As I was working this morning, cleaning, sorting, filling garbage bags for the dump and boxes for Goodwill, I kept thinking that the work of cleaning and decluttering would be impossibly uninspiring to me if there were not an eternal point to it. We keep house because order is the very nature of God. We keep house for ourselves, so that we can live in a peaceful, relaxed, stimulating home. We keep house for others, so that we have a welcoming place for them to be. Home is a place where we rest and grow and develop, and it is also a place to share our lives with others. But it does not have to be just so before we open our homes. A humble, open, embracing heart is the key to hospitality.
I have three favorite books on hospitality: Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains; Real Love for Real Life by Andi Ashworth and Radical Hospitality by Father Daniel Homan, OSB, and Lonni Collins Pratt. It is this last one, Radical Hospitality that I've been picking up often lately (and it is very marked up in pencil).
It was in a little stack of books that I was putting away this morning, and I began flipping through it. Do you have books that tend to continually "speak" to you? Books that inspire you? Motivate you? Comfort you? I do. And this is one of those books that helps keep my mind and priorities on the right track. It makes me want to think less about myself and more about others. It makes me want to care. And it makes me want to seek God more because I know that the kind of hospitality described in this little book is impossible without His grace.
Something in particular from the book that crosses my mind again and again is a particular story about true radical hospitality. When I am sometimes tired and feel reclusive and have no sense of hospitality, even to myself or to my family, when I forget what love and caring and hospitality is really all about, I read this story again because doing so rearranges my priorities and makes me want to be a deeper, more caring person:
A friend of Lonni's (one of the authors) told us a story about the day her husband called to tell her he wanted to bring home a guest, a woman from South Africa. She told him no, don't even think about it, buster. It could not have been a worse day, she explained.
The washing machine had busted and she was out of diapers, so the babies had dishtowels pinned to their bottoms (they were the parents of boys, two sets of twins, aged two and five). There were no clean towels and the beds were stripped and all she had were soggy sheets. She explained that she planned to serve boxed macaroni and cheese and hot dogs on paper plates for dinner. She told him that she had not had time for a shower and did not see any break in her schedule for that particular luxury before midnight.
What's more, when the dishtowels on the babies' bottoms became soiled she would be stripping them down to naked.
"No," I told him, "do not bring this woman home, not today."' He begged. He said we were exactly what she wanted to see, a normal American family. I pointed out that not many American families had a lunatic for a mother, and two sets of twins, and he just laughed. He said she would love hot dogs and the twins and the paper plates and even little lunatic me. I gave in.
That night over paper plates and boxed macaroni the woman, her husband, and their four sons heard the story of apartheid. The mother knew the youngest two would not remember them, but she determined, before the meal was over, she would tell the stories to her sons again and again. She would not let them forget. The guest had once had her own sons, two of them. They had both been killed in the violence.
The guest helped clean up, she helped put the children to bed, and then she sat on their front porch steps and cried while she smoked one cigarette after another.
"She was a child of God who had lost her way," said Lonni's friend. "She didn't know if she would ever go home again. She told me weeks later, she opened her heart to a white woman for the first time in years. She wasn't the only one who was changed that night, though. I learned the stranger comes to me with the message of an angel, a gift to give me that will change my life."