I'm back over at Middle Places today - this time with reflections on hospitality and generosity.
Just after I graduated from college, I attended a conference for new campus pastors in Bellingham, Washington. I was eager and optimistic and out to change the world with my newly chosen vocation.
In order to save on costs for attendees, the campus ministry offered to arrange host homes during our stay. Another recent college grad, Beth, and I were assigned to a family with three teenage daughters. The mother picked us up at the church after our first day of sessions and drove us to their home.
When we pulled up, I was struck by how small it seemed on the outside, barely bigger than my parent’s three car garage. Walking through the front door, I realized it didn’t just seem small, it was small. Tastefully decorated with modest furnishings and family pictures, the tiny house was warm and inviting. A dining table was pushed against the living room wall to create more space in between meals. The kitchen was only big enough for one person at a time and hot spicy smells wafted through it’s narrow doorway.
The girls welcomed Beth and I and showed us to our bedroom. It held bunk beds and a single dresser. Passing through the hallway I looked into the other bedroom and saw sleeping bags next to the bed. These daughters would sleep on the floor for the week so that we could have their beds.
I was grateful and uncomfortable at the same time. What a precious gift of hospitality, to give up their beds for the comfort of strangers. It was hard for me to receive it and feel there was nothing I could offer in return. The gesture touched me deeply.
Our simple meals together that week were gathered around that small table pulled out from the living room wall, sharing funny stories and hard experiences. They’d had an older son with profound special needs who had passed away and a lot of their time and resources had gone to his care. Now the father worked as a prison guard and the mother was home with the girls. Listening to their tender hearts toward Jesus even after facing such prolonged challenges and deep loss, it wasn’t hard to understand their radical generosity. They were grace people, deeply loved and deeply loving.
As I left that week, I reflected on all that I had gleaned from the seminars and conference sessions. It was a rich time of learning and preparation for my new position in ministry. But I realized that the most profound lesson I was taking away was learned in that lovely little home.
Hospitality doesn’t need to be a beautifully appointed guest room or an elaborate three course meal. This precious family welcomed us not out of their abundance, but out of their just-enough. They ate less and slept on the floor so that we could have a warm meal and a soft bed. It was a stunning kindness that has stuck with me more than a decade later.
Recently, our family relocated for my husband’s job at the University of Colorado. For a variety of reasons, we made the decision to stay in campus housing. We have a tiny dormitory apartment where we live with our two boys. Shared walls mean that we hear our neighbors babies crying and smell what they’re making for dinner. Tight quarters mean we gather for meals at a small folding card table in our only common room.
After we’d unpacked our boxes, I looked around and felt embarrassed at the size and condition of our new place. It’s certainly not the Pottery Barn catalog home that I’ve dreamed of, with beautiful spaces for entertaining. But my husband and I made a commitment to each other before we moved that we wanted to be intentional about developing a community here. And I’ve seen before how a small house can be filled with great love.
And so, with my gracious hosts of long ago in my mind and a resolution to build friendships in my heart, we’ve been opening our little space every chance we get. We’ve hosted dinner parties, discovering that the neighbors whose dinner smells come through our open window are also fans of camping and Coldplay and fancy cheese. We’ve laughed over lunch with new friends from church, learning that we have to take turns cutting our meat lest the wobbling card table legs knock over the wine glasses. Our couch has been made out into a bed for new friends and out of town guests who love waking up to a view of the Rocky Mountains.
The truth is, despite my initial embarrassment about it’s size and it’s furnishings, welcoming people into our home has been one of my true delights in this season.
Though I was unable to repay the kindness of that sweet family, I’d like to think that continuing their tradition of a generous welcome passes their gift on and on. In this period of living in the dorms on one salary with two kids under two, we don’t have an abundance of time, space, or resources. But we have enough. And there’s so much joy in sharing your just-enough, even around a wobbly card table.