous too!  I hope you are all right, back in the swing of things, after the holidays. We are up and at it again too!  Never a dull moment!


If you read my previous piece on Hospitality-A Recovered Gift you can imagine my surprise at this email from my new friend Chris. She had no idea of the hospitality angst, guilt and inadequacies I’ve battled these past seven and a half years. As baffling as that was, it was also comforting to know that these things that seem so glaringly obvious to me remain hidden to others. Perhaps I don’t seem as strange as I feel half the time.

Chris’ question was very specific.  It got me thinking. It strikes me we do need a primer of sorts to re-establish the wonder and joy of community that happens in the welcome of hospitality. I sat down to think about how to offer hospitality, how to host a meeting, a group of friends, a gathering of hearts.  I recalled some of the lessons I learned in Pakistan growing up surrounded by a people that are renowned for their hospitality. I’ve tried to remember what I learned in India, taught by Indians and fellow foreigners. I called to mind our years of leading team meetings in South Asia. I poked around some on the internet. I asked my friends on facebook for their suggestions. Their responses were overwhelming! Together, we’ve written the book on sincere simple hospitality! Because I didn’t want to lose any of these gems, I’ve divided it up over the next couple of days. Please add your suggestions and wisdom and experience to the comment section. We, all of us, have a lot to learn from one another. 

  1. Hospitality according to Merriam Webster means, “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests; hospitable treatment. The activity of providing food, drinks, etc. for people who are the guests.”
  2. Be yourself and let your spouse be himself. There is warmth in your personality. Let that be the thing that welcomes your guests. Hospitality is not about (your) physical surroundings or what you are serving but about the attitude and atmosphere created by the host (FB: Diann).
  3. Respond to the people that show up. What do they need? True hospitality is being sensitive to what your guest needs at the moment they are in your home. Some need to be treated like royalty, some like family. Obviously this is easier one on one than one on twenty! (FB: Marcia). Give your guests everything you would want or need for a memorable night(s) away from your regular routine. Be helpful, be warm, be compassionate, be attentive (FB: Catherine). Stay people focused and LISTEN and LOOK (FB: Ruth).
  4. Whether one lives in a mud hut, government subsidized housing, or palatial palace, the practice of true hospitality is simply the genuine warmth of acceptance from one to another. Opening your hearth and home to others is giving the best of yourself to others. Let’s not confuse hospitality with entertainment (FB: Bettie)
  5. It is important to remember the difference between Hospitality and Entertaining. I don’t entertain. I’m not sure I even know what entertaining is but I suspect entertaining is more formal, more intended to impress. Entertainment is production based; hospitality is people based. Entertaining is offering a performance; hospitality is offering your heart (FB: Marilyn).
  6. This Pushtu proverb says it nicely, suggesting that true hospitality is available in even the humblest of homes: “Let it be only an onion, but let it be gven with love” (FB: Jonathan).
  7. Don’t stress about a clean house. You are the reason people are coming! This isn’t a realtor’s Open House. They aren’t coming so they could get a sneak peak inside your house! My friend Yesenia is on to something, More cleaning gets done in the five minutes before company arrives than all weekend long. And by cleaning, I mean putting stuff in closets and spraying Febreze. (FB: Yesenia) Dust: It’s what gives a home that warm fuzzy feeling. (FB: Susanne) Your guest can only be as comfortable in your house as you are with your house. (FB: Dan) Another friend, Anita, shared how her home was a comfortable place for teenagers to hang out, primarily because it wasn’t perfect, There is nothing wrong with a dirty or messy house as long as your pride does not keep you from welcoming others in. If you can’t bring yourself to invite a person at your door to come inside, clean you house, or better yet, WELCOME THEM INTO YOUR MESS. I have discovered through the years from our guests that they felt more welcome because the house wasn’t perfect and I sat down for a visit anyway. Another upside…my teenagers friends almost always wanted to hang out here; the kids later told me it was because they felt relaxed and comfortable, not worrying about everything being put back in its exact place (FB: Anita). Enjoy it, relax, if you feel stressed so will your guests; if your house has to be perfect, they won’t feel like they can stop by anytime (FB: Tressa).
  8. Welcoming others seems to be the heart of hospitality. Welcoming is accepting with pleasure the arrival of another. Hospitality means making others feel welcome, loved, and safe in your home (FB: Carolyn). I learned from a pastor’s wife that my home wasn’t really mine – it was God’s and He loves to share His home with others – I simply get the blessing of offering His home to others. Anytime I stopped in to see one of my Turkish friends – I am ALWAYS given something – tea, nuts, cookies – whatever they have – they might even leave me there and run out to the store to buy something to serve me – I always feel welcome. That’s a big part of it–helping others feel welcome (FB: Becky).
  9. Hospitality seems to be a condition of the heart. We move over. We “make room” (FB: Nancy). Many of my facebook friends commented on this: Hospitality is offering your heart (FB: Marilyn). Hospitality is having an open heart, an open door, an open fridge (FB: Amy). It’s an honest gift of heart, acceptance, and comfort (FB:Kendra). I’m always convicted that hospitality it is not just in our homes, it’s in our hearts wherever we are. Hospitality is a broken honest soul being open and available to another broken soul. That can happen anywhere (FB: Wendy)! I think Anne Voskamp hits the nail on the head – “Living radical isn’t about where you live — it’s about how you love.” (FB: Al)
  10. “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” ~Mother Teresa
  11. My friend Allison noted that the entire process should be loving, If the only part that is enjoyable is when the guests are in the house than the whole point is missed by (your children who’ve watched you plan and get ready). It should be a joyful time of preparation, not a stressful one. (Only then will the) attitude of hospitality be passed along to your children (FB: Allison).
  12. All through scripture we’re given demonstrations on how to treat the stranger among us. Having been a stranger most of my life I know that hospitality is one of the truest and warmest ways to include the outsider. Allowing/inviting ANYONE in, strangers as well as friends, and making sure they are comfortable (i.e. water and a drink and feeling welcome to share your world with you as well as share their world (FB: Colleen).
  13. I always make tea and coffee available — a drink station of sorts— hearts are melted over hot drinks. It’s a scientific fact! I love how my friend Julie elaborates on this. Long ago someone explained to me that the origins of hospitality came from Christian history. In early Christian Times, believers were encouraged to make pilgrimages to many holy places in the Middle East. Hospitalias were places where travelers could find care and rest. It’s the origins of hospitals where medical treatment could be given. So when hospitality is mentioned I like to think of it as opportunity to bring rest and perhaps healing to another soul. A cup of coffee and conversation goes a long way to bring a mend of sorts (FB: Julie)
  14. Hospitality is being available to listen to another’s soul. Do they need a cup of coffee or a glass of water to feel at peace, then offer those with joy. Sit, cook or play with their kids with them. Be present,that is the best thing you can offer (FB: Jenni).
  15. Hospitality certainly includes the ability to be interruptible and let go of control (FB: Ali). I think this might be the fear hiding behind the excuses we fabricate to not offer hospitality. It feels, and in many ways is, risky.
  16. However, there are blessings hidden in the shadows of hospitality. Be spontaneous. Keep your eye out for opportunities and go with it. Let people in. It blesses you, it blesses them and the memories from it go a long way (FB: Karis).

