My daughters gather at the stove giggling and chatting. The familiar fragrances of garlic, oregano, and basil permeate the air. The girls take turns swirling the ruby red tomato sauce and meatballs in the big pot with a wooden spoon.
“Be careful with my meatballs,” Nana Maria chides playfully. “You don’t want to break any of them up.”
My Italian mama, who my girls call Nana, stands at our kitchen island with my youngest daughter. They are stuffing jumbo pasta shells with spoonfuls of filling, which includes spinach, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, and ground beef.
My dad butters thick slices of Italian bread. My husband Shawn is in his usual place at the kitchen sink, trying to get ahead of the dirty dishes situation.
We are all in the kitchen together moving through a cacophony of clinking dishes, laughter, singing, colorful ingredients and inviting aromas. It’s a feast for the senses.
Food ignites memories for me. I am transported back to my childhood growing up in the kitchen with my mama, grandmas, and aunties. I come from a long line of women who pride themselves on serving up delectable food and nourishing people well.
I love to gather people in my home and deliver meals when friends have babies or after loved ones have gone on to heaven. Food is my love language. Hospitality is my jam.
Then a global pandemic hit in March 2020.
We were all forced to stay at home and social distance. Gatherings were canceled. Our schooling, life group, Bible study, and work-related meetings were moved to Zoom. If we wanted face-to-face time with people, we had to do it through a screen instead of across the table. I often felt frustrated and lonely.
I had to learn a different way of expressing hospitality. I couldn’t feed and gather people in the way I had in the past, and I also had to reckon with my theology of hospitality.
Could I still be hospitable even if I couldn’t open my home?
This year Jesus invited me to go deeper in my understanding of what hospitality means, and I’ve discovered that it is much more than just entertaining.
Hospitality is an invitation to rest. Abraham models this in Genesis 18 when he invites in three strangers who show up at his tent during the hottest part of the day.
Abraham says, “ . . . if it pleases you, stop here for a while. Rest in the shade of this tree while water is brought to wash your feet” (Genesis 18:3-4 NLT).
Abraham provides for these travelers by greeting them warmly, giving them water to wash their feet, offering nourishing food, and ultimately, a place to rest.
During the pandemic, God showed me that one of the most powerful ways I could offer hospitality during this time of crisis was to invite my parents into our home and be isolated with them. They stayed with us most weekends and some weeknights.
This was challenging at first, especially because my dad and I don’t always agree on politics, but even in an election year, we learned to rest together and nourish well. We enjoyed cooking, playing games, watching movies, and doing puzzles together, and my daughters deepened their relationships with their grandparents.
I discovered part of hospitality is also offering a safe space for people to share their stories. In Luke 8, Jesus is on His way to heal the sick daughter of a ruler of the synagogue. Along His journey, He is interrupted by a woman who has suffered from bleeding for twelve years. She spent her life savings on treatments and doctors. She reached out to touch Jesus’ garment, believing in faith that simply touching Him would bring healing. Jesus turned to heal her publicly and then invited her to share her whole truth with those listening.
During this past year, racial tension has continued to spread in our country like a match to kindling. I have watched as fellow friends of color have suffered and grieved deeply. I’ve felt challenged to listen well, to lament, and to invest time in reading the stories of my brothers and sisters. Listening to each other’s stories is a powerful way we can show hospitality and invite healing.
I’ve learned hospitality is also an opportunity to sacrifice for others, especially foreigners, strangers, and the poor. God has a merciful heart for the vulnerable. In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus tells the parable of the Great Banquet. He challenges listeners not just to invite their friends and neighbors but to extend hospitality to those who could not repay the favor and were most in need.
Studying this passage this year challenged me to think beyond the friends and family I normally would invite to my table. I was inspired by our church and other local organizations that provided for orphans, kids in our city who were schooling alone, and families that needed food.
Several weeks ago, I hosted my first Bible study in my home since March 2020. As I opened in prayer, the tears caught in my throat because I was so filled with unexpected joy to have these women sitting at my table. I served up warm, gooey brownies and local strawberries along with a new perspective on hospitality.
I do not want to forget what this pandemic year has taught me. Hospitality is much more than fancy dinner parties and spoiling my friends. Hospitality is a generosity that runs deeper and wider than I ever imagined.