Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Cobwebs and Potatoes

After that post about the gathering at our house, a few folks said, "I hope you're going to get some rest now."

I appreciate their sentiments.  Having a house (and porch and yard and pool) full of people can be tiring, but for me, it's a good tired.  I have finally learned (I hope) after the earlier years of fretting and fussing, that hospitality is not about the house at all.  It is not about the decor or the cleanliness, not even about the food.

Two stories that helped me to learn this...

Some years ago, I hosted a women's gathering in my home.  We sat with our tea and treats in my family room and talked.  We must have had some sort of women's meeting type topic, maybe a devotional.  Honestly, I don't remember anything about the content which probably has to do with the fact that I had likely worried about getting my house clean, scurried around barking out jobs, and probably rushing to get it all done and ready and nice before the women arrived.

A couple of months after this gathering, there was another one at someone else's home and many of the same women were present.  The topic of this second gathering, I do remember, was hospitality.

We sat around and talked about what hospitality really is and why we differ in our comfort levels with inviting people into our homes.  One woman, who had rarely invited anyone to her house shared how she was nervous about cleanliness and afraid people would not feel comfortable.

She had recently, however, invited a family to dinner and she told us what had helped her overcome her fear of opening her home.  She said, "Last time we met at Beth's house, I looked up in the corner of the room and saw big cobwebs.  I figured if Beth wasn't worried about the cobwebs and didn't mind people seeing them, I shouldn't worry about my house either."

I was, well not quite mortified, but a bit chagrined.  I had never even noticed those cobwebs.  I went home and the first thing I did was to look up in that corner and there they were, probably even bigger than they had been before, long dusty silken threads waving in the breeze.  From my friend's vantage point, they must have been so obvious and they really did look pretty bad!  She must have thought I was not much of a housekeeper, but those cobwebs gave her courage.

It was not the shortbread I had baked, nor the flowers on the table that meant the most to my friend.  It was the cobwebs she remembered.

And another little story, this one told to me many years ago when we lived in Kenya.

I had a friend, Margaret, who worked as an administrative assistant in a college in Nairobi.  She was a mother of three, active in the church, married to a university professor, fairly well off.  One Sunday, she and her family were invited by someone they'd just met at church, to come for lunch.  When they arrived, their host was busily peeling potatoes and putting them on to boil.  Margaret looked around to see what else she was preparing, but that was it.  Just potatoes.  That was all the family had to eat.  They sat down to a meal of boiled potatoes and talked and got to know each other better.  Margaret told me it was one of the most enjoyable lunches she'd ever had.  It mattered not at all that the only thing on the table was potatoes.  What was shared that day was much more than food.  Love was served in heaping portions.

Those are my stories.  They help me keep the right perspective on what true welcome means.  When I am tempted to fret about preparing for guests, I remember cobwebs and potatoes.

*pictures from Sunday's gathering


ayneazra said...

Thanks for the lovely post, Beth!

Susan said...

Oh, I just love this post and both of these stories, Beth! I just feel touched by both of them.

Lovely, lovely thoughts,