photo by Jennifer Martinez
Hospitality. From the Latin hospitalitem, meaning ‘friendliness to guests.’ My life has been changed by hospitality, the guest to whom friendliness was the chief offering.
Zachary and I travelled to Kansas City our first married Spring Break. No kids, a dog in the care of his grandparents, Brunhilda (our trusty silver Honda Accord), and some money for gas and food. Our good friend Corrie lived there and we looked forward to seeing her and spending some time in the prayer room at IHOP-KC (no, not pancakes, but rather the International House of Prayer).
Corrie didn’t have room for us at her house, what with living with several other girls, but she did have some friends who liked to offer a place for pilgrims to stay—the Woottens. They liked to be called Pete and Woot. We obliged.
Their sons away at college, they had a couple of twin beds to offer us—in separate rooms. I think these three or four nights were our first nights not sleeping in the same bed since our wedding 9 months before. There was something both bittersweet and refreshing for me in that. Alone time at night wasn’t something I got anymore. My usually reserved husband opened up at night and we would spend several turns of the clock hands gabbing about our day, me fighting to keep my eyes open in an effort to soak up his talkativeness because I love it when he opens up to me. (Note: now I’m the one who gets talkative at night when he’s ready for bed…he said the other night, “So this is what it used to be like for you when we were first married?” I love moments of sweet vindication like that, don’t you? :o).
But alone in a twin bed in a room by myself. Time that I could just lay and think and talk to Jesus without the formality of bedtime prayer we had established between the two of us (Zachary and me, that is). Refreshing.
We indeed spent a lot of time in the prayer room, soaking up the presence of God and beautiful, spontaneous music while reading and meditating on Scripture. And yes, I think we both fell asleep in the pews a couple of times. It was such a beautiful time.
But I know that even more than the time spent in the prayer room, staying with Pete and Woot impacted us. It caused a shift in the trajectory of our life together.
I remember them cooking us salmon on a cedar plank—such foodies! And Nanette (Pete) made these delicious granola bars we took with us every morning. And the softened-cream-cheese-and-fresh-chopped-dill dip that I ate my weight in with Wheat Thins. Snacking on that deliciousness, talking about the call of God on our lives, the passion for music and worship He has put in us, the desire to be world-changers in the academy. Pete and Woot encouraging us in ways we never knew we needed, stepping into the place of a spiritual father and mother to say, “You’re doing a great job; keep at it! Never stop!”
Their hospitality changed our lives. Made us believe that we had something inside us more than mere youthful zeal. Gave us hope to not give up even when it was tough.
Blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
Whose heart is set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Weeping,
They make it a spring;
The rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
Each one appears before God in Zion.
Life following Jesus is a pilgrimage; it can’t help but be so. Our visit to the Wootens was a physical one; our weariness after a long drive on I-35 was a tangible thing for us. The food they gave our bodies was real (not to mention really tasty). In my memory, the season of life in which we descended upon this couple was a challenging one for them in a couple of dimensions. But they passed through their Valley of Weeping and made it a spring. In their pilgrimage, they provided a haven for others. A resting-place that marked these pilgrims’ hearts forever.
Hospitality. It’s related to the word ‘host,’ which literally meant ‘lord of strangers’ in Latin. (Thanks, once again, to my favorite website Etymonline.) I may or may not have to point out the use of the word ‘host’ in the Sacrament—the bread that is changed into the Body of Jesus. But He truly is the Lord of Strangers, making all sorts of pilgrims one people around the table.
There is so much more of the vision of hospitality that Zachary and I have for our lives, but that’s another post or another book-length discussion. So we start small. Meals in our home. Inviting others to rest in our home (and my parents’ home…they have more bedrooms currently…). Time listening and encouraging instead of spent on media or common distractions. Attention paid to each other, even, when the easy thing to do is to put up a wall and be alone in our marriage.
It’s a challenge.
To be a woman who lives and breathes hospitality. Who on her own pilgrimage makes her valley of weeping a place of springs of life through Jesus. That is one of the seven desires of my heart. That I can say truly with St. Benedict, “All are to be welcomed as Christ.” And to know that He is intimately welcomed into this pilgrim’s journey.