Practicing Hospitality Imperfectly

One of the seven values of our home is the practice (that is the making mistakes along the way of learning) of hospitality. When we practice hospitality instead as entertainment, that is, the act of amusing or performing for our guests, we miss a very important quality in the intended expression: the administration of care to brokenness, the being of a hospital

Of the making of Pinterest boards and Hygge books and shiplapped magazines there is no lack, but what does it mean to be a hospital at the dinner table or over coffee or in the doing of daily tasks around the house? How is doing laundry or washing dishes or having difficult conversations or listening an act of hospitality in a culture that wines and dines and lauds the farm to table spread in an autumn cornfield at dusk? When these latter expressions are the pièce de résistance, the thing we think of when we think of hospitality, how does the mere folding of socks, packing of lunches, and being seen with your hair undone express a better hospitality? 

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These are the questions that have rattled around in me for the entirety of my life. From my earliest memories, I have been surrounded by the earthly, simple, practical act of hospitality. For years of my teens we had three different families living with us in our home, giving over entire floors of our house to them, siblings squished in bedrooms, dinners rowdy affairs. I don't want to paint those experiences as perfect, they were, without doubt, some of the most difficult of my teen years (and, I'd venture, for the adults as well), but they happened. The sharing of resources and home and opinions and reputations was commonplace in our home. Some of the most painful memories of my life happened in those spaces and others, where our family was meshed with another family, imperfectly but still done. The option for a closed door was never one considered. This way of life felt natural to me, still feels natural to me, although I am learning it carries dysfunction in me too: a belief that saying "no" is not an option. This is why I am still learning to practice hospitality and not perfect it.   

How does one practice hospitality, the being a hospital, and yet also confess they are not the Great Physician and there are some maladies even a good soup and hearty homemade bread cannot fix? I do not have the answer to this question, though it seems like it should be easy, but here is how we generally think about our home and hospitality: 

We can only give what we can give. If we do not have it, we cannot give it. If we cannot give it, we cannot give it. But Christ can and so sometimes the best act of hospitality is to say: I cannot, but he can. To administer the grace which says, "We do not have what you need to become better. But we do have Christ." 

We sometimes must let things be awkward. If every space in an evening or a life must be filled with small talk or inventions of stories, there is no space for the awkward growing pains of maturity to stretch. Being quiet for longer than the noted beat of acceptable silence reminds us in sometimes painful ways that not all is resolved yet, that we are still in process, and in need. Most of us ramble to fill that space and in doing so we crowd out the small voice of the Spirit who may want to move the conversation in another direction entirely. Part of true hospitality is times of quiet, sometimes awkward quiet. 

And yet, we must also move toward the person in our home, initiating questions, drawing them out, being a "there you are" person instead of a "here I am" one. We ask questions like, "How does your heart feel about this?" or "What is this sadness teaching you about God?" or "What is being revealed in your anger/fear/pride/hurt?" instead of only "How was your day?" "How is your job?" "How are your kids?" The heart is the wellspring of life and so we must get at the heart if we are to minister life. 

We eat good, nourishing, healthy food at the table almost every night. There is no magic here, no fix to the world's problems, no Pinterest worthy spread. There is only true food that nourishes a body because bodies matter too. Hospitality is not only about caring for the emotional or relational needs, but the physical ones too. We light candles every night (I have some beeswax ones in squatty jelly jars right now, if tapers don't work for families with young kids), we use cloth napkins, we eat on real (but mismatched) plates. We nourish the soul while we're nourishing the body by using real things instead of disposable ones or the finest china. We want to remind ourselves that we are real things in a real world on a real earth and if hospitality doesn't extend both inside our bodies and outside our front door, it's not real hospitality. 

