People often ask us what an “average” week is like in the Dexter household in China. That question makes us laugh because we don’t have many average weeks. Life is full of unexpected and varied experiences. Learning to be flexible has been a big key to being content in China. But one constant of our lives is welcoming many friends and strangers through the door.
Recently I was researching the definitions of the word “hospitality” and found something surprising. When people think of hospitality, they often think, “Oh, my house is too small. When I get a bigger house I’ll invite friends over.” Or, “I’m not a very good cook. If I learn to cook I’ll have guests.” Then there’s, “I can’t afford to entertain.” But hospitality doesn’t really have much to do with the size of our abodes, the quality of our cooking, or the state of our wallets. Rather, the Biblical definition is “love to strangers” and according to one online dictionary it is the “quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” As with all of the important things in life, hospitality flows from and reflects our hearts.
Early in my life with young children, God convicted me about my attitude in offering hospitality. Everything had to be perfect! I’d get all stressed out, become impatient with my children, and just make life generally miserable for everyone. Everyone in the home almost hated having guests over because my attitude was so miserable. In my Bible reading, God in His kindness gave me Proverbs 15:17, which says, “Better are vegetables served with love than a fatted ox with hatred.” That became my goal in opening our door to family, friends, yes, and strangers! I have a few tips that have helped us enjoy this lifestyle God has called us to:
- Make it a family affair. Involve children and teach them early how to take ownership of the joy of hospitality. If everyone works together to prepare meals, set up the room, and greet the guests, it’s just more fun. Interacting happily and cheerfully while working makes sweet memories and teaches practical life skills.
- Keep it simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive or fancy to make friends welcome. Once in Texas when we were really broke, (really, really broke!) we had a friend whose wife and kids had just left him, so we invited him over once a week for a pancake supper! At that point we were eating pancakes four nights a week, and that was what we had to offer. The first time we had him it was a little embarrassing, but he just loved those pancakes and he was happy to get out of his quiet house once a week.
- If you feel you want people to especially enjoy their meal, you can serve them almost anything for the main dish if you give them a good dessert! People remember what comes last! (And if it’s chocolate, that’s all the better, but maybe that’s just me!)
- Hospitality is all about the people so work to have individual conversations with as many guests as you can. Ask questions, interact, and engage. Even if you have a room full of people that you want to greet, when you’re speaking to a person give him your FULL attention even if you have to move on quickly. Look her in the eye and listen when she answers!
- Treat guests like home folks. Relax and enjoy the people God has brought into your life for that period of time.
I’ve had this subject on my mind lately because July has been the month of the open door in our household.
Our granddaughter, Angela, came and stayed for a few days. (Ok, that’s not really hospitality but I wanted to show her off!)
Lacy and Alyssa came for about three weeks to work alongside us.
Alyssa enjoys one of the babies at the orphan camp.
Lacy + violin = music therapy!
Grace doing her bit by giving Lacy a massage!
As I said, sometimes our guests are strangers. (Some are stranger than others!)
One week, while the “girls” were here, was especially full! On Friday, we hosted the orphan camp. It was not at our house, but together with our good friends at the Fountains we provided food, fun, and fellowship for the orphans and the staff from the orphanage.
We were blessed to be able to present gift bags to each member of the orphanage staff who came to this event, thanking them for allowing us to be involved with what they are doing for these precious kids. The bags contained some very fun things among which were specialty foods, travel bags, tea “bottles”, fish oil capsules (coveted by many Chinese because they believe American fish oil is the best in the world), compacts, sets of dishes, tote bags, and some most excellent reading materials.
This is a group shot of the orphans, the orphanage staff, and some of the volunteers who were there that day. Unfortunately, none of the superb staff of the Fountains (who are good friends of the orphans and share sponsorship of this event with us) were there for the final photo as other tasks had their attention at that time.
Then, two days later on Sunday, two families who are friends through adoption, Ruthi, Amy and Bill along with their daughters (9 total), spent Sunday afternoon and evening with us. They were kind enough to bring us all kinds of things for both the orphans and our family, as we fellowshipped over a spaghetti dinner. Our girls had fun playing Uno with some of their daughters!
On Monday, our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, Mark, Ryan, and Joe showed up on our doorstep after a few weeks of traveling around China. They get the vote for being the most fun to feed of anyone we’ve had in our home this year! Their hearty appetites and “Mmmm” sounds during the three days they were with us made our summer. I even got word that one of them was crying over the roast beef. They can put their feet under our table any time!
