Hello and welcome back to Offering Hospitality! If you're a new visitor, welcome! For the past several Mondays, I (Crista) have been sharing my thoughts from the book "A Life That Says Welcome" by Karen Ehman. To read the first 4 parts, click here.
So far in my thoughts about this book, I've been focusing on hospitality in the home. While it is important for us to use our homes for hospitality, to both our family and to friends and strangers, hospitality is not limited to our own four walls. Hospitality can be practiced in a myriad other ways, simply by sharing kindness and generosity towards those within our sphere of influence. Who's in your sphere? Here are just some of the folks in my sphere: my neighbors, my parents, my sister and her family, my in-laws, my sisters at church (and their families), the service people who help us care for our home (like the garbage man), the check-stand clerks at Trader Joe's, Costco, and Win-Co (my 3 favorite places to shop), the mailman, and (most significantly right now) my students and coworkers at the school where I teach.
You see, most of us interact with dozens of people outside our homes and families on a weekly basis. How wonderful would it be if the Christians in your community were known for their hospitality to those they encounter in the community? Author Karen Ehman offers a good suggestion for how we can get started in practicing what she calls "Hospitality on the Road": Start by making a list of the things you're good at, such as baking, crafts, writing letters, intercessory prayer, cleaning, organizing, or connecting with children. If you're not sure, ask your family and close friends for their input! Once you have a list of talents you can offer to those around you, make a list of ways you can use those talents to bless the people in your own sphere. For example, if you make dynamite muffins, why not make up a batch and leave them with a thank you note for your garbage man? Can you imagine how much he will be blessed by a surprise basket of baked goods for his rather thankless job?
Here are some other ideas you might consider:
- Do you remember the U.S. postal service? You know...they deliver things to actual mail boxes...not email in-boxes! Why not send someone a handwritten note? I've received a few of these in the last couple years and have been blessed each time someone thought enough of me to write a card, put a stamp on it, and put it in the mail. I have a wonderful friend who sees funny, sarcastic cards she knows I'll appreciate and she'll send them to me. She even sent me an anniversary card (the kind a wife might give her husband) simply because the card was so stinkin' funny! That WAS a treat to get in the mail, random though it was. A handwritten note shows someone you care enough to take extra time on their behalf.
- If someone invites you into their home, take along a hostess gift, such as a candle, a baked good from your kitchen, or a jar of preserves. It'll probably surprise your host and make them feel as welcome as you do in their home!
- Practice hospitality on the road by offering your services in a local homeless shelter, rescue mission, shelter for abused women, or orphanage. Places like this do so much for the less fortunate in our communities and they rarely have all the help they can use. Your children can even serve with you! Karen's children served pickles and olives at the homeless shelter when they were only 3 years old. The guests of the shelter were blessed by the smiles of the children and the children began to learn early to serve and love those from all levels of society.
- Send a care package to a college student, someone in the military, a friend in the hospital, or a child at camp. I received a few rare, precious packages as a college student and as a camp counselor and it was also a very welcome surprise. It was always refreshing to me to know that someone "outside" was thinking of me!
- Buy the coffee for the person behind you in line at your local coffee stand or shop. I'll never forget the woman at the Portland Airport last Christmas whose coffee I paid for. She said very sweetly in a slight southern drawl, "Well, bless your heart!" Her sweet face sticks in my memory as a reminder that generosity and surprise blessings last far beyond my tall decaf skinny vanilla-nut latte! In LA, my husband and I bought a latte for the guy behind us. It turned out that he was going in for a third interview for a job that day. Our act of kindness gave him a boost of confidence for his interview. His smile, too, sticks in my minds eye. I wish I knew if he got the job! Whether he did or not, he was blessed, and so were we. His smile of gratitude was worth every extra penny at Starbucks.
- Here's one that's near and dear to my heart: What can you do to bless the teachers in the schools near you? First of all, you can PRAY PRAY PRAY! Whether or not we have children enrolled in public school, we are all affected by what happens there. The taxes we pay are used, in part, to fund the schools. The teachers in the schools are showing their students how to live and function in society. The children coming out of the schools are our future leaders and policy makers. They need prayer. We (teachers) need prayer. We also need to know that those in our community recognize how difficult it is to manage all the mandates coming down while also trying to teach our students the essential skills -- both academic and personal -- to become productive members of the community. Even a card and a basket of muffins or cookies is enough to give a little boost of encouragement to a teacher's day...and we need that encouragement so much! Christian teachers, especially, need the prayers of our brothers and sisters in the faith. We face a lot of opposition in the public sector, sometimes subtle and sometimes very blatant. Our job goes beyond teaching the children and managing the classroom. We're also responsible for representing Christ to our colleagues and students. That, in and of itself, can be exceptionally draining. Please consider how you might encourage the teachers, administrators, support staff, and students of a school near you. Our schools need Christ, now more than ever!
Karen offers many more suggestions in her book for how we can all practice hospitality on the road...too many to list them all here. I would highly recommend getting your hands on a copy of her book, but I'd also like to hear from YOU!
What have you done to be welcoming and kind to others in situations outside of your home? Please share your ideas in the comments below so we can learn from each other!
Have a wonderful week!