At the end of the summer while we had people over, everyone crammed on benches around our kitchen table for what had been close to two hours and a couple pots of coffee, I looked at Sean. “Our table just isn’t big enough!” By coffee pot number three I hatched an idea that was practical, cheap, and would heap more work on my husband, which is generally how my ideas work. “You could build a bigger table for us!”
“Hmm…I’m not sure how I’ll do it, I’m not sure I have the time to do it…challenge accepted,” which is generally how he responds.
We brought my brand new table into the kitchen the day before Thanksgiving (and no one got high from the fresh stain–a Thanksgiving miracle).
The table celebration was especially sweet for me. There was a time I would have liked to shrink my table to prevent more people from joining. I was fatigued, tired of opening myself up, wanting my life to be my own. God was gracious in bringing me away from that mentality and exhaustion. He first gave me the rest and restoration I needed. He also brought the conviction I needed, and truly bent my heart toward others in a way that I was completely unable to muster on my own. He spoke to me about who he created me to be and how to allow my home and kitchen table to reflect it.
A theme of last year was Refuge–how God is a refuge, how I reflect His character as a refuge, how we all need refuge in a chaotic world. I was thinking less about Pinterest worthy table settings and a spotless house, and more about having a safe place to land. Sean came across the book, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key” by Rosaria Butterfield at a conference and brought it home. “The title made me think it must be up your alley."
I’ve read many great books this year, but none impacted me the way this one did. Dr. Butterfield says,
“My hospitality is practical, unfussy, and constant. Sometimes I play the posture of host, obeying God’s commands, and sometimes I am in the role of guest, receiving nourishment and care. But we are always one or the other–we are either hosts, or we are guests. The Christian life makes no room for independent agents, onlookers, renters. We who are washed in the blood of Christ are stakeholders.” (p. 36)
It wasn’t a book that made me comfortable. It took the seeds that were planted from watching my parents run a home that was never fussy and always warm, the seeds from my own observation and study, and doused them with miracle grow, water and sun.
“…radically ordinary Christian hospitality does not happen in LaLa Land. It’s gritty and messy, and it forces us to deal with diversity and difference of opinion, with difficult people, with our own unrepented sin and hard hearts. It demands forgiveness before any of us is ready to cough it up.” (p.121)
My parents practiced hospitality that was at times uncomfortable. I remember the young couple with the baby who stayed and how the young father would yell in his native language at his scared young wife, and my parents deciding how to intervene. I remember my parents fielding threatening calls from my aunt’s ex-boyfriend while she bravely changed the course of her life in an upstairs bedroom down the hall from mine.
We like the idea of “community”. We like the idea of vulnerability, of not hiding our own messy selves. But in reality, we’d like to sanitize it. We’d like to meet safely at a coffee shop where a guest doesn’t overstay their welcome or notice crumbs on our floor. We’d like to present the good side of ourselves and then bail before it gets uncomfortable or someone’s needs are too weighty. Then we can withdraw and watch the world safely on our phones; in our own lonely spaces.
“Sin demands isolation. While community does not inoculate us against sin, godly community is a sweet balm of safety. It gives us a place and a season where we are safe with ourselves and safe with others.” (p.111)
This year I’ve learned a lot about formal hospitality working as host at a beautiful mansion turned into a corporate retreat center. I’ve assisted high end caterers, worked with housekeeping staff, and learned how to operate a bowling alley. I’ve assembled lovely welcome baskets and created a local entertainment guide. It's fun, inspiring, and polished.
Gospel-centered hospitality reaches deeper than professional skills. Gospel-centered hospitality keeps the Kleenex within reach for spontaneous tears and lets it go when the windows are dirty but someone needs hot tea and listening ear. It’s the kind of hospitality that provides a hot meal but isn't too proud to let others contribute their own dish. Not having enough place settings won't prevent me from inviting another person. I have a pantry full of paper plates and a front closet with an extra folding chair, just in case.
Thanksgiving Day we broke in the new table. It's not a perfect table. It has ridges we didn't anticipate. My paint job isn't flawless. Thankfully, God uses imperfect things for His great purposes. It is exactly what I hoped for and the landing spot we (and guests) need.
Our friends have a tradition we adopted; we provided sharpie markers for our guests. Each guest crawled under the table and signed their name. With each guest at our table, we gain a signature. May this table be used to provide food, warmth, good laughs, conviction, challenge, and encouragement. May this table be used to reflect God’s graciousness. Aaaand my our floors be decently clean for those who crawl underneath!
Just throwing myself out there a bit...