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The Gift of Hospitality

by Anita Miles

Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;  Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;  Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality...

Romans 12: 10-13

Over the past weeks, I’ve been working on a post for this week that had captured my thought processes. I was practically finished with it and was putting some final touches on it when I began to hear the chatter that someone who was closely involved in my circle of influence had taken a turn. There was the possibility that she wouldn’t make it to spend the holidays with her family. Instantly, the thought processes that had been in place for my next post were completely swept from the forefront of my mind and replaced. As I began to reflect on why her life mattered to me and those who loved her, I had one phrase that summed up the entirety of who she was, and it just stayed there!  That phrase was from a Biblical mandate that I think she was at the top of the list at achieving...."given to hospitality..."

Being that Christmas is just a hop, skip, and a jump away, I thought that a reminder of the value of this gift would be appropriate! I’m a bit of visual learner, so I prefer to paint the picture of what it looks like instead of exploring the many interpretations of this scripture...

"Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another;  Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer;  Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality..."

Romans 12: 10-13

You see, I learned a whole lot about what hospitality was at Sis. Emmy’s house. She and Bro. ID always had an open door, and it was the place where my young parents went to hang out when I was just a toddler. They were the young new pastors at a thriving little country church in the backwoods of Alabama. They were around 25 years old when they took the church. They had moved hundreds of miles away (a little over a day’s drive) from each of their parents and all blood relatives to follow God’s will in pastoring this congregation. Sis. Emmy always had room for us at her house. Her open concept living area had a conglomeration of couches, chairs, rockers, bar stools and a fireplace that stretched from wall to wall for seating space. There was enough room and food for anyone who wanted to come. We weathered several severe southern storms hunkered down in their brick house - laughing the time away. She and that infectious laugh of hers never failed to be at the center of anything going on! And I can still recall those cold Sunday nights after church when she’d cook up the best chili in the world! Just chili, cheese, and crackers. That’s all we needed! She wasn’t elaborate or excessive in her ways. She was tidy, but she wasn’t worried about the stack of books and magazines in the corner that really didn’t have a home. The mail that was on the bar wasn’t of any interest to anyone. The jackets hung over the chairs at the table didn’t cause her to panic... All she cared about was that whoever was there, was there for her to pour love into their lives.

And she loved well!!

Hospitality was also alive and well right down the little dirt road at her sister’s house as well. Sis. Daisy always invited us to spend every Easter and Christmas (if we were still home) - and many more Sundays in between - with their family, since ours was so far away. Not to mention the fish frys in the summers. There was always a house full of bustling chaos and not once did her feathers get ruffled about it.  All 5 of her sons each had a wife and 3 kids, so let's just say, there was nothing quite and peaceful about any occasion there. The sounds of a clanky out of tune piano with all the kids singing were perfectly OK with her. The constant in and out during the famous Easter egg hunts were not a bother. Everyone was running on the energy given to them by the carbs they had just eaten in the best mac and cheese this side of heaven! She loved well!

I also learned about hospitality on those Saturday nights after church that Sis. Mae Jewel would let me go home with Lynn and Pam. There was always a barrel full of laughs there. And just a few minutes after we’d get home, Sis. Mae Jewel would head to the refrigerator. Out of the freezer, she’d pull a sheet of wax paper that was littered with little-frozen cake icing roses and buds she had created and put away just for me from each of the cakes she’d decorated for the week. Let me tell you, her icing roses were better than any pack of candy the grocery store had!! And then there was also that divinity she made at Christmas...... Ahhhh... I’m pretty sure that God’s already got her on the agenda to make that for the marriage supper of the Lamb! This year will be my 14th year of being gone from my hometown. I’ve never gone back home for a Christmas that a sweet little package of Sis. Mae Jewel’s divinity wasn’t sitting on my parent’s bar waiting for me!! She knows when I’ll be there and she has it ready for me. She loved well!

