Monday, June 18, 2012

Learning Hospitality from My Kids: A True Story

     Several weeks ago, a boy started showing up on my doorstep asking if my boys could come out and play.  Eventually, he made his way into our house, oohing and ahhing over Lego creations, eating popsicles, having Lego battles.  One day, my oldest son came to me and said that this boy found out about his upcoming birthday party and begged to come.  I didn't really want to do this, but two days before the party, we left an invitation taped to his door.  I did not know his last name, and I had never met his mother.
     Frankly, when he showed up at the party with his mother, I was shocked.  I don't know that I would take my child to a party for a kid I'd never even met.  We made small talk, and I learned that they would be moving soon.  I asked if she had other children, and she replied, "Yes.  I have an older son who is 19, and then I had him," pointing to the boy, her son, standing by her side.  "I don't know what I was thinking.  I could've been done by now."  
     Did my mouth drop open?  How long did I stand there, staring, in stunned silence?  She said her goodbyes and left him.  
     On another day, around 6:00 he showed up and asked to play.  Around 6:30 the kids asked to come inside because "It's hot, and I want to show him something."  I mumbled that he could come in but only until dinner was served.  I was running behind.  Dinner was late.  I had a million things to do.  I really did not want this boy in my house very long.  At 7:00, right as I was calling my boys to come and eat and explaining that it was time for the boy to go home, my youngest son asked if the boy could stay for dinner.  "Please, Mommy," he said with those big, droopy, hopeful puppy-dog-pleading eyes.  I looked at the boy.  I looked at my husband.  "Help," I was thinking.  "Don't make me the be the bad guy."  My husband asked if he'd eaten, and he said he had not.  I set another plate.
     When he began to eat, it was clear that he was very hungry.  We found out that he stays home alone all day and wanders the neighborhood.  This specific night, after work, his mother had gone to visit her boyfriend and his mother.  She had not been home all day.  This boy had just finished the 4th grade.  He is ten years old.  Ten and he'd been fending for himself all day long.  I felt such sorrow and conviction, and I was thankful for my children, who are clearly more hospitable than I.  
     That night, when I checked my Facebook news feed, I read this on the status of a dear and precious friend:  

 "Real and costly hospitality requires a paradigm shift for Westerners because it endangers certain sacred cows: time, money, privacy, autonomy, and especially choice. Hospitality is a drain on your free time, discretionary income, emotional energy, and independence. It may mean we have to limit our career opportunities to maintain roots and relationships. It may mean that we have to stop scheduling every last minute of our lives, so that we can leave space for unexpected guests. It may mean that we have to place ourselves intentionally in situations and communities where such encounters might occur. It may mean we have to open our hearts and shut off our smart phones."  (from
     Do you ever want to throw your hands up and say, "OK, OK, Lord.  I get it.  I'm sorry.  I'm so so sorry"?  This was one of those moments.
     Now, every night, we pray for this little boy, especially my youngest -- he never forgets.  We pray that he will know the love of Jesus and trust Him as his Savior.  He moved away two days after he ate dinner with us, but for me, the memory of our few weeks with him reminds me to "Always show more kindness than seems necessary, because the person receiving it needs it more than you will ever know."1  I pray I don't forget this, but thankfully, I have my boys to help me remember.

1.  Powell, Colin L.  "Kindness Works."  Parade Magazine May 20, 2012:  12.  Print.  Adapted from It Worked for Me.  Colin Powell recounts an elderly priest saying this at the conclusion of a sermon in a small suburban Episcopal church in Northern Virginia.

Thanks to Holly for sharing the awesome blogpost on hospitality!

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