While they were here, on Wednesday we gave our friends an opportunity to invite their friends to our house for dinner and a lecture. As stated in a previous post, most Chinese are very community oriented and like to share their experiences with their friends, so every now and then we give an open dinner invitation. On this night we had fifty-five enjoying our menu, which was sort of a “Chinglish” mix- fried chicken strips, Chinese fried noodles, fried rice, white rice, dumplings, corn on the cob (not really a meal item here, more of a snack, but we serve it at meals anyway), broccoli, salad (with LOTS of ranch dressing! Our friends here LOVE ranch dressing and will literally use it as gravy on almost anything on the table!), rolls, several kinds of fruit, and oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert.
Oops, how did this photo of me holding my grandson, Josiah, end up HERE? Oh, well… That’s Josiah’s gong gong” on the left. (The “o” makes the long sound and it means his grandpa on his mom’s side.) You can tell that I’m saying, “Oh, MY! What a darling child!”
This is our foyer that evening!
As you see, we have a lot of cheap, portable accommodation for large groups. We set up small tables and plastic stools. We always try to rent apartments with spacious living rooms because we give a lot of parties. After dinner, all the tables were folded up and the stools were moved out into the room. Here, Joe is telling about his past life, his present life, and his expectations for the future.
The guys left on Thursday morning and you’ll never guess what we did THAT day? We rested! It was a great week- lots of people, lots of fun, and lots of work – a perfect mix. Thanks, Lord!
Lest I sound as if we are always on the giving end of hospitality, I’d like to relate some special memories we have of times in other people’s homes. We are often traveling when we are in America, and have been very blessed by so many along our path. I can’t possibly relate every episode in this space but will give you a variety! I hope this will encourage you and spur you on to open your homes to friends and strangers and give you ideas of ways you might make guests feel welcome!
- On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Raj and Tracy welcomed us in, having never met us. Tracy had their guest bath set up with luscious organic hair and bath products that I would never purchase for myself. She also had a cute little shelf with all kinds of samples and small items we might need. Every trip to the bathroom was a treat and a luxury. I felt like I was in a spa!
- We usually fly in and out of Raleigh, NC, arriving late and leaving early for those transcontinental flights. Two families there take turns hosting us during those transitions. Their homes seem like refuges to us, since those are very stressful times. Once, upon arrival, we found that Mary and Curtis had put Russell Stover chocolate covered marshmallow candies on each of our pillows- my favorite candy in the world! Another time, Tricia and Mark made us “to go” breakfast bags to eat at the airport. We felt so loved…
- My friend Janice (who may be the most hospitable person in the world) usually has a little gift bag to greet us with things for our girls to do/play in the car as we travel along with clothing items she has purchased for us, knowing that when we get back to the states our clothes are pretty ratty. She has nice taste and purchases the things at thrift stores, so these items don’t bankrupt her, but her thoughtfulness and attention to detail make us feel special.
- Laureen, another dear friend and busy mama, took two hours out of her always tight schedule to make a quiet two hours just to visit over glasses of iced tea. I treasure that memory! That meant even more to me than the huge fourth of July pool party she hosted on our behalf so that we could see friends in her area!
- Carol and David, a brother and sister in Houston, had visited our home in China and remembered us mentioning what foods we most missed from America. When we arrived at their place, they had the freezer stocked with ice cream in my husband’s favorite flavors! They gave us freedom to make ourselves at home, to sit on their front porch and let Texas soak into our bones, and to rest our weary souls. It wasn’t just the food and rest that showed love to us (they took us out for yummy Mexican food- the favorite of many in our family), but they spoke many words of encouragement and prayed with us and for us.
- We parked our camper in Stu and Pam’s driveway for several days and felt like part of the family as they and all of their children made us welcome. They allowed us to be silly, to laugh, and to be ourselves. (Some people treat folks in our position as if we forged the holy grail!) We truly did “Consider ourselves…at home. Consider ourselves…part of the family.. (Think “Oliver”) After a few days it was almost hard to see where one family ended and the other began! (Of course, it didn’t hurt that one of their daughters had lived with us for three years:-D)
Photo credit- Alyssa was the official photographer for these events!