“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”
Matthew 5:35-40 (NIV)
As some of you have already discovered, my family really enjoys having folks over to our home. Sadly, I think assumptions have been made that are untrue: I am not Martha Stewart. My house isn’t always tidy. As well, I don’t always make a home cooked meal to serve my guests.
I have come along way in the last 10 years. I used to fuss. I used to clean, clean and clean some more. I used to stress myself out over what to cook and all the preparations of the meal. Then, I remembered what I had learned from my mom. Well, let me share what I learned with you.
My folks live in a very modest home in rural North Louisiana. In order to make it a tad bit bigger, they enclosed the carport, which to this day has cement floors that are covered by area rugs. The walls, which I remember helping frame, as well as insulate, are covered with a medium-colored wood paneling, along with family pictures, framed inspirational art and my dad’s diplomas. A great big, red brick fireplace with a large hearth and mantle serves as the centerpiece of the room.
I remember spending a lot of time in this room, as it was the center of activity in our home. If the power went out, we camped in the “den” since the fireplace was there, and that is how we stayed warm. I remember Momma cooking many pots of soup on the wood stove, as well as cornbread.
Oh, sure, she had an electric range/oven. However, in the wintertime in Louisiana, contrary to what you might think, it’s cold. If she had the wood stove filled with wood and a roaring fire blazing, she might as well make the most of it and cook soup.
It was always my favorite room. We watched TV in this room, played boardgames, and entertained guests.
And guests were always present. You see, where I come from, you don’t need an invitation to stop by for a spell to visit, or just shoot the breeze with someone. In fact, if my parents were working in the yard, you can better believe that just about everyone would stop by to chat, drink a glass of iced tea or cup of coffee, and enjoy whatever my mom had baked that week; she was always baking.
It’s just how it was; actually, how it still is. And I miss it.
I really miss it. Our lives have gotten so busy. We have gotten so independent and self-sufficient. Sometimes, I wonder, “Do we really know what real, authentic relationships are? Have we ever really experienced one?” And, “Do we really see all that we have as tools to steward and share with others?”
Oh, sure our calendars are full of events and activity, we are constantly around people. Yet, are we really experiencing community by offering hospitality to others, using these opportunities as an avenue to experience meaningful relationships? Investing in the lives of others? Sharing what we have with others? No matter how much or how little.
Or are we afraid that our homes aren’t big enough. Our cooking not good enough. Or our lives not perfect enough. Trust me, I’ve had the same doubts and fears.
How does all of that relate to “Hospitality Made Simple”? Well, I learned a great lesson from my mom several years ago. I was about ten years old, I am guessing. As I shared, my folks enclosed a double carport into a Family Den. As the renovations were nearing completion, along with the budget drying up, a lady from the community stopped by for something. She walked into the almost-completed room and said, “Oh, it looks good, but I am sure you have more to do. Right?”
My mom said, “Well, actually, we are just about finished. We just have a couple more things to do.”
The lady was shocked, as the renovations in her mind were far from complete. She asked, “Aren’t you going to carpet? What about paint? And you should really consider polishing the brick steps.”
How did my mom handle this? Well, like any good Southern lady, she kept her composure, but very matter-of-factly said, “Well, I figure folks are coming to see me, not my house. So, if my house isn’t good enough for them, they can come in the front door and walk out the back door!” Oh. Yes. She. Did.
I was proud of my mom that day. Not because of what she said to this lady, but because she got it. And, in turn, I got it: hospitality isn’t about impressing folks, keeping up with the Joneses, or trying to be a pseudo-Martha Stewart. It’s about sharing what we have with others, investing in their lives and creating community with those in our spheres of influence.
What else did I learn from Momma?
Always have something prepared. Have something baked or purchased, if you don’t bake. (My trick: keep cookie dough mixed up and in the freezer, or pre-package dry ingredients into plastic bags, which are easily combined with the wet ingredients and baked, in order to serve my company freshly baked cookies, bars or brownies.)
Keep some homemade soup in the freezer, which can easily be thawed, heated and served with a freshly baked pan of Southern Cornbread, or crackers. Or open up a few cans of soup, add some frozen veggies, toss in some dried herbs and it will taste like it’s been simmering for hours.
Purchase a coffee pot, even if you don’t drink coffee, which my mom doesn’t. My husband and I have coffee covered, as we are “coffee snobs”.
Keep on hand a variety of teas and cocoa mixes. This is really nice for kids. My kids LOVE cocoa or herbal tea.
Keep it simple. Don’t stress yourself out when you have invited folks over, or when you have unexpected guests.
As well, I think of my in-laws, who now live in rural, Northwest Montana. I love going there to visit them. Aside from just being a relaxing location, I greatly appreciate their hospitality, not only to their children and families, but to all who might knock on their door. You see, my in-laws have “backdoor guests”. I LOVE IT!
One gentleman and his wife come to visit quiet often. Whenever my mother-in-law sees them pull up, she turns on the espresso maker and makes creamy, delicious latte. As well, she always has some sort of treat to share with her visitors. It’s all spontaneous. In a minute, she can have a meal put together, and it’s always delicious. She and my father-in-law are two of the most generous people that I know and their home is welcoming, warm and inviting.
So, taking what I learned from my folks, as well as my in-laws, my family and I have really tried to carry on that Spirit of Simple Hospitality.
Weekly, I have about 20 music students over for lessons. As well, I’d say at least three, if not four or five, times a month, we have folks over for a meal—-friends from the community, folks from church, family members, etc. Not to mention the neighborhood kids, who come over to play several times a week.
I am not the ‘Hostess with the Mostess’. Trust me. I work. I home school my kids. I run a business out of my home. Martha Stewart doesn’t live here. I am not an off-the-charts extrovert (I need my alone time to function.) Yet, I desire to open up my home and share with others. I can only do this because I have discovered “Hospitality Made Simple.” Seen it in action. And implemented it into my life.
For instance, take this week: At the spur-of-the-moment, we invited friends over for dinner. Actually, my most amazing husband offered to watch a friend’s children (Five kids. Seven total, including our children), so she and I could attend a meeting.
I thought, “Why not have them over for dinner? It just makes sense, since they’ll be bringing the kids around dinnertime.”
Now, I could have stressed myself out, but I realized that this was my friend. She wasn’t coming over to be impressed. She was coming over to see me and my family. So, what did I feed 13 people? We had take-out pizza. She brought a salad and a soda. We served it on paper plates with paper napkins and paper cups.
It was good.
Hospitality Made Simple
Next installment, we will discuss, “I was a stranger and you invited me in…”