I love to cook, plan events, and invite people into my home. Though some might call this a “gift” of hospitality, it really is something I caught growing up. First of all, it was something my mom and grandmother modeled. They are Italian and immigrated to the United States when my mom was a young girl. My grandmother never had the chance to go to school— and so to this day is illiterate and because of that never learned to speak English. Yet, she is the best cook I’ve ever met and has hundreds of recipes committed to memory. Her greatest delight in life is to cook up a feast for family and friends and to gather them around her table. Often, as the holidays approach, she will begin cooking several days in advance—waking up before sunrise to begin her sauces, bake crusty bread, roast sweet bell peppers for salad, make meatballs, and bake ricotta wheat berry pies. She had 11 kids, and family get-togethers today can easily number over a hundred people, though my grandma, mom and aunts still do all of the cooking! They take such pride in each dish—using only the finest ingredients, sometimes even making trips to specialty markets that are an hour away. It is a labor of love. These dinners consist of several courses and go on for hours—and laughter and merrymaking abound. Around the table relationships are nurtured, stories are shared, the family bonds run deep.
Don’t underestimate the power of a shared meal!
When I was in college I was asked by a couple of friends to start hosting the church small group I was a part of, which they were leading. The group had been meeting for over a year yet the atmosphere was not intimate. People weren’t opening up; no one really knew one another. The group needed a new place to meet, so I agreed to host and at the time didn’t even own a couch or comfortable place for people to sit! The only thing I did differently as the host was to serve food every week, and always something simple because my budget was very tight. As people ate together, something beautiful happened. They relaxed and lingered in conversation. They started to open up about their lives, hurts, joys, and struggles. It became an intimate community as the Lord worked in and through each of us and knit us together. This idea of “breaking bread” is God’s idea and design. Jesus chose the setting of a shared meal—the last supper—to give his most intimate exhortation and a farewell to his disciples. Throughout scripture there is a theme of God preparing a place and a table for his people.
As a young adult, my vision of hospitality continued to expand as I spent several years in missions. I saw how other cultures practiced hospitality and learned from a missionary organization that deeply valued hospitality. Again, it all was more caught than taught as I spent time in the homes of both foreign locals and missionaries, saw how others practiced hospitality, and then copied what I saw them doing. Some of the most generous people I met were those with the most limited resources.
Here are a few practical ways to involve your kids in hospitality:
-If you have overnight guests, it is fun to prepare a small basket of snacks and drinks (such as a bottled water or even some tea bags with mini electric tea kettle and mug) in their room. Hospitality involves a sensitivity to other’s needs (whether physical or otherwise). Many guests would not want to trouble their hosts for a snack so this way they have something if the mood arises. It is nice to include a little welcome note with an encouraging prayer or verse the Lord puts on your heart for them. Kids can put the basket together and/or design the card.
-Another fun option is to leave a small gift in the guest’s room. This gesture lets them know they are loved, thought of, and prepared for. Your kids can help you select something and can wrap it or put it in a gift bag. Older women and grandmas—I know of one empty-nester who, when hosting out-of-town guests with small children, leaves a basket of games, toys, books, or coloring supplies in the guest room for the little ones. This is especially thoughtful when there would otherwise be nothing for them to do around the house.
-We love to buy a bouquet of fresh flowers when we know we will have guests. We’ve also started a small flower garden so my girls can cut and create their own bouquets. They love to arrange flowers and display them on the dining room table. But hospitality doesn’t only occur when hosting company. It is an attitude of welcoming others into your life and extending friendship and generosity, perceiving others’ needs and making yourself available to love on, listen to, and care for others. We love to keep $1 Walmart bud vases on hand so that if a friend or neighbor is sick we can place even a single bloom in it to be delivered to brighten their day.
- As you prepare your home for any company, take a couple minutes to pray together for your guests and the time you will spend together. Pray that they would feel welcomed and loved—that it would be a picture to them of the Father’s love. Pray for relationships to be strengthened and for the conversation to be an encouragement to one another. Ask God to help you be sensitive and available to their needs. Pray too for the children that will be visiting!
-If you are hosting a meal, you could have your kids set the table and make place cards. As a new mom it would at times stress me out to let the kids help with anything because it wouldn’t be done “right”. With God’s grace and help I’ve learned to let that go so it is now about giving them those important experiences.
-Include children in food preparations. My 6 year old loves to make salad. She chops veggies using a crinkle cutter, which is less sharp and easier to handle than a knife. Both of my girls (6 and 4) love to make cookies, scones, breads, or other treats to serve friends.
-Chose an easy but delicious meal to make. A nice meal communicates honor to your guests— it says “you are worth it to me.” Throughout the Bible there are stories of people bringing out the best ingredients to honor and serve their guests. It’s how God treats us— he doesn’t skimp or hold back, his love is expressed lavishly. He prepared our environment in such a way for us to fully enjoy it using all of our senses. But even when resources are limited, you can offer what you do have to bless those around you.
Here is one of my grandma’s recipes for an Italian style pot-roast. Very easy but so delicious— perfect to warm bellies on a cold day and one of my go-to meals for serving guests:
Mamas, hospitality isn’t only for guests; the hospitality you show to your own kids will greatly impact them and give them a model to imitate. I was recently reading an out-of-print book— containing reflections on motherhood, and was struck by the introduction, a letter from the author to her mother:
“The emphasis on daily meals may have been nutrition (little appreciated by us), but then there was always Sunday noon dinner. No company was ever treated better than us! The appetizer was served on a silver tray in the living room—fruit juice with a blob of sherbet and wafers. In the dining room we ate our “company meal” from our finest china and silver and finished it off with a spectacular dessert tantalizingly displayed on a pedestal server. And you served tea from the lusterware tea set in a performance equaled only by a traditional Japanese tea ceremony! I suspect now that you were creating an atmosphere for the leisurely sharing of ideas and good conversation.
How we anticipated the holidays and special days—each and every one. You took these occasions and turned them into events which instantly were declared Traditions… Then there was my birthday, that one special day set aside to celebrate my being alive! The pink heart cake for my “almost Valentine” birthday, the florist arriving with a nosegay of fresh violets, a dainty heart-shaped box or violet-related gift. To this day violets, hearts, and the color pink in some way remind me that I’m someone special.”
Mamas, may you be blessed with joy and relationships that run deep as you gather loved ones around your tables, and may you know what a gift your life is to those around you.
In light of some happenings in the news lately, I want to start quarterly encouragement for moms for short/free/conferences–and longer e-conferences. We will talk about: why motherhood is so hard, how to built a defense against discouragement, breathing in peace. And how to stay the course.