What would you add? And be sure to stay tuned for Part two on Monday!

Hospitality—a changed fuse, a restored gift


Hospitality—a changed fuse, a restored gift by Robynn. Follow Robynn on Twitter @RobynnBliss and read the rest of her posts here! 

Hospitality is a dying art here in the West. Martha Stewart and Pinterest have made simple gatherings with friends seem too small or insignificant. There is some invisible pressuring force that perfection is a prerequisite to hospitality. If our homes aren’t impeccably decorated, if our housecleaning isn’t at a professional level, if our cooking isn’t gourmet we dare not invite someone in. This says nothing of the personal pressure we feel. Our children must be great conversationalists, extreme servers, polite passers. Our spouses must be engaging. Our marriages should seem as flawless as the table center, as wrinkle-free as the tablecloth.

When we lived in South Asia we continuously had people in and out of our home. There were those who popped in for a cup of coffee and a conversation. There were others who came and settled into our guest room for weeks at a time. If Lowell met travellers out in the city who seemed to need a place to unwind, or the comfort of a home cooked meal, he didn’t hesitate to issue them an invitation.  Colleagues, teammates, friends often joined us around our supper table. A tray of tea, a plate of biscuits or cookies, a bowl of spicy numkeen snacks, cane chairs under the mango tree were all the ingredients for many an impromptu tea party! We had this wonderful roof with a broad expansive view of the Ganges river. That was also the perfect spot for coffee, or later in the evening, with the sky darkened and the stars out, for drinks with friends under the Indian moon.

