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We were new in church and new to the area, and our little three-bedroom fixer-upper was situated in a part of the universe in which it didn’t matter that we had been born and bred in Maine. We had not been born and bred in this part of Maine, and we had the accent (or lack of same) to prove it.
We knew we had some work to do if we were ever going to live our way into the homes and hearts of people in Mid-coast Maine. We also knew the answer was, of course, to go first — to begin inviting people for Sunday dinner or Saturday night dessert and a movie. But here’s the catch: four babies in eight years makes for a complicated math that drains the budget and strains all available time and energy for home improvement projects. As the years passed, the fixer-upper still looked pretty un-fixed as we replaced the furnace and shingled the roof, bought sneakers and paid for home school curriculum. Somehow, though, we knew that this was not the time to put life on hold.
In a deliberate act of hospitality, we set a goal of inviting one new couple each month for Friday night supper. We opened our door, inviting guests into our own unique chaos of high chairs and sheet rock, half-painted woodwork and ugly kitchen cabinets. This was our way of opening up our life and inviting others to open theirs to us.
The Hospitable Life
Reading Just Open the Door: How One Invitation Can Change a Generation, I felt Jen Schmidt and the whole (in)courage team nodding and smiling in agreement that true hospitality is nothing more (and nothing less!) than “an ordinary couple [making] a deliberate decision, intent on getting to know the people around them from more than a polite distance.” (2) In Romans 12:3, the Apostle Paul puts a strong verb in front of the word hospitality when he urges Roman believers who were facing persecution to “pursue hospitality.”
Hospitality, then, is not wild creativity on display, nor is it a demonstration of expert cooking skill. It’s a way of life that wonders:
“Whom can I love on today?”
“Who needs encouragement?”
Each chapter of Just Open the Door unpacks a different facet of the hospitable life with words of encouragement and stories lifted from Jen Schmidt’s own parenting, inviting, tail-gating, pot-lucking life. For every “have to” moment in your day, Jen invites you to switch the sentiment to “get to,” as in “Today, I get to change the sheets in the guest room.” A life marked by gratitude opens up the floodgates to all kinds of hospitality.
Hospitality: Will Travel
A blanket on the beach;
The bleachers at a ball game;
A picnic table at a state park;
Your church’s fellowship hall–
Simple refreshments and a warm welcome transform any space into hospitality ground-zero.
At the end of each chapter, Schmidt shares tips that “Elevate the Ordinary,” because intentionally loving others transforms paper plates and styrofoam coffee cups into fine china. Be a gatherer of people, and you will not lack opportunities to love your neighbor.
Come As You Are
Even if you are not “fine,” you need not be alone if there are people in your life with whom you are free to exchange the gift of your own imperfection (119) for the gift of their listening ear. The whole family can get in on the opportunity to neighbor broadly and indiscriminately in simple ways such as picking up the trash that lands along the streets or making conversation about dogs and kids.
Our children have received great benefits from being included in multi-generational gatherings, and we have also loved hosting their friends. Everything from spontaneous gatherings around the fire pit for s’mores and firefly sightings to huge gatherings with lace tablecloths and the best dishes have been part of our family’s culture. Jen has spoken truth in her subtitle, “One Invitation Can Change a Generation.” These days the tables get turned sometimes as our married sons and their wives invite us to their homes to be blessed and fed and connected with family and friends.
“Grace On, Guilt Off”
Things will not always go well.
Events will not necessarily unfold according to plan.
There will be seasons in which hospitality is just not possible, and you may need to be the object of someone else’s care and love. God has a way of showing up in unexpected ways, showering grace into a situation that looks hopeless.
“Opening the door when we aren’t ready defines hospitality in the deepest sense of the word.” (195)
Throwing wide the door of welcome, we embody God’s welcome and put the Gospel’s warm, life-giving hospitality on display for a world of people whose life may be changed by one simple invitation from an open and responsive heart. When we open the door, we mirror God’s acceptance, and I’m coming away from Jen Schmidt’s soft-spoken challenge with a renewed desire to lean into the risk, to open the door when I’m not quite prepared as an act of faith: “Lord, what are you about to do here?” Relaxing my need for control frees Him to work as table becomes altar, hostess becomes servant, and my open door becomes an invitation to New Life with Him.
Many thanks to B&H Books for providing this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with complete honesty.