We sometimes say "No." As noted above, this one still feels wildly uncomfortable in my mouth. I have a lifetime of saying "Yes" behind me. Yes to the extra mile. Yes to the extra cloak. Yes to whole spaces of a home. Yes to open doors. And yes to open lives. But sometimes saying "No" is best. I think generally folks are either "Yes" folks or "No" folks, and we each must learn to curve into the unnatural word, turn it over in our mouths, utter it occasionally until we realize the world won't end if we say it aloud, and then practice saying it, sometimes saying it at the wrong time or in the wrong way, but practicing it nonetheless. I am learning to say "No" now more than ever before and this too is an act of hospitality, I am learning. It is saying that I am not the Great Physician and I cannot solve the world's problems, I cannot even solve my own, and so sometimes I must say it right out loud: no. 

If you come to the Wilbert home for dinner or coffee or breakfast or Christmas or Easter or homegroup or a weekend or a year, you will feel each of these things in some way in the way we practice hospitality today. Because it is something we value, it is something we hold dearly and inspect often, looking for holes or ways to make better or ways we have failed to make good. We value hospitality, but we are far from perfect at it. Christ is the perfect expression of hospitality, the one who entered in and allowed himself to be approached, the one who brought the best wine and ultimately showed himself to be the best wine. We look to him not as our model of hospitality, though, but as the only one who "makes all the sad things come untrue." 

Here are some books I've read through the years that have helped shape, right, and challenge my perspective on hospitality: 

The Hidden Art of Homemaking

The Life-Giving Home and The Life-Giving Table

Glory in the Ordinary

The Quotidian Mysteries

Acedia and Me

Keeping House

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What Silence Says

We have been fasting for more than a week now, from news and media, from certain foods and from other things too, resetting our minds and bodies from the deluge of Christmas cookies and the muddiness of media. It has been good, cleansing, and helpful. Nate and I both wrestle the two headed monster called Depression and Anxiety, and when we feast on the empty calories of food or information, we are weaker for the battle. He says to me last night as we brushed our teeth and got into bed: "Fasting is hard but it reminds me that God is our provider, redeemer, and joy." I need those reminders. 

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In the absence of some distractions (and the presence of a sugar/dairy/bread free mind), I've been reading more, listening more, and reflecting more on my own heart. For all the writing I do on Sayable, a casual reader might think I was adept at mining the depths of my own heart, but the raw truth is these words are more often the skimmed surface of a deep pool I fear to swim within. The past few months have troubled those waters, though, pulling me under to, as the poet said, "the thing I came for: the wreck and not the story of the wreck." I am a story-teller, we all are, and there is no better or more rapt audience for my stories but myself. I tell myself the most true or most false stories every single day of my life, and the part I tell to others is the mere tip. But the thing I want to come for (and the thing Jesus did come for) is the wreck itself and not just the story of it. 

That's a painful thing to acknowledge for me. I suppose it is for any of us, but for a writer, one whose vocation it is to make things sayable, it feels more painful to acknowledge. My job is not to tell a compelling story about God or life or theology or marriage or sin or suffering: my job is to hold up all those things as simply what they are, without the embellishment of false optimism or false peace or false idealism. I am not called to make the great resolution, but to leave what God has left unresolved until he resolves it fully

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January is a time for fasting or exercising or doing or being or becoming and I suppose all of us are having these stirrings or awakenings in our souls, realizations that things are not all as they should be or could be or might be. So I wonder today, what is the Lord revealing to you today, as you fast from eating or intimacy or speaking or scrolling or socializing or numbing? In the new and quiet space, where the many-headed monsters are being silenced by your silence, what is God showing you needs to be adjusted? Left off? Walked away from? Deleted? 

Fasting is good for our bodies and better for our souls. I've said elsewhere the hunger pang we feel for the thing or food or person, is there to point us to our greater and deeper hunger for God. And "what we are really longing for," Sheldon Vanauken said, "is God." 

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These Hibernation Days

I hope your Christmas season has been warm and rich, full of reminders that you're loved and there is so much for you to love. Even in my moments of stark disappointment, when I can easily list out all the ways I've felt overlooked by God or others, I remember, "I have so much and so many to love. Even if [fill in the blank], I have been given much by God to be invested in, to love, to hear, to reconcile, and more."

