the humility of hospitality

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This weather reminds me of Monday mornings, my final fall on campus. I was living on the top floor of our dorm, just high enough to be lost in the reds and yellows erupting across campus on all those collegiate trees. We were in the throes of an experiment in community living, a small group of curious friends attempting to push past the obvious cliques and into the richness of relational commitment.

On those monday mornings, the 14 of us made our way to overstuffed couches in the floor lounge, somewhat awkwardly settling in beside our room mentors (the saints who were roped into shepherding our project.) We wore jeans and bedhead and held bowls of cereal. They were business casual, halfway through their work-morning, obliging our collegiate adolescence. Somehow, in that space (our space), we sloughed through questions of community. Bonhoeffer and Perkins and Pohl guided our conversations with wisdom for life-making of the enduring kind. Each week we talked through the challenges and frustrations of our commitment to each other and our campus. From lofty goals of uniting classes on campus to the realities of conflicting codes of cleanliness among roommates, we wrestled through these questions of community and hospitality and reconciliation.

That experience was so transformative for me, putting me up against my flimsy convictions of what a gathering of people can/should/could be for each other. There is so much I could (and should) write about those months together, but this week I am struck by the difficulty of finding myself sorely out of practice in each of these three disciplines just a few short years later.

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September last year was the beginning of 9 months of miserable, hermit-inducing nausea. My life was a simple pattern: wake up, work, nap, attempt dinner, sleep. Throughout that long season we were loved by community that came to us, bringing meals and laughter to our sketchy little apartment. It was warm and rich and so good, and we rested.

That kindness continued for so many months, through the birth of the twins, through the most difficult early weeks and months. We simply soaked it all in, too exhausted to reciprocate, wholly needy and grateful.

This fall, just shy of 6 months into this new adventure, we find ourselves finally present enough to open our lives and home to these faithful friends, and to reach out on our own and give to others. It is refreshing, the capacity and opportunity for hospitality. I am eager to invite others in, to thrownopen our doors to our honest selves where the chaos still reigns alongside joy; and so we can gather around the [coffee] table with mugs of warm things and dig into the difficult questions of life.

If only it were so easy! My friend Jeanette posted this article last week, a challenge to welcome friends into the messy reality of life. It is a welcome reminder that my polished self isn’t really my true self, and the most beautiful community happens in the messy places of life, not the neatly curated. The author asks this question of himself before hosting: “What does it look like to welcome people into my humility rather than my standard of excellence?” 

And perhaps my version of that question would be: What does it look like to welcome people into my humble hospitality as they are, rather than as I hope they (we) will be?

See, the reality of our life in this new place is a mess of beginnings. We are thankful for these new friendships that are developing and growing and moving into the places of depth and challenge that my soul so craves. BUT. I’m learning that true hospitality is offered without the strings of those expectations or hopes.

My longings are for good things – deep soul-sharing, being known as a mother and more than a mother, fearlessly embracing feminism and a role as an ally in my church and family and community. But when I look to other people to satisfy my longings, rather than to be who they are and to celebrate and encourage their unique-ness, I am only imposing my own vision of relationship and community. Much as I might wish, no relationship can thrive under such pained conditions.

All of this is heavy on my mind because earlier this week a few new friends, current students at Trinity, came over for an evening of baking and baby holding. I invited them because I remembered how bubbled I felt during my years on that campus (a bubble I mostly loved, but still), longing to be cared for and loved in a relationship I could count on not to fade with the end of a semester. I wanted roots then, and I suppose I still crave that sort of grounding. And, I love the camaraderie of kitchen-work. Plus, I’ve been dreaming of the chance to welcome students into our lives ever since the early days of dating my professor.

All good things. But then, in the moment of welcoming-in I felt so out of my element. My atrophied hostess muscles strained awkwardly in an effort to make each girl feel welcome and cared for; the challenge of baby bedtimes while trying to remember four new names and stories proved too much for my introverted sensibilities. When I realized how poor a job I was doing at reaching out and welcoming in, my whole focus shifted inward, towards trying not to be so awkward and weird. It was a twisted spiral of hostess death, consuming me with insecurities that muffled my desires to pour out and into others.

In the awkwardness of a living room full of new friends, my competing hopes/fears only serve to complicate the simple call to love. A call to put aside the guilt over my lame small talk and forgetting names, my panic at running out of things to say. A call to embrace what I cannot control.

I feel a bit ridiculous for the ways I failed to live up to the most basic hosting skills, let alone my own hopes for these budding new relationships. It seemed easier back in that dorm lounge when our community of committed co-eds signed covenants outlining our convictions (geez. living with the lyrical Drew has rubbed off on me…) of this beautiful possibility, but the same struggle wars within me today.

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Bonhoeffer has a passage in Life Together that begins with this caution:

“Those who love their dream of a christian community more than they love the christian community itself become destroyers of that christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”

This was my anthem during our community project. I was hell-bent on letting go of my dream, forcing myself to be open to new possibilities and the strange nuances of real relationships. I failed and fail and fail. So I’m thankful the wise old man ends his reflection with this comforting call: “Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough.”

Enough. It sounds to me like a giving up, but also like a glorious freedom of finality. Enough! Enough of fear and doubt and guilt and shame over the weirdness and newness and confusing friend-dating. Enough! Embrace the moments of laughter and the moments of quiet. Enough! Embrace the long pause without panic, it is a gift of space and time together. Enough! You are enough, and so are they.

I’ll be back next week with the usual onslaught of baby photos and 6 (SIX!) month accomplishments. But this week I’m sharing mine : here, 6 months in, I am ready to embrace the mess and be honest about all that I am still holding onto. I’m hopeful. I’m enough. And I’m thankful.

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