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Posts Tagged ‘hospitality’

Every fall, when the apples appear by the bag at the grocery store (or when we go and pick our own), I reach for the same recipe: Ina Garten’s Apple and Pear Crisp. It has all the best attributes of a crisp recipe: fresh, tart fruit; a crumbly topping of butter, oats and brown sugar; dashes of cinnamon and nutmeg; zest and juice from both an orange and a lemon. (It tastes fine with one or the other, but including all four hits of citrus definitely makes a difference.)

apple tree close up fruit orchard

My friend Kara, who pointed me to this recipe, recently posted a photo of it in progress. As I looked at her blue mixing bowl, full of chopped fruit speckled with cinnamon, my mouth watered. And my mind went back to a cozy kitchen outside Fort Worth, Texas, on a frigid February night.

Earlier that day, I had hopped a plane from Abilene, sporting new fleece-lined boots and toting a smart red suitcase, headed to New York for a writing retreat. It was my first trip to New York, my first time flying solo in quite a while, and I was jazzed. But my excitement quickly turned to frustration and then deep disappointment when the “snowpocalypse” on the East Coast grounded all eastbound flights out of DFW. I wasn’t going anywhere that day.

I called Kara, with whom I had shared several college classes and a glorious semester abroad in Oxford, knowing she was living temporarily at her parents’ house after finishing graduate school. Kind soul that she is, she drove to the airport, loaded me and my suitcase into her car, then drove me back to her family’s house. After hugging me, her mom teasingly reminded me of the first night I spent there, when a late-night flat tire after a concert left several of us college girls stranded. Apparently I show up at their house when I am in trouble. But they always welcome me as though I were an expected, even an honored, guest.

It was Kara’s turn to cook dinner, so I went with her to the grocery store and then we donned aprons and got to work. We had shared a kitchen in Oxford, with nearly a dozen other girls, heating oatmeal and pasta and chopping vegetables for stir-fries, baking scones and cookies, drinking countless cups of tea. We also volunteered at our church once a week, cooking meals for a theology course they offered on Tuesday nights, spinning salad and singing hymns and teasing the church’s chef, Jules. It had been several years since all that chopping and cooking, but we fell easily into the rhythm of the kitchen again.

I don’t remember anything else we ate that night, but I remember this: chopping apples and pears on a wooden cutting board, lemon juice soaking into the creases and cuticles of my hands, stinging a little. I remember cinnamon and nutmeg coating the fruit as it glistened in the bottom of a deep baking dish. I remember zesting a lemon and an orange, mixing oats and brown sugar and butter together with my fingers, crumbling it on top of the fruit mixture, sliding the whole thing in the oven.

Later we sat at the long wooden kitchen table with Kara’s parents and her brothers, one of them newly arrived from Africa. I was nearly limp with exhaustion, but I remember smiles and laughter, and conversations about Kara’s new boyfriend in Costa Rica (whom she would later marry) and the newspaper her father runs, and my newlywed life in Abilene. I remember the warm smell of apples, pears and cinnamon, as we dug into our dessert. I felt beloved, embraced, like one of the family.

I haven’t seen Kara in a couple of years, though in a nice bit of irony, she moved back to Abilene right around the time I left for Boston. But every time I peel and chop apples, douse them with lemon juice and cover them crumble topping, I remember that dark, cold night warmed by love and cinnamon and the simple grace of hospitality.

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We had another stint entertaining strangers last week – a group of 15 students came from our beloved university in Abilene, Texas, to spend their Spring Break sightseeing and doing service projects in Boston. On the day they arrived, they’d been up since 3:30 a.m., to catch a bus to Dallas, a flight to Boston and a long T ride from the airport all the way out to Brookline, where a group of us were waiting for them, with pizza.

Despite their exhaustion, we all ate pizza and chatted, and then J and I took our two guys, Zach and Lucas, home via the T. I expected them to fall straight into bed, but instead we poured ourselves glasses of water and stood in the kitchen and talked. And then moved into the living room and talked. For hours.

It went on like that all week – chitchat over coffee and breakfast in the mornings, or sometimes just greetings on our way out the door, and a nightly catch-up in the kitchen after each day’s work and play. J and I were usually in our pajamas when they came in, but we’d stand there asking them about what they did, and the schedule for the next day. J even took a rare Friday off to tour Fenway and wander around Cambridge with the group. And on Friday night, five students and their hosts came back to our place for cookies and a hilarious, hours-long game of Catchphrase. I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks.

Most of us at Brookline didn’t know any of these students before – though Daniel was friends with one of the group leaders, and one of them was a former student of Shanna’s, to her surprise. But we had the common bonds of faith and ACU, and – as Zach put it – “the Texas approach to Boston.” We know what it’s like to be strangers here, so we could nod along with the guys’ first impressions of a city both foreign and fascinating to them. And we fell easily into talking about our common ground – professors, chapel, Abilene, Sing Song.