Somehow in the move back to North America I lost my capacity for hospitality. As I think on it now, I wonder if it wasn’t a combination of burn out, deep weariness and culture shock. At the beginning I was simply too tired. And then I was too intimidated. I had no clue what the rules were here. How did you invite someone over? What needed to happen for it to be a successful moment? What food should be served? On what plates? What time? What date? It seemed too high of a mountain to climb. It seemed to risky. I couldn’t manage it. My years of hosting seemed over. My hospitality fuse seemed blown.

In the first seven years we’ve been back I can count on one hand the number of people we had into our home—and those mostly family and friends from our India days. I knew what the expectations were for those friends. I knew how to do that type of hospitality.

I’m not sure what changed. Suddenly last Fall I had the random idea that I might like to have some people over for dinner. There’s a man in our community, a teacher, a father of two sons—one grown, one yet at home, a kind-hearted man, with whom Lowell and I have both enjoyed conversation. Bless his heart; unbeknownst to him, he became our first victim! I sent him an email and asked if he and his son would like to join us for dinner. He seemed pleased by the invitation. That felt like a good sign. I forged ahead. I planned a simple menu that I thought his son would appreciate. I cooked the food and set the table. It didn’t seem terribly different from a normal night. I was doing what I knew to do. When Roger and his son showed up they brought flowers. My stomach betrayed the confidence I feigned. I pretended we did this all the time.

At the end of the evening I felt such joy. It had gone well. We had enjoyed stimulating conversation and wholesome food. The guests seemed to feel welcomed and valued. I had done it! And it hadn’t destroyed me! My unease and discomfort were made smaller. I had a growing sense of accomplishment and pleasure.

In December we had our youth pastor’s family of six for dinner. As the pasta bowl was passed around I couldn’t stop smiling. There was community for supper and happiness for dessert. It felt right and good. Not long afterwards we hosted a couple from Chicago, with their two young children, his sister and their sixteen year old Pakistani exchange student! That was an incredible evening. Less than a week after that we had dear friends from Louisiana and New York join us for supper. Our friend Roger and his son came too. Looking back on that evening still brings me joy! We laughed and told stories. We talked about books and good movies. We shared thoughts on politics and Kansas, on spiritual direction and liturgical services. It was a wonderful night.

Last Saturday evening we hosted our first party since leaving India. For those who knew us there these admissions will likely seem fictional and untrue! Those years in India were punctuated by many a celebration and party: birthdays and Thanksgivings and Christmas. We hosted many such events and we did it with joy! But none since we returned to this side of the sea. Last Saturday I felt extremely nervous! We were hosting a Corner Gas party for a small group of friends that have come to enjoy the Canadian sit-com set at a small gas station and restaurant at the heart of a small town, Dog River, in the vast Saskatchewan prairie. The show hasn’t run for several years, but they recently released a movie! We ordered it on line! It seemed like the perfect excuse for a party.

I made my to do list several days before the party. Clean the bathrooms, sweep the kitchen, move the TV, change the kitty litter, vacuum the living room. Make brownies, make layered dip, set out carrot sticks and chips. On Saturday morning Lowell suggested we should have chili cheese dogs (it’s the food of choice of one of the main characters on the show). I nearly panicked. I didn’t know how to make those. And they weren’t on my lists. Lowell slowly talked me through the “recipe”. But how much chili for each sausage? How much cheese? What were the ratios? Lowell calmly offered to be in charge of this last minute addition to the menu.

Our friends all came—good people with years of shared stories and shared snacks! We loaded up our plates, crowded around the tv and watched our movie. It was an enjoyable evening sprinkled with laughter. It was a good time.

Later I confessed to my mother in law how very nervous I felt hosting this party. She was surprised. She reminded me of the dinner parties and the gatherings of people I’ve recently hosted. Some how the party felt different to me. But she was right, really it was an extension of this recovered gift, this restored grace.

To me December’s gatherings and January’s party seem like marks of healing. I’ve unpacked another piece of me. I’ve found again, a part of my true self, the other self, that lived far away, and I’ve brought her here. I’ve dusted her off, and I’ve found, much to my delight, that she still fits. It feels right and good and whole. It brings me joy.

Kindle edition of Between Worlds is available now and FREE for the next 2 days! Get your copy downloaded today! Includes bonus material of a discussion guide. Click HERE NOW!

Picture Credit: