Monday, July 12, 2010

A Life That Says Welcome: Part 1

Greetings, OH Fans and Visitors! Crista here.

A coupe months back, Carrie invited me to write a book review series during the summer months, which is when I have more time for such things. I'm a teacher, don'tcha know, and have a little more time during July to do things like read for pleasure and write something other than lesson plans. Now, I'll be honest, this is a pretty new thing for me...a book review, that is. I'm a math teacher and, while I'm able to communicate somewhat easily with words, I'm not terribly experienced in this genre I'll thank you for your patience up front and promise to do the best I can to share with you the things I'm learning from Karen Ehman's A Life That Says Welcome. Today I'll share my thoughts from Chapter 1, "A Heart That Says Welcome".

A couple quick notes:

#1: At the end of each chapter, the author includes Points to Ponder, A Look in the Book, and Putting It Into Practice, lists of questions to think about and scriptures to find related to the chapter's topics. I'll try to include a few of these questions for discussion

#2: Karen Ehman keeps her own blog. You can read it by clicking here. Enjoy!

Chapter 1: A Heart That Says "Welcome"

When I was hunting around on the internet for a book about hospitality, I came across A Life That Says Welcome and chose it because of the author's emphasis on the heart. There are so many ways and means of entertaining and entertaining can get excessively excessive. There are lots of "distractors" to hospitality...the details we can easily get caught up in and miss the whole point of biblical hospitality. What I so appreciate about Karen Ehman's book is her emphasis on the condition of our hearts, as Christian women, as we extend a hand of hospitality to those within our sphere of influence.

This idea -- our heart condition -- is the central theme of chapter 1 of the book. Karen begins by describing her own hostess beginnings, starting with a childhood lacking in opportunities to extend hospitality. As a newlywed, Karen challenged herself to become a perfect hostess in order to live up to the home-making and artistic standards observed in her sisters-and mother-in-law. Karen initially believed that good hospitality meant having a perfectly decorated, clean, and arranged home (something like those pictures in Country Living), serving gourmet 5-course meals to her guests, and keeping home-baked bread and fresh pies on her counters.

These standards were challenged, however, by observing her mentor when visiting her home. Pat (Karen's pastor's wife and mentor since high school) showed her a different standard of hospitality. Here are some things that Karen observed during her visits with Pat:
  • Karen felt that Pat was thrilled to have her over
  • Pat had Karen's favorite cup of tea and a throw blanket waiting for Karen to snuggle up in for their visit
  • Pat always had her Bible open on the kitchen counter, as if she had just finished reading (demonstrating devotion to growing in God's Word and that she sought her counsel from Him, rather than from books on entertaining)
  • Pat always asked Karen how she could pray for her, and then prayed for her before she left at the end of their visit (the key here being that Pat asked how she could pray for Karen and then actually prayed for her right then and there)
  • Pat's lunches were simple fare, but Karen experienced something akin to a gourmet meal because of Pat's thoughtfulness
  • Despite outdated furnishings, Pat's home was always tidy and inviting
In Pat's home, Karen observed that real hospitality is not about beautiful decorations or gourmet meals. Rather, Pat's ministry of hospitality to Karen was one of thoughtfulness, encouragement, and simplicity. Karen described her visits in Pat's home this way:

"More than anyplace else on earth, [Pat's] home made me feel welcomed and pampered while I was there and refreshed when I left." (page 16, emphasis mine)

Wouldn't it be wonderful if my guests could always leave my home feeling refreshed? Just the word refreshed brings to mind such a lovely feeling!

Here's the crux of the issue: "Entertaining puts the emphasis on you and how you can impress others. Offering hospitality puts the emphasis on others and strives to meet their physical and spiritual needs so that they feel refreshed, not impressed, when they leave your home" (page 18).