We speak the same language in so many ways, which is perhaps why I’m missing our guys this week. We’d never met them before and only spent a week with them, but we learned to love them pretty quickly. And should they ever decide to come back to Boston, our door is always open.

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A couple of weeks ago, J and I got a call from Scott, one of the part-time ministers at Brookline (we’re too small to have a full-time paid staff). He, in turn, had gotten a call from a minister at a church outside of St. Louis. There were two young guys heading up to Boston on Wednesday, to support a friend of theirs whose little boy (3 years old) was having heart surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. They (the dad’s two friends) needed a place to stay. Could we house them?

We said yes, and all week this verse from Hebrews ran through my head:

“Do not forget [some translations say neglect] to entertain strangers, for by doing so some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”

Since I grew up listening to Christian music in the mid- to late ’90s, the Newsboys song “Entertaining Angels” ran through my head as well: “Entertaining angels by the light of my TV screen/24-7, you wait for me/Entertaining angels by the time I fall to my knees/Hosts of heaven, sing over me.”

I’m not saying Tim and David were angels, or claiming to know exactly what either the verse or the song means (the Newsboys are famous for their catchy ambiguities). But I am saying that hosting them was a unique blessing for us, and I think it was a blessing for them too. How cool, in this city where we still often feel like strangers, to open our home to a couple of strangers and take them in as our friends.

We ate chili together on Wednesday night, and talked and laughed for hours, sharing our life stories, our faith stories, our favorite music and movies. I got to take them around the city a bit on Thursday – a walk around Boston Common, a quick tour of parts of the Freedom Trail, clam chowdah at Quincy Market. And, I’m happy to report, their friend’s son is doing fine.

I often think how lucky we are to have a (usually empty) guest room when so many people in the world live squashed together in overcrowded houses, or don’t have houses at all. I love having a guest room, of course, to host family and friends when they come through. But I was also thrilled to offer the room to someone who really needed it – well, two someones – and to practice a hospitality that reached beyond hosting family or friends. One of my favorite things about having a home of my own is being able to share it, and the chance to share it with strangers – who are now friends because of our shared faith – was a greater gift than any bed or food we could provide.

Have any of you guys ever entertained strangers? In our culture of self-sufficiency, this is perhaps a rare thing – but I’d love to hear about it if you have.

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Today’s quote from Lauren Winner, distinguished author and speaker:

“If you want a neighbor to love, get married. If you want to welcome a stranger, have a kid.”

This actually came in the middle of a fascinating and very insightful discussion of marriage as a way to love one’s neighbor, and how to create community (other than with one’s spouse) as a married person. Lauren Winner has been on campus at ACU for the past two days, and I’ve heard her speak four times in the past thirty-six hours: at chapel on Thursday, in a forum Thursday night, in a class this morning (where the above comment came from), and at a luncheon for female faculty/staff members today. According to my roommate, Bethany, I’m becoming an addict – though I think I already qualified as one, since I’ve read all three of Lauren’s books and have been talking them up to people for the past year.

Lauren has a fascinating story – in terms of faith, sexuality, personhood and social consciousness. She was raised by divorced parents, a Jewish father and a “lapsed” (her word) Baptist mother, and became an Orthodox Jew in college when she was attending Columbia University in New York. She became a Christian when she moved to Cambridge, England, for graduate school, and has since written three books. Girl Meets God is her first book, a memoir of her personal and spiritual journey; Mudhouse Sabbath is a meditation on eleven spiritual practices that Jews “do better” than Christians, as she says, although both Jews and Christians practice the discplines described, such as Sabbath, prayer, candle-lighting, fasting and mourning. Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity is a deeply insightful, thought-provoking work on sexuality and how we (as Christians and as people) should think more intentionally about being embodied and sexual people. In it, she dissects lies the church and our culture tell about sexuality and chastity, and shares some of her own sexual struggles and mistakes (she had a lot of premarital sex before she married her husband, Griff, and is candid about the realities and consequences thereof).

Lauren is striking to me in that she is never only thinking about the issue at hand. She’s never just thinking about sex, or just talking about spiritual practices, or just telling her life story. There’s always a larger aim, a bigger story, a deeper context behind her words. She is interested in how people are formed spiritually and how we form our children, our spouses, the people in our churches, and generally each other – by the ways we think about sex and money and spirituality and all those things.

Hearing an author speak in person is also a quite different experience from reading his or her books. Now that I’ve heard Lauren’s voice, seen her constant, almost nervous hand gestures (though she’s very collected onstage) and her ornately decorated cat’s-eye glasses (which somehow work on her), and laughed at her dry, hilarious humor, I will see her books in a different light. I’ll still respect them and learn from them, no doubt – but it will be richer because I now know a little more of the person she is.

More about her books may come later. For now, you can read about them on her website here.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

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