I pulled up to the house and placed my hastily written directions on the passenger seat beside me.
Those directions had been scribbled down with excitement and perhaps a little bit of desperation. An invitation had been extended to my children and me and there was something in my scribble that showed how greatly I wanted the invitation to come into fruition.
My family had recently moved (again.) This was a first prospect of friendship in the area. The woman had come up to me several days prior, and after hearing I was new to the area and living close to her, generously asked my children and me over.
And so my sons and I walked up to her front door and were immediately met by the faces of two smiling children and our kind host, who all welcomed us in. As the kids scampered off to play, the woman and I quickly began one of those effortless conversations that blend both newness and familiarity.
I was incredibly happy to be in the company of another. Anyone who has been the new person in town understands the significance of welcoming kindness. After settling in though, the prospects of a budding local friendship changed dramatically.
With a kind of unassuming vulnerability, this woman shared that both her and her husband had lost their jobs. As I began to take in my surroundings, I noticed the sparsely furnished home and what few toys the children had in their trove. We talked and more was revealed – of long shift work and many attempts to find adequate employment. Of a home soon to be put on the market out of necessity, and an imminent move to another state to seek family support.
This would not be a nearby friendship. She and her family would be moving in less than a month.
My heart ached both for her hardships and the loss of this fleeting connection. There are not many souls who possess this kind of graciousness. There are not many who would invite a stranger over in the midst of so much vulnerability.
“You must stay for dinner!” She exclaimed later as I began to motion that my children and I would be leaving.
“Oh my goodness, I couldn’t do that!” I said and quickly felt guilty, wondering if I had overstayed and pressured her into feeding us. The host quickly put this fear to rest. She persisted with joy. This woman very clearly would be sad for us to leave without providing us a meal.
She motioned for me to come into their kitchen to continue our visit. The refrigerator was opened and the meager contends were revealed.
This was all that was in the fridge. This was all she had to give.
But within a few moments the hotdogs were being microwaved and enfolded in slices of bread. Milk was poured for the children and water for the adults. Apples were sliced, cheese served.
I accepted the plate which had been so freely given, and realized that a meal had never cost anyone so dearly as the meal being provided by this family.
We shared in more conversation and enjoyed watching our little ones delight in one another.
Finally, it was time to leave. Hugs were given. Gratitude was exchanged for the company shared.
One brief and vulnerable exchange, the finest example of true hospitality I’ve ever experienced.
Bleak Midwinter Hospitality
The bleak midwinter landscape casts a pall for many of us as we pack away the cheerful decorations that accompany the Christmas season. We watch in stillness and perhaps a little dismay as the inviting lights and open doors that have surrounded our lives throughout the month of December disappear for the next eleven months.
For many, this is the hardest time of year. The dreary weather, and the departure of “faithful friends who are dear to us” can make us look around and wonder what we can possibly do to fill the void. The void that had been filled with closeness, community and the beauty of the holiday season.
It’s Christmastime when we all try to put our best faces forward. Our homes are trimmed, our faces jolly, our purses a little more generous than usual. We welcome and invite and attend one another in festivities. We are ready at this time to welcome people into our lives because we feel we are the best versions of ourselves. We love for others to come over when we can provide beauty and plenty.
Now, in the deep winter, we may be tempted to retreat. It’s cold outside and we are feeling not quite so jolly. We are probably tired and fatigued, and a little fatter than we were a month ago. Our pants don’t fit as well. The goals we have set for the new year are in their most humble state.
Perhaps we should keep our doors shut for a while and hunker down. Hold off on reaching out and welcoming over those who surround us.
But my mind has been returning to that family’s example of hospitality, given at great cost, but with such pure generosity.
Is true hospitality about being ready, overflowing and prepared?
Or is it about something else entirely? Is it welcoming even when we are vulnerable? Giving even when we have little in reserve? Loving even when our hearts our full of the concerns of the world?
That first family who had welcomed me into their home had conditioned themselves to being so hospitable that even the bleakest of circumstances could not quell their giving spirit.
And now, when I’m feeling tired, and my children are crazy from too much sugar, I’m reminded that there is never a time when we shouldn’t give of ourselves and what we have to others.
In that way we can fill the void of the post-Christmas slump, by remembering our hearts can “repeat the sounding joy” by giving the whole year through.