Practice hospitality. - Romans 12:13b
How do you define a good time? Last weekend, Don and I invited some friends over for the three F's: fun, food, and fellowship. All of our friends and family live more than an hour away, so when they forfeit a Saturday and a half tank of gas to visit us, we appreciate it. We enjoyed grilled hamburgers for dinner and homemade pie for dessert, played board games (including the updated version of Clue we received for Christmas), and engaged in conversation inspired by The Complete Book of Questions. Don and I often use the book to pass the time during long car rides, but it is also a great conversation starter for group gatherings, especially since the questions range from light and simple to deeply personal and spiritual matters.
I had to think for a few minutes when it was my turn to answer, "What is your idea of a good time?" I am probably a little unusual in the fact that I can have a good time organizing closets, but my sincere answer to the question was simply: "This." I love being a hostess, feeding people, playing games, and talking with friends and family. In preschool we called it "playing house;" in high school we called it out "hanging out." Now a grown-up combination of the two is my definition of "a good time."
The same day, I finished reading Passionate Housewives Desperate for God by Jennie Chancey and Stacy McDonald. If you have not read the book already, I highly recommend that you do so. (And if you have read it, go read it again!) Besides dispelling the myths of Christian feminism and reinforcing my beliefs that a woman's high calling is to be the keeper of her home, the book helped me develop a more detailed vision for my home. In fact, it is aptly subtitled "Fresh Vision for the Hopeful Homemaker." While I would already consider myself a pretty passionate housewife, I was inspired with thoughts of how I can use my home to reach out to and minister to others. My home is my center of ministry, and my primary job is to bless my family in my daily work. Beyond that, I can be a blessing to others by creating a welcoming environment where guests can find the embodiment of Christian love.
Then yesterday, I was blessed with an opportunity to be on the receiving end of such hospitality. As we walked into church on Sunday morning, a couple with four young boys introduced themselves to our family. When the service ended, they approached us again and invited us over for dinner! They explained that they lived quite a ways from the church, but they were having some other couples over and would love for us to join them too. Don and I debated about accepting the invitation, but we had no real reason to decline, and we concluded that the fellowship - even with people we didn't know - would be good for the whole family. As the wife jotted down directions on the back of a bulletin, I learned that they have not just four boys, but also three teenagers: seven children! "Oh, awesome!" I exclaimed, then explained, "We'd like to have a big family some day." Yet while I feel a sense of familiarity with larger families because I read about them in books, blogs, and magazines, I can't say that I have met many here in suburban New England. I was excited to see what a real "big" family looks like and discover how they live.
A few hours later, with homemade pies nestled safely in the trunk of our compact car, we crossed the border into Rhode Island for my very first time. I am a life-long New Englander, but somehow, I have never had any reason to journey to or through the tiny Ocean State. To my delight, our destination turned out to be a small farm in the woods, complete with goats, chickens, a sheep, and a pony. Inside, the old farmhouse was brimming with people and life. I was not surprised to see homeschooling books piled up in corners amidst jars of dry beans, baskets of potatoes, and spools of thread. There was nothing impressive about the house; it was crowded, the floors were stripped, and it certainly did not meet my ideal of "clean." Yet while the earthy atmosphere was in some ways completely foreign to me, it was comfortingly familiar at the same time. This was a home where real people work and play and eat and sleep and live - and for one day, I could be a part of it too.
My only regret of the afternoon was that I had not brought my camera. Kodak moments abounded as our boys fed corn husks to the goats, rode in the back of a tractor, and kept busy with the other children in the playhouse. We all ate - not in the more formal sit-down dinner style I had imagined - but with a casual buffet line and people grabbing a seat wherever they could find one. Then everyone, from toddler to adult to German Shepherd, went for a walk along the scenic bike path. We returned for dessert, tractor rides, and a bonfire in the backyard. I enjoyed talking with the other moms, while my husband, always the big kid of the party, became fast friends with the four boys we had seen that morning. By the time Don and I packed up our children and pie plates, we were already looking forward to seeing everyone again.
We arrived home late, tired, dirty, and smelling of bug spray and woodsmoke - yet incredibly refreshed. Besides the blessing of new friends and fellowship, we had been privileged to have a glimpse into a different kind of life: a life, in fact, rather like what I have imagined we might have one day. Lots of children, animals, land, friends...and love. Lots of love.
For now, our practice of hospitality will look different. But whether we have a broken refrigerator or a kitchen the size of a walk-in closet, we can invite guests to join us for food and fellowship. Whether we have wood benches on the back porch or a cheap couch that seats only two people, we can find a place to sit and talk, encouraging others with our conversation. Whether we have a gang of friendly children or just two playful toddlers, we can minister together as a family. Whether we live on a woodsy farm tucked behind the ghettos of Rhode Island or in a two bedroom apartment tucked behind a gas station and McDonald's, we are called to practice hospitality. Whatever the specifics may be, when believers open their homes to share, encourage, bless, and witness to others, the Spirit is there, and I cannot think of any activity that more accurately defines a good time.