August 17, 2015

Practicing Hospitality When All You've Got Is Boxes

When my husband and I were newlyweds we lived in seminary-student housing. We owned a few dishes, a couple of framed prints, and more books than most people. Almost all of our furniture was on loan from the campus free furniture closet. The legs on those dining chairs routinely fell off, and Rob would spend Saturday mornings parsing Greek verbs while sitting on them: a human clamp for drying wood glue.

We decided it was a great situation to begin practicing hospitality. We reasoned that if we could have people over for a meal in our tiny townhouse with its stained carpet and unpredictable chair legs, we would be comfortable having people over for the rest of our lives. We figured embracing imperfection was a good start for a holy habit.

And it was. In that townhouse, we stretched the table into the hall by way of a card table added to its end, and we invited people over. Some of them were fellow seminary students—escaping their own dark-wood paneling for an evening of ours, but many of our guests were members of our church—wealthy professionals whose free-furniture days were long forgotten, if they had ever existed. We conquered embarrassment by deliberate warmth. Come on in, so glad you are here, and just be careful where you sit.

Eventually, year-by-year, the wobbly chairs became slightly-steadier Craigslist chairs, the seminary housing became our own small ranch, and no one had to eat Sunday lunch in the hallway anymore. We acquired new dishes and additional framed prints, and we continued to stack up more books than most people. I developed a system for inviting, for cooking, for serving. Hospitality became second-nature.

(Which is what we had hoped all along.)

And, just as I got really good, we moved. We packed up the habits of hospitality along with our commentaries and we joined a new church community. Our first act of hospitality to our church was to open the doors of our new house and invite them to bring a box from the moving truck on their way in. Hour after hour, they unloaded our stuff, and unpacked it in the kitchen and bedrooms. They saw my odds and ends, my miss-matched assortment of coffee mugs, my embarrassingly large brood of kitchen gadgets. They saw me at my most disorganized.

This group of strangers came into my home, and I couldn’t even find the cups to offer them a drink of water.

I wanted to excuse and to explain—I’ll offer you a drink next time. I’ll have ice and lemon slices, I promise. I’ll give you somewhere to sit.—but I stopped myself. Looking around at my church family busily assembling beds and sorting tablecloths, I realized they were being welcomed into my life. No three-course meal on fine china would ever make them feel as comfortable in this home as unpacking the coffee mugs did. Box by box, these new friends participated in our home-making. And every time afterwards that they step into this house, they will see a picture they hung, a rug they unrolled, a silverware drawer they organized. My house became our house.

And, for me, welcoming strangers into a house full of boxes is a good start to a holy habit.  Come on in, so glad you are here, and just be careful where you sit.


  1. Thank you for the encouragement! Would love to know more about the system of inviting, cooking, and serving that you developed. Inviting is hardest for me.

    1. Inviting is hard for me, too. Often, my husband gets the idea of who to invite and does most of the asking. It is one way he can contribute. As hard as inviting is, getting turned down is harder. WE did a blog posting on that, I think.

    2. Inviting is hard. We work through the church directory, trying to combine people with different levels of church commitment. Long time members with visitors in the same life stage, for example. Here's the link to the post on getting turned down:

  2. Glad that you, your family, and the boxes have landed. I especially enjoyed remembering our own time within the dark-paneled walls of H4!


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