There was also a lesson in hospitality in that mischievous grin of Sis. Margie’s. On my way back to college for the week, I’d stop by the little Texaco station she and Bro. Buster owned.  It sat on the edge of the road in the little one light town of Silas. She never let me leave without a cold coke, a bag of chips, and a tank of gas for the week! And then there were also all the evenings she invited us over to share her wild game that she had taken down that season. She had my mom convinced that she could make the best homemade chicken nuggets – only to later reveal that it was actually rabbit meat! She had a backbone and arms of steel, but she loved God and people well!

Thoughts of hospitality never fail to take me down that little gravel lane in New Lebanon, OH on Christmas nights. Sis. Luvenia and Bro. Dallas Lakes would open up their old farmhouse for one of the greatest Christmas gatherings in the state. The bar in the kitchen would be running over with food and surrounded by the chatter of women from every age group. The kids were up and down the stairs playing games, and the younger girls were taking care of whatever babies showed up that year! The guys could be heard all over the house with their thunderous laughing and fish tales. That was until the game of Chinese Christmas started, and the competition became fierce! When everyone bid farewell for the evening to walk out into the cold, they knew they were leaving a place where love lived!

I could go on and on!!  And yes, I’m sure we can all agree that I’m probably on the ledge of being a sentimental junkie... but that’s not the reason I gave you a peek inside the windows of these homes and hearts! I want you to understand that these people were not our blood family. These were just the tip of the iceberg of women who opened up – not just their homes – but their hearts to love from the inside out! This is the stuff that hospitality is made of! Pinterest was non-existent, so they weren’t spending their time and energy attempting to impress with fancy table decor and Holiday trimmings.

It wasn’t about what new recipe was circling the internet social realms for that year. It was just the tried and true simplicity of what they knew everyone loved!

Society has replaced that world with one that’s inundated with misplaced needs and wants and chaotic schedules that leave little time for anything of any value!!

I have to tell you...10 years from now, your kids won’t remember NOR appreciate the fact that you camped out in the cold for 5 or more hours just to get into Best Buy on Black Friday for the next big gadget that probably won’t survive until next Christmas. But they will remember the moment they got to don their aprons and help decorate the gingerbread house with their cousins or friends that sat on the kitchen table for the next few weeks. They will have outgrown the toys they insisted upon, but they won’t forget that you let them secretly "sample" all of the delightful goodness in the treats you were fixing for all the yearly gatherings you attend.

It’s easy to stress and fret about keeping the house spotless...and the shoes that are piled at the front door... and about all the toys that are re-littered about the living room 2 minutes before or after the guests arrive after Round 33 of putting them all back where they go...and about making sure the table is set with perfection...and that the tablecloth is steamed with no wrinkles...and that the food looks and tastes like it just walked out of Paula Deen’s oven...and on and on...

Let’s tear the facade down!

Take away the slave driver of perfection!

I know it may take the anxiety up another notch, but it’s ok that everyone’s jackets manage to heap up somewhere in a pile! It’s also ok that your Christmas tree is covered with the handmade ornaments from your kids instead of the glistening and glamorous ornaments you saw on your friend’s Instagram feed!  It’s really OK! Stop worrying about the superficial stuff and just open your heart to loving the people around you!!

Have a fish fry or a low country boil!  (By the way, if you don’t know what that is, just email me!  I’ll show you how that works!) Help fix a meal for the homeless and let your family help you serve them. It will help them see that people actually have needs that are way beyond theirs! Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can survive without us for a few days...maybe...

Hospitality is not about the busyness of preparation, but it's about the business of people. We so often forget that fact in the age where our cell phone rarely leaves our fingers and where the big screens are 3 times bigger than the fireplaces that warm our homes and hearts! Technology has replaced true friendships, and digital entertainment has replaced the need for a real hug and meaningful conversation!

Set it all aside and throw your heart wide open.

Love people out loud because Christ has loved you first! Let the light of His love be what glistens in your eyes, your heart, and your actions!

Let your hospitality be the gift you give to someone this season.

The "stuff" isn’t required... it will soon be forgotten, but how well we loved and the impact it makes never will be!

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