Even If My Chicken is Dry


One of the biggest miracles of my life happened while playing a game at my friend Pablo’s birthday. It was well after midnight when the game started. About twenty of us sat in a circle of chairs in the main room of his house. We’d eaten pizza and empanadas, drunk a few liters of Coke, and chatted. No one wanted to go home. Some kind of communal magic was in the air. Even I, the clueless exchange student, could feel it. Besides, by Argentine standards, the night was young.

I’d been hanging around this particular group for about six months, and felt a little shocked to be sitting there at all. Everything about moving abroad had destroyed my sense of what was owed my ego. In English, I seemed smart and clued-in. In Spanish, I was hapless, and treated like a lovable mascot at best, invisible at worst. My language foibles, which so humiliated me, amused other people. I was also gaspingly lonely. Being a mascot was infinitely preferable to being left out.

I could tell that the people at Pablo’s party could be real friends if I could somehow just be me around them. They were smart, kind, funny, gracious. But it’s hard to connect under layers of verb conjugations and poor comprehension.

It was a simple party. Pablo’s mom provided the food, drinks, a cake. She moved the table from their main living area—a combo kitchen, dining room, and living room—to make space for the circle of chairs. Pablo’s house was ample by city standards, but not fancy; they had a small backyard, but otherwise, it was about the size of a small two-bedroom apartment in the US. Getting twenty people into that room wasn’t easy, but we all fit.

In the lull after eating, someone suggested we play an earnest and innocent Christian version of Spin the Bottle. Rather than kissing, we’d pose a deep personal question, and whoever the bottle pointed at, would answer. (That this counted as fun for us, rather than, say, a drinking game, is surely one of my favorite things about Christian culture.)

When the game began, I quickly realized the biggest problem was that asking good questions is not so easy. To my delight and my absolute delicious surprise, I was good at it, despite my middling Spanish.

Pretty soon, the game evolved into me mostly asking the questions, while the bottle picked the respondent. I didn’t need too many words to communicate, and even if I didn’t completely understand the response, I could spark a good conversation. As the evening wore on (that night, like many nights with these friends, I’d arrive home after dawn) I began to not just feel part of the group, but to know the people in it. I began to understand their struggles, their anxieties, their deep love for God, their desires for the future, the pain in their past.

After that night, we’d formed a brother-and-sisterhood, and even I was included in it.

It was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to, in that plain kitchen, with half-empty Coke bottles on the counter and a greasy pizza box on the sidelined table. All it took was some takeout, a circle of chairs, and the willingness of Pablo’s mom to host a bunch of scruffy college students.

Her willingness to let us gather there quite literally changed my life.

I recently spoke about my struggle to find community at a MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, and one of the women asked a question.

“I have friends that always host us,” she said. “Do I need to worry about reciprocating?”

They had an apartment, she was anxious about hosting, and she very clearly wanted me to let her off the hook.

And I wanted to—I really wanted to. I didn’t know enough of her life to offer sound advice anyway. But if my time in Argentina taught me anything, it was that you don’t need much space or effort at all to transform someone’s life with your hospitality. All the people there who invited me in had very little space to share. I learned that modest circumstances do nothing to prevent us from being able to bless other people. Later, I’d learn of other significant barriers in Pablo’s family’s life that made hosting us that night difficult. They did it anyway.

I’m speaking to myself, and not just to you. I get anxious inviting people over sometimes, anxious when our schedule gets busy. Sometimes I hesitate to ask, wondering if I’ll have bandwidth when the day arrives. Yesterday, my husband invited someone over for dinner that same day; I stewed a little, wishing I’d had some notice, wondering if we’d have enough food.

Dinner was lovely, despite my grumbling. And making a regular practice of hosting—even if sometimes the social fit isn’t perfect, or my chicken is dry, or we don’t have matching chairs for everyone—makes me feel rich in a way almost no other practice does.

It’s no accident that communion is rooted in the simple act of sharing a meal together. The honest truth is that gathering with friends to eat is always a little bit of a miracle.

Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri is a writer and artist from San Diego who is happily content with being an awkward Christian. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, "Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.
Heather Caliri
Heather Caliri