As I have mentioned before, I read from several different types of books each day: my Bible, a theological book or devotional, something just for entertainment, and something to inspire me in my quest to become a better writer. At the moment my writing inspiration is coming from Julia Cameron’s book, The Right to Write. One day recently she suggested writing about my ideal life. What I wrote centered around a home where people come and go, visiting, sharing meals, playing instruments and singing together, and sharing hearts. I was reminded first of my blogging friend, Erin Kirk who has love dinners at her house, where people come, eat, and spend time just enjoying being together. And then I thought of my Facebook friend, Bobbie who has Monday meals at her house where she cooks up a load of food for whomever wants to show up. But these recent examples soon gave way to the memories that rushed to me from my childhood home in Africa.
When I was 10, my family moved from the small town of Tukuyu in the southern highlands of Tanzania to the larger town of Arusha in the north, just hours away from the Tanzania/Kenya boarder. Because of its location on the main road that connected the two countries, and the fact that it was the last town of any significance before the border town of Namanga, many people planned their trips to include an overnight stay in Arusha before getting a fresh start on their way to Nairobi. Our house was a large one, even by Southern Baptist standards (which any number of other missions will be quick to proclaim as entirely too high to be respectable). It consequently became a bed and breakfast of sorts to the missionaries traveling north to various Kenyan destinations. Often they would let us know they were coming, and if by some miracle nothing went wrong, they would show up on the day they were expected. But sometimes, things wouldn’t go as planned, or we wouldn’t have gotten the message, and they would show up on our porch as a lovely surprise.
These visits never seemed to ruffle my mother’s feathers. She had honed the fine art of hospitality, and was prepared for the unexpected. We had two freezers; one that was full of whatever meat my dad had gotten on his last hunting trip along with the rabbits we raised in the back yard. The other was filled with vegetables and fruit from our garden, homemade ice-cream, and any number of things prepped to make a meal come together quickly. Then we had a walk-in pantry filled with things like sweetened condensed milk and special supplies brought from the US and used sparingly (who knew you were supposed to put two whole cups of chocolate chips in one batch of cookies?). The pantry also housed barrels of flour and sugar that might have been bought from behind the counter at the lingerie store (there was a war with Uganda going on, and supplies were sometimes hard to come by). From these supplies mom would create a delightful dinner, always served up with sweet iced tea and often finished off with my her famous lemon icebox pie with perfect merengue.
I suppose it was there, in that home, that I began to enjoy the interaction of different people around the table over good food and sweet tea. Even when we didn’t have out of town guests, my mom would open our home to various and sundry people. She led a Bible study for women who lived in Arusha, but had come from various parts of the world. She fed the children of other missionaries on their lunch break from the local primary school. I had slumber parties for my birthdays, we had parties with our teen friends. I never got the impression that any of this was a burden for my mother. I think she liked sharing what she had with others.
My dad had a full time job teaching at the seminary, but I don’t want to imply that he was not a participant in this practice of hospitality. He, too, seemed to enjoy the interaction with other families. He was always up for a game of 42 and good conversation. I don’t remember him ever complaining about the revolving door policy of our home. After all, he was raised in a home that practiced hospitality. His family was at times pretty poor, and often had little to share but a roof and a cup of coffee (which is a story for another time), but they opened their hands and shared their two mites.
So why don’t I have this kind of life, if I want it so bad, you may ask. And the answer lies in the fact that Strokeman couldn’t abide it. He tries to tolerate people being here on a limited basis, but for the most part people are too loud to suit him, and they stay too long. And if the truth be told, they also tend to distract me from taking care of him. When people come to visit him, I have to warn them he is only good for about an hour, and then he will want them to leave. In fact, often he will refuse to see them at all, saying he doesn’t feel up to visiting. And so this ideal life will have to stay ideal in its purest form.
But as I wrote about this in my journal, I wanted to be careful not to allow seeds of bitterness to take root in my heart. It is all too easy to become enamored with what we can’t have to the extent that we don’t really utilize what we do have. So I had to ask myself, “How can I have the spirit of hospitality in my daily life in ways that won’t adversely affect my relationship with my man?” Hospitality is a biblical concept. We are told to be generous with what the Lord has given us, and to entertain strangers. We are taught to live in community with other believers, both in corporate worship and daily lives. So it isn’t just a dream, it is a commandment that I am to obey within the confines of my life.
Here is what I have come up with: I can be the one who welcomes interaction with others; who provides a listening ear, a hug, a prayer, a safe haven for those who need to share their hearts. I can work systematically down the church directory list and do my best to get to know the people listed there; their interests, their needs, their hopes and dreams. I can pray for them, encourage them, and offer advice when warranted. I can use the electronic means availed to me to accomplish this at times when I can’t open my home. I can go to others’ homes and serve them there. I can be honest with people about my limitations, explaining that they must be quiet, that we might need to take a walk, that I can only give my attention to them for a short period of time. I can make a conscious effort to make regular checks on the man in the bedroom. The door can’t be revolving, but it can come open on a limited basis for short periods of time.
And so I learn to practice hospitality against the odds. I make my heart a place of refuge as opposed to my home. People can be as loud as they want there, and it doesn’t bother anyone.
What are you saying, “I can’t” to in your life today? Ask God to help you see it from a different angle. Ask him to help you utilize your gifts in the confines of the life He, in His great wisdom has given you. You might just be surprised at how much you have to work with.