As we move toward the new year, still plodding through the dark days of winter, I am always reminded of God's good design for winter. The old adage, "Bloom where you're planted," is cute, but nothing blooms all year long. Everything appears to die and some things do die. We know seeds must drop to the ground and die before they can be broken open and begin the process of blooming again. Winter is a fallen seed, before it has sprouted again. It is God's gift to us, to teach us of the value of rest, quiet, hiddenness, and death. 

I began the Seven Ways series a few week ago and want to continue today. I said one of the Ways we practice not a work/life balance, but a work/rest model in order to see God as our Creator, Redeemer, and Joy. 

So much is said about work/life balances, especially in the career world. Stay at home parents or spouses laugh at that though, because work is life and life is work and there is no easy seamless division for what is work and what is just life. In many ways, this is a gift from God though. Life is toil, even the weekends are, and when we make these clear delineation of the two, we can begin to grow frustrated when our "life" time (or me-time) is infringed on by work. So instead, Nate and I try to talk about our weeks, months, and our year in terms of work/rest. 

Work is times of faithfulness, of sometimes going beyond our abilities or preferences to get the job done. To be faithful in small places to provide, prove, refine, care for, and supply. This is most of our week, month, and year. We want to go to bed tired at night, spent from being invested in people, in service, in hospitality, in counsel, in vocation.  

Rest is times of knowing God's faithfulness, of seeing the ways our God is our Creator, Redeemer, and our Joy. It is not about us, although it is a gift from God to us. I've written previously about how we practice Sabbath in our home, but this also applies to things like winter or holidays. These are dim days where we feel our frailty and fragility, and where the light of Christ has come and is coming still. These are the days we intentionally step back from much of the daily grind and, instead, look up. 

I am just as proficient at naval gazing as the best of them. It is so tempting and easy to look down at myself or at the world and try to dissect all the missing parts or broken places. But to rest, for me, means I pick up my eyes, look up to the hills, and know my Helper comes from above. It means intentionally not fixing what Jesus has left unfixed. It means not rushing to be or do or go or see something. It means taking my hands off what I want to control. All of these ought to be regular practices but, for us, it helps to have a regular day where we remember in startling clarity how far we've wandered. Our Father is our all-sufficient hope, Christ is our all-sufficient sacrifice, and the Spirit is our all-sufficient help. We need a period of time to just remember, reflect, and rejoice in these truths. 

We practice our sabbath from sundown Saturday to sundown Sunday. That might not work for you, but find something that does. We take our cue from the natural seasons, too, and rest more in the winter. We hibernate. No human body is capable of doing all we demand of it all year, we must rest. For many, "rest" waits for vacation days. We've spent all of our vacation this year traveling, driving, seeing family, engaging folks we rarely see, and we come home and need a vacation from our vacation. I don't think God designed rest to be like that.

What would rest look like for you if you simply removed your hands from plowing, planting, sowing, harvesting for a bit this winter? What would it look like for you to rest, not so you can prepare to work again soon, but so you can remember you are the seed and not the farmer? 

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A Case for Marrying Later

I have read and heard and read some more of the case for marrying young, but the more I think about it, and the more I see faithful singles in their late twenties into their thirties and forties and beyond, the more I actually do believe with Paul that it is good to remain unmarried, if not forever, at least then longer. 

What I am not saying is prolonged, aimless, meandering singleness serves anyone (including, if God wills, your future marriage). What I am saying is the purposeful, intentional, poured out life of an unmarried person for the good of the church, the community, and the earth, is a very great gift and should not be squandered or squelched by the growing concerns of married people about late marriages. 

I think the reason many—in the church especially—are concerned about this trend of later marriages is because for so long the main medium and message has centered around the family instead of around faithfulness. Procreation of children, family morals, concerns about marriage issues—these have formed a boundary line of sorts around the sort of things Christians care about. This is why singles have felt alienated, marginalized, and overlooked within the church for so long: unless they both want marriage and are actively involved in the getting of it, there isn't a box for them. Which is unfortunate. No, it's something more than unfortunate. 

