Open Door: What I learned from years of hospitality
I remember my grandmother, who is now passed away, handing out free plates of food to people. They'd knock on the door throughout the day, and she'd serve up a plate of whatever she had.There was always food. After she closed the restaurant that she and my grandfather had run, she still made large portions. She cooked because she loved it. She’d have food waiting when we arrived after our long drive from Houston to Myrtle Beach. It didn’t matter that it was one in the morning. Later, I’d hear a woman say that when she was down-and-out on life, without any money, my grandmother would feed her.
This hospitality was passed down to my mother. Every Sunday was like a Thanksgiving feast. Everyone knew the open-door policy.
“There’s always food,” my mother would say.
“You’re always welcome,” my father would say.
People took it to heart. My parents said it was their gift.
I would often try to find a way out of the crowd. I’d have homework to finish last minute. After eating, if not playing with other kids, I’d try to find a quiet space in my room.
But actual holidays were a little different. My parents would invite people who had nowhere to go, people without family, some from different walks of life. And like the woman my grandmother had served a plate to, these people were given a little hope through macaroni and cheese, collard greens, ham, yams. But most of all they were given hope from my parents who said, “Welcome in”.
Years later, when I was married, and living in another state, I’d call my mom to ask her how to make those dishes. This could have been an annoyance for her, but since I never liked cooking, it was probably more of a relief. My grandmother had chastised her for not teaching me how to cook.
“She doesn’t like cooking,” my mother told her. “She always has her head in a book.”
It was unthinkable for my grandmother who never gave her kids a choice about working in the restaurant.
I made a big meal that tasted sub-par to my mother’s but was pretty good. I invited over friends from Ethiopia who were far away from home and other neighbors. We sat at a tiny glass table. They thought the food was delicious regardless of how many times I told them it was nothing compared to my mother’s. I still didn’t like to cook, but I had learned over the years that there was something about sharing a meal together that made people feel like family.
When Thanksgiving did come, my husband decided that since we were in a small apartment without any furniture, it was the perfect place for a Friendsgiving meal. We could set up long tables right in the middle of the “living room”. It would be a potluck. After a long day of work, I came home to a lot of unfamiliar faces. He of course knew them from graduate school classes. I felt like I had as a kid. I preferred decompressing quietly in my room, but I had no choice but to pull myself together.
Someone complimented my sweet potato casserole in the crock pot. (It was about all I could throw together that morning.) It didn’t take me long to realize something special was happening. I couldn’t help but laugh on the inside at the fact that my husband was right. Everyone was merry. It was oddly enough the perfect place to gather.
My husband, who had not grown up with this in his life, had embraced the very thing my family had always done. What he was familiar with was the idea that anyone could be family. (For a period of his life, he grew up in a home for recovering addicts where his father worked. The people at that home loved having a little child there to toss in the air.)
That Thanksgiving was of course one of the most memorable. It was the start of having other gatherings, friends crowded on the floor, filling a tiny apartment with no furniture full of laughter.
“Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”
1 Peter 3:9-10
How have you seen hospitality be a blessing to others or how has it blessed you?
How are you particularly gifted to serve others?
How is use of your gifts a way to “administer God’s grace”?
Ashley Soden is the director of Write/Create, Inc. She's currently writing her first novel. When she's not writing, she's living life to the full with her husband and three energetic kids. You may also find her making lattes at Starbucks.