Karen is in no way saying that it is unbiblical to have an attractive home or to serve delicious food. In fact, Colossians 3:23 says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men." The problem is not necessarily the nicely decorated home or the gourmet meal. The problem can be, instead, our heart in putting together that home or that meal. Is my heart in it for self-gratification and glory, or am I about my Master's business, preparing my home and a meal to bless others and bring glory to Him?

Now, if I'm being brutally honest with myself, I must admit that I often try to impress, rather than refresh, my guests. Deep down, of course, I want my guests to enjoy their time in my home, to feel cared for and honored. Unfortunately, I often get so caught up in the to-dos and details of hosting that I miss out on opportunities for sweet fellowship or for meeting the spiritual needs of my guests. I tend to be much more like Martha than like Mary (more on this next week). For example, I rarely ask my guests how I can pray for them and then pray for them right on the spot, often because I'm too busy worrying about the table settings being perfect or the house being perfectly neat. (To be totally frank, I have some habits edging on OCD. I'm often up and out of my seat even when a guest is speaking -- for shame -- so that I can fix a placemat, a centerpiece, or a fork that's out of place. Pathetic, isn't it? It comes from my mother's side of the family, I swear!) While I'm not sure this gesture of hospitality (praying for a guest) would be appropriate for all those who come into my home -- as some would be made very uncomfortable with this offer and would not receive it as the kindness it is intended to be -- I know there are many others who would be greatly blessed if I prayed for them! 

Note: Instead of making a guest uncomfortable, I think it would be better to observe and listen carefully and then pray for my guest in my heart or after they've left. This way, I'm lifting them and their needs to the Lord without causing offense or discomfort for my guest.

I am challenged by this chapter to be more attentive to the Holy Spirit's leading, listening and looking for opportunities to meet the spiritual needs of my friends, family, and other guests in my home. As I learn and grow in biblical hospitality, I need to focus on the condition of my heart: am I planning with my guests in mind, seeking to serve and to minister to them, or am I more focused on making sure they leave impressed with my home and my hosting skills?

As promised, here is a Point to Ponder for discussion related to this chapter:
Can you think of any people in your life who regularly show heartfelt hospitality to others? How have you felt when you were a guest in their home? What specifically did they do that made you feel welcomed?
I would love to hear from you on this point! Please share with me and with other readers your responses to the questions above by leaving a comment after this post. We can all learn from each other!

Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on this fun and practical book! I look forward to sharing more with you in the coming summer weeks and pray that we will all grow in our skills as hosts with our hearts in the right place!

"Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving."
Colossians 3:23-24

Coming up next week: Chapter 2, "A Look In The Book"


  1. Well, for a first timer (in the book review department!), Crista, I think you did an awesome job!

    You gave me a lot to think about. I think that this chapter shows what a great boon a hospitality "mentor" can be. It's an encouraging reminder to me to keep my eyes on what other women are doing and to learn from them. It also encourages me to continue sharing tips and tricks myself!

    There are a lot of people to whom practicing hospitality is a huge obstacle -- simply because they've never seen it done and so they don't know how to do it!

    THAT is the one of the great purposes of this site - to let people know it CAN be done! It looks different for everyone, and as you said our hearts need examination as well as we pursue this. But it CAN be done!

    That's what this post reminded me of. So thanks!

  2. Carrie: Thanks for your encouragement! You're right...we do need to watch and learn from other women. Stephanie shared with us last week that she struggles with comparing herself with others. I want to say that there is a fine line between looking to a mentor or mentors and comparing myself to others. We all need mentors. In fact, Scripture commands it (Timothy, isn't it?)! Thank you for pointing that out.

  3. Crista, you are so right that there is a fine line between comparing myself to others and learning from them! The friend I talked about last week is an amazing hostess and I have learned TONS from her about hospitality. In fact, I'd say she has been my biggest hospitality mentor, not because she keeps a clean house but because she makes people feel comfortable and welcome in her home.

    Keeping people as the focus of our hospitality isn't always easy for a task-oriented person like myself. :)

    Great review! I can't wait to hear your thoughts about the rest of the book.