So here's a FABULOUS website
that I stumbled across when a friend posted it on Facebook recently (recently meaning five minutes ago). I was so struck by it that I just had to share. Jackie Brown is a woman who has combined her love of cooking, family, and community into a unique ministry based on freezer meals. Yes, freezer meals. This puts Proverbs 31:15, 20 into
a whole new light. Here's a clip about what she's up to:I am a passionate Christ follower, wife, mother, teacher, homemaker and friend to all who visit my blog. Freezer cooking is my hobby and lifesaver. It allows me to spend more time with my family of six. I love to share my experiences and photos with you as you take time to visit. I’m on a mission to glorify God through my passions-freezer cooking, writing, speaking and teaching.
What caught my attention the most is that Jackie's work
is a tremendous example of seeing the needs around you, knowing your God-given strengths, and finding a way to connect the two in your unique context. This is how is supposed to work people, and to quote the 1980's, "I love it when a plan comes together."
So, I have a confession to make when it comes to hospitality. Those of you close to me probably already knew this, and it probably irritated you a little. Or a lot, depending on the circumstances.
I’m a bit of a martyr.
A church pot luck? If you ask me to sign-up for two dishes, I sign up for three and end up bringing four--just in case… Dinner at my house? Expect meat, three sides, rolls, several drink options, and dessert(s). And that’s when I’m rushed. Dinner at your house? I’ll show up with something, even if you assured me it wasn’t necessary.
I’ve always rationalized it by saying that I’m preparing for the “just in case.” Just in case, there isn’t enough food, just in case of allergies, just in case something goes wrong. Just in case. And while there’s nothing wrong with expecting the unexpected, I think that what I've really been doing is setting myself up to be the hero. If there is a lack of food, I’ll come to the rescue with my extra casserole and look down at my shoes very humbly and demurely say, “Oh, I just like to cook.”
And in the end, my “hospitality” can have less to do with others’ needs and more to do with mine. It’s hard for me to let someone else take the reigns. It’s hard to trust that everyone will do their part. It’s hard not to be the messiah.
Maybe you don’t struggle exactly this way. But I’d venture that if you’re human, you still find it difficult to graciously accept hospitality. Like a friend said to me a couple of months ago: “You know, I really appreciate other people helping us out, but I just get tired of being on the receiving end.”
The difficulty for most of us stems from our residual need to prove our worth. Whether we like it or not, we humans keep score—even in our good works—and when we fall behind, or perceive that we’re falling behind, we naturally want to prove our value and our ability to contribute. It’s not that we mind other people being gracious to us as long as we can eventually even the score. Errr,…. I mean “return the favor.” But when we can’t, when we’re not on the giving end, grace can actually begin to feel like a burden.
But what if, like most things, we’ve got it wrong? What if we were never meant to be the hero? What if being a guest was just as much an act of hospitality as being host? Because what if God not only modeled for us how to graciously give but how to graciously receive as well?
Think about it. Whenever God took on human form, you find Him in the most unexpected places. He’s not sitting on a throne, distributing his wealth, or bringing about world peace. No, often the King of the universe has strategically placed Himself in a position to be ministered to. Whether it’s through Abraham and Sarah in a dusty tent alongside the road or through Mary and Martha in the quiet refuge of their Bethany home, our God has made a point to teach us how to accept hospitality.
By humbling Himself to be a guest, He reminded us that receiving grace from another person is as much a part of the gospel as extending it. Perhaps more.
Because the reality is, when it comes to the gospel, none of us bring anything to the table, and none us of are meant to be the hero. The reality is that at that great final feast, at that long-awaited, heavenly wedding reception, we won’t even get to bring a side dish. All we are expected to do is respond to His invitation, wear our best clothes, and celebrate.
So maybe as much as hospitality means extending ourselves, it also means being a gracious guest and letting someone else serve. It means learning to humble ourselves, learning to relinquish our need to control, learning to be honestly grateful, and learning to follow our Host’s example. And it also means realizing that learning it now in this life is simply practice for the next.
I don’t consider myself a niche Christian -- at least I hope I’m not. I like my independence and hate to be classified. I’m not a groupie for any of the following -- SAHM, homeschooling, crunchy, organic, green, conservative, whatever -- but, I do value a lot that is happening in these particular circles and I couldn’t pass over two stories that I saw this week.
One was an open letter
responding to Suze Orman’s counsel
to a young couple that they couldn’t afford to have a second child because in Suze’s world, babies add an extra “$700-$1000 a month” to the budget. (What!?!—I guess we didn’t get the silver spoon variety.)