I know I don't know much about marriage yet, but I do know a thing or two about being single far longer than I originally hoped. What I found in the prolonging of my singleness was not less fruitfulness, but more as time went on. I found a curious and surprising freedom of flexibility. I found I was able to love the Lord and others with fewer distractions. I found I was able to give of my finances quickly without question. I could travel easily, serve easily, and spend long periods of time in thinking, processing, and praying. What I am not saying is the often quoted line that "singles have more time and finances than married people." What I am saying is I had the same 24 hours in my day then as I do now and the same tight budget then as I do now, but I was able to spend those hours undistracted by the things marriage has called me to now. 

Some of the most faithful Christians I know today are unmarried. They are using their gifts to show a different side of what faithfulness might look like when one doesn't have children, a spouse, a mortgage, or some other constraints. They are making a case for late marriages not simply because of the kind of marriage they might have by delaying it (hopefully more mature, grounded, wise, and sanctified than if they'd come into marriage at 20 or 22), but by being extraordinarily faithful in their singleness.

To all my readers who are unmarried, thank you for being faithful and I pray you grow only more so. The Church needs to see your example of faithfulness. The Church needs to learn marriage isn't the most sanctifying agent, but age, maturity, and submission to God are, and no one is exempt from those three things. The Church needs your hands, your minds, your insights, your passion, your longing, your gifts, not because we are needy and greedy, but because for too long we have not valued what you bring to the Christian life. 

You stand in the company of Martin Luther, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, Amy Carmichael, Joni Eareckson Tada, Mother Theresa, William Wilberforce, Florence Young, Gladys Aylward, Lottie Moon, Corrie Ten Boom, my sweet friend Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus—men and women who married late or never married at all, and of whom the world is not worthy in many ways. Faithful men and women who gave their most fruitful years not to bearing children or pleasing wives, but to the bettering of the Church and world. These are giants in my mind and they make the case for marrying late all on their own.

Marriage is a gift and it is not wrong or sinful to long for it—it is a gift I wouldn't trade today for anything, but those years of singleness were a gift too, not just to me, but to others I hope. If you have not married young, there will be sacrifices and it is good and right to mourn over those unmet desires, but then, friends, stand up in the company of those men and women above. Your undistracted, unhindered, anxiety-free faithfulness can be a gift without compare. You have not been wasted and God has not wasted you.

Marry late or not at all—God will not waste you. 

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When You Cannot Yet See the Great Light

A quiet, pulsing comfort when I'm reminded, in no uncertain terms, that we don't always get what we want, is we haven't been promised most of whatever it is we want. Marriage? More money? Bigger house? Health? More kids? Kids at all? None of them are promised. The years go by with no prospective spouse, the bank account always seems to be dry, every month a painful reminder that no seed has taken root in our womb. The reminders are everywhere, we don't even have to look far. Name anything you want and haven't yet got and there it is, your reminder. 

Today, though, I woke on this fifth day of Advent and the second day of a miscarriage, remembering the child who was promised to me. God promised a child would be born to us, a son, given to us (Isaiah 9). He was not the child I wanted last night as silent tears tracked down my face, but he was given to us the same. 

I know that doesn't seem to be a lot of comfort for all of us who are still waiting, on days we feel the not-yetness more than the alreadyness of the kingdom. But this isn't some grand cosmic Jesus-Juke. It is Jesus, before juking was a thing. And he is actually enough. Even when he doesn't feel like it. 

This morning I'm listening to Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring and the words from the third stanza comfort: 

Through the way where hope is guiding,
Hark, what peaceful music rings;
Where the flock, in Thee confiding,
Drink of joy from deathless springs.

Through this life, where hope is guiding, listen: what peaceful music rings. Where we all trust Jesus and drink from eternal and living water. 

Everyone I've talked to this December has been weighed down by the busy, the rush, the flurry of activity, the demands of family. I am laying in bed for the second day in a row, though, captive to my broken body, forced to face my sadness, our emptiness, the not-yetness. But this morning, I find myself weeping while reading Isaiah 9 because everything God has promised me is true. He is a God who keeps his promises. 

Jesus: the joy of all my desires. The one in whom I find all the yeses and amens of the Father. The perfect gift. The promised and delivered gift. 

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