Our home wasn’t fancy, and there were ten of us. My mom loves decorating, but despite her best efforts, there was always a pair of barn boots somewhere they shouldn’t be. My dad is incredibly organized, but he has a back condition that requires him to lie flat at intervals several times a day.
It would have been easy for them to push off hospitality until they were “better organized” or “had it all together.” Instead, they opened their home — and lives — to literally everyone. People from all over the world sat at our table. All of us knew what it was to give up our bedroom for company. Even repair technicians and delivery drivers were handed slices of homemade pie or a burger hot off the grill.
Growing up in this family culture of hospitality taught me a beautiful way to live our faith. Here are a few life lessons I learned from the constant stream of humanity that came through our doors.
Everyone has a story.
The Walmart greeter. The old lady on the second row at church. The surly neighbor. Your pastor. How we listen and engage with these stories not only sets the tone of our relationship, but it reveals a lot about our hearts, as well.
If we see every person as someone made in God’s image, we won’t look at them as mere statistics. And when we take the time to hear someone’s story, we find all the fascinating ways we as humans are both alike and different.
As a young adult, I learned to have empathy for the dreams and struggles of the widely diverse bunch who spent time in our home: from the middle aged man who dreamed of opening a map store, to dozens of foreign exchange students searching for something better than they’d known.
Everyone has a need.
Even successful, powerful people have needs that we can meet. Perhaps the most universal is the need to be known. Heard. Valued. Loved.
As my family home was filled with people from all over the world and from every walk of life, I became aware of the deep loneliness in which many people live. Everyone needs a listening ear, and once you offer that, you can nearly always discover other needs as well.
I remember an elderly neighbor lady who came for dinner and confessed she was so tired she almost didn’t come. Upon further questioning, she told us she’d been working on the plumbing under her house! While she loved her independence, she also appreciated the young muscles my family was able to share.
Everyone has something to offer.
Opening our home out of genuine love allowed us to receive blessings from our guests, as well. Every person who walked through our doors imparted something valuable. Often it was a life lesson (yes, sometimes taught in reverse: I distinctly remember learning how not to behave as a guest a few times!).
Since my dad is a college professor with both students and colleagues from around the world, our borders were expanded far beyond our Wisconsin farm. I especially appreciated learning about other cultures, a fascination that continues to this day. Other guests offered practical skills, contributing to our family in ways ranging from cutting firewood to teaching us to make gravy.
Our lives were enriched through hospitality.
In my memories of my growing up years, one thing that stands out is the way my parents invested in people’s lives through hospitality. I’m so grateful for my heritage of hospitality and hope to pass it on to my own children. Hospitality is a beautiful way to minister to people God literally brings to our doors!
Photography: JenniMarie Photography