Instead Suze told the mama, desperate to be home with her little ones in the early years, that “financially speaking, it’s just not a good thing to do.” This was preceded by her critically asking “Why do you have to have another baby right now?” The other story
was that of the Duggars’ recently announcing that they were expecting, and then sadly had miscarried, their 20th child. When Today Show host Ann Curry jokingly asked, “Why isn’t 19 enough for you?” Mrs. Duggar simply replied, “Well, we have the motto around our house that there's always room for one more.”
baby-mama has no plans for 19 or 9 babies for that matter, but even I could recognize the glaring disparity between the two perspectives. For Suze Orman, babies are an expensive liability; for the Duggars, they are a gift. At this point you’re probably asking yourself, savvy reader that you are, what does all this has to do with hospitality? Trust me, there’s a link.
As I was mulling over these stories this week, in combination with prepping for Christmas, I couldn’t escape how much our world today is just like the one that a fragile infant boy entered two thousand years ago. How cold, how unwelcoming, how inhospitable
. And in the middle of all that philosophical meandering, it struck me that this, then, was the essence of hospitality--the belief that there is always room for one more. Whether it’s setting one more place at the table, making an extra bed, or adding a member to the family, hospitality says there is always room for one more.
But this isn’t our world and it’s not the world that the baby Jesus came to either. Ours is a world consumed with our own issues and wants; it’s a world where we cling to our stuff and space with cold, grasping fingers, fearful that even a little baby could take them from us.
Yet, while this may be our world, it isn’t our God.
From the beginning, He has been a God of warmth and welcome, of hospitality and care. When He transformed that swirling mass of darkness into a verdant garden, He said, “Here is a place for you –a place of beauty and wonder. Go fill it, share it with others.”
When He brought His slave-children out of the heat of Egypt into the pleasant watered valleys of Jordan, He told them, “Welcome home, enjoy this land and share it. Just as I took pity you, take pity on others. Open your doors, feed the poor, take care of strangers.”
And when facing that final rejection, before He broke the bread and then His own body, He told us, “Take, eat and drink. I’m going to make room for you in my Father’s house. I will come back for you.Until then, take care of each other and share what you have.”
And so, in so many ways, Christmas reminds us that He came into a world that had no room—no room for Him or anyone else--precisely to make room for us and to teach us how to make room for others.
In a couple weeks, my family will be spending several days at my sister-in-law’s home. We’re a family of five; they’re six with one on the way. The children range in age from eight to two. The house is 1100 sq. ft. You do the math--there really isn’t enough space for all of us. But there is plenty of room.
There’s room because we choose to make it through sacrifice and love. There’s room because we’re willing to give up our space and comfort. There’s room because we believe that the inconvenience of adjusting to tighter quarters is nothing compared to the joy of being with one another.
And so unlike that first Christmas, when the world said that there wasn’t room for one more baby—no matter Who he was—we say, there’s always room. Room for friends, room for strangers, room for little ones. There’s always room for one more because He came so many years ago and made room for us.
Several years ago, while visiting family friends in Israel, my husband and I took a day trip up to Jerusalem. We wandered through the covered streets, ducking in and out of the shops that lined the walkways and towards evening we found ourselves in the Arab Quarter pausing in front of one particular stall. The shopkeeper, a short man quickly stepped out and ushered us inside.
In broken English, he welcomed us warmly to his city, to his Jerusalem, assured us of his particular love for foreign visitors and his persistent sadness over the divisions between Israeli and Palestinian, Jew and Arab, Christian and Muslim.
“Ah, if only we could all just live in peace,” he sighed. After a moment, he asked “Would you like a cup of tea?”
Surprised, we declined at first not wanting to impose on his generosity; but he insisted and quickly waved his young assistant toward a back room. He quickly returned carrying a tray with a small bowl of sugar and cups of steaming mint tea. With the first sip, its sweetness and aroma flooded my senses and in combination with the heady scents drifting from the spice stall next door, created the definitive Proust moment. So this was the famed Middle Eastern hospitality I had heard so much about, that ancient tradition that welcomes strangers as brothers and resolves differences over steaming pots of coffee and tea. Here, cradled in my hands, were millennia of generosity distilled into one piping cup of sweet tea, complete with a sprig of mint.
I began to walk around the small shop,scanning the bits and pieces on display. The shelves held much everything the same as the other shops we had passed: nativity sets carved from olive wood, brass and silver menorahs, and Armenian pottery brightly colored in a distinct blue and red mosaic.
Suddenly I saw a small olive wood statue of the Holy Family. Carved from a single stock of wood, it depicted Joseph protectively embracing Mary as she cradled the vulnerable Christ child. The three figures merged into one at the base, emphasizing the tenderness and intimacy of the young family. It was the only one in the shop; it was the only one like it I had seen all day.
