The Secret of Hospitality (Hint: It is NOT Space)



I stared, mesmerized. A glitch in my computer settings changed the screensaver. Instead of the usual drift of my children’s smiling faces floating across my screen, images from a decade ago appeared: snapshots from dinners I’d long since forgotten.

Picture after picture rolled onto the screen: seven students laughingly piled on a creaky hand-me-down futon. Twenty women cross-legged on our living room floor. Eight excited smiles of the short-term mission team we hosted for dinner in preparation for a trip back to South Africa.

So many people, I thought. And to think we hosted all of those events in a cramped apartment of less than 800 square feet.

My mind flew back to that first year of our marriage. In the first six months after our wedding, we’d lived in an apartment for just a few weeks, and then put all our worldly possessions, including boxes of not-yet-used wedding presents, into storage. We packed our clothes and essentials into two suitcases of airline-regulation weight, and then, over the next four months,  lived on the hospitality of kind friends in four different countries as we slowly made our way to the United States.

Seven months after our wedding day, we moved into our first “permanent” apartment: a one-bedroomed space hastily found. With our few remaining dollars, we bought a makeshift bed and a set of linen, and gratefully accepted boxes of used kitchen supplies from a kind couple who were marrying and trading in their “college goods” for the new things on their wedding registry. We purchased a set of cutlery and crockery for $12 from the thrift store, and celebrated our good fortune.

I walked past the large trash containers in our apartment complex, amazed that in the US people would throw out perfectly serviceable things, even if they were no longer fashionable. I salvaged a throw pillow here, a tray there, a creaky-but-functional chair.

Just a few weeks after arriving with nothing but suitcases, we were ecstatic to find ourselves in a furnished apartment, albeit a rather mismatched and eclectically decorated one. And it was into this tiny space that I started to do what I had always done: welcome people over, brew pots of tea, cook shared meals, tell the stories that stitch new relationships together.

Staring at my screensaver, I counted more than 60 faces who had shared a meal with us during that first year. No doubt, there were more. My eyes drifted from the window into our past up on the screen down into our present-day living room: with new, leather couches, and book shelves lined with hundreds of books. Down the hallway, I could see the two large boxes of goods awaiting delivery to the local thrift store: the results of a week of fervent decluttering where I was now the one throwing away serviceable, but unused, items from our house.

How was it, I thought, that I sometimes found myself thinking, “We can’t host that event. We don’t have enough space.” Ten years ago, we had hosted groups larger than that, in half the space and with a quarter of the goods.

I breathed in deeply and heard my younger self speak kindly to me: “You have space enough. You may not have seats enough, or plates enough–but you have love enough, and that is enough.”

Hospitality never was about having enough space in our home. Hospitality is about having enough space in my heart–enough space to welcome people to share our old futon, and our chipped plates; to slip off their shoes and sink into a safe space where we say with honesty, Mi casa, su casa.

See this mess? See this jumbled assortment of goods? This is our home, where we LIVE. And your messy, jumbled self is most welcome to be at home with us here.

There is space enough for one more at the table. Take off your shoes. Pull up a chair. You are welcome here.


Image credit: emdot