I had to have it.
Hiding my enthusiasm, I casually asked my host how much he intended to sell it for. He replied, “Fifty shekels.” I went back to sipping my tea. After walking around the stall for a few more minutes, I turned to the shopkeeper to begin another longstanding Oriental tradition - bargainingand soon with the help of our Israeli friends, we settled on a price of 30 shekels. While his assistant wrapped my purchase, I paid him and he handed back my change. Like any good American, I glanced at it before returning it to my pocket, and like any good American, I was startled when I realized he had returned only eight shekels instead of the expected ten.
Not wanting to offend such a liberal host I shyly I held out my hand, displaying the eight lonely shekels. “But sir, you said the statue would cost only thirty shekels, and I gave you forty."
“Yes," he quickly replied, "Thirty shekels for the statue. And two for the tea.”
It’s been that
kind of week—actually it’s been those
kinds of a couple weeks lately. Whether it’s scandal
, economic instability, or watching close friends suffer, it’s been the kinds of weeks that make me want to hunker down, hold my little ones close, and eat excessive amounts of chocolate.
Believe me, I don’t intend for this blog to be consumed with angst or metaphysical struggle. And I really didn’t anticipate it becoming what someone described as “a Christian blog - often deals with problem of suffering (has an emphasis on depression).
That wasn’t exactly what I was going for.
But I want to be honest, and the truth is that this life can get pretty difficult and the darkness can seem overwhelming at times. So overwhelming that our first instinct is to tuck ourselves away with the people we love, where we are warm, secure, and at peace. When the days are cold and dark, when life is more challenging than we ever knew it could be, all we really want to do is huddle up in our dens and count the blessings that we already have.
But there’s another truth about this life. The truth that Light penetrates the darkness, that grace is alive and working, and that we have a hope that carries us through it all. And so maybe, instead of shutting ourselves in from the darkness, we should throw our doors wide open to let the Light shine out.
Because when we open our doors, when we welcome others in, we offer them a haven from their pressing cares, rest from their journey, and fellowship along the way. We offer them warmth and security, joy and beauty, and maybe for the briefest of moments, we offer them Light. And when we sit together around a table, and laugh and love, we tell each other that the evil of this world will one day be less than a memory. We remind each other of that greater feast day yet to come when the greatest Host will welcome us into His eternal home.
So serve each other the same way: prepare a place, make room, and say, "Welcome. Come away from the cares of this life, come away from the burden of your work, come away from the cold and dark. Come inside, sit down, be warm, be blessed. And rest.”
A little over a year ago, I spoke at a women’s conference of a church
nestled in the green rolling hills of western Virginia. At that time of year though—mid-October—those hills were more splashes of gold, purple, rust, and auburn than green. Initially, it had taken me some time to settle on a topic that would be personal, interesting, and concise enough, but when I did, it made perfect sense—hospitality.
Hospitality has always been a pet project for my husband and me. He spent five years working in the hustle and bustle of the industry, and boy, can he fold a mean cloth napkin. We’re also something of foodies--although real foodies probably wouldn’t think so--and we love meeting new people. So going into the conference, I felt confident and prepared. And by all accounts, it was a success.
And then life happened.
Now here, a little over a year later, I feel like the world’s biggest fraud because the last six to eight months has been our worst run of IN-hospitality yet. We’ve gotten pretty lazy, and it’s simply been too easy to find the perfect excuse.
‘We’re new in town…
“We have young children…”
“We don’t make very much money…”
“Everyone else is busy...”
“We don’t have enough space…”
“Did I mention we’re busy...”
And even though the excuses were always different, the result was always the same—I wasn’t going to be the one to make the first move; someone else was going to have to show hospitality to me. Slowly, I found myself slipping into complacency and expectation, and eventually right into entitlement.
But I’m also coming to realize that the best solution to entitlement is generosity and that the surest way to overcome hypocrisy isn’t to give up your ideals, it’s to simply keep pursing them. When you fall off the horse (wagon, the face of the earth, etc.), you just get back up. So this month marks a transition of sorts for our family, a transition back to open doors and full tables, a transition back to hospitality.
As I reflected on my own process, I thought that some of you might be stuck in the same place and, like me, could use a little motivation. So over the course of the next few weeks—just in time for the holidays—I’ll be running a series of posts devoted to welcoming friends, loved ones, and even strangers into our lives and homes. Don’t expect Martha-esque tips or June Cleaver roasts—I’ll leave that for more competent people. This will be more about exploring why we do what we do and what beautiful things can happen when we simply say, “Welcome to our home.”
But for now, enough philosophy; I need to run and red up
—we’re having friends over for dinner.