Posts Tagged ‘hospitality’

what to do when you’re faced with a room full of strangers

Public speaking is considered the number one fear for many people, prompting responses such as a choking feeling, dry mouth, clammy hands, butterflies, and profuse sweating.

Not me. A crowd of 200 people? No sweat.

Interestingly, I didn’t discover this about myself until I was in my fifties. I’ll never forget the first time I spoke in front of a group and that feeling of utter amazement as I realized, “Oh; that’s who I am!” Ever since that day, I’ve been able to make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em question why –it just seems natural to me.

What isn’t natural to me is the part that the professionals say is the most important: Interacting with the crowd before you speak.

That’s the part that makes me nervous.

Standing up in front of a crowd of strangers, entertaining, and inspiring them is one thing; walking up to them individually and striking up a conversation is a whole other level of communication. I mean, come on; they’re strangers.

Oh, I do it –I just don’t do it very well. If you study the etymology of the word “hospitality you’ll see it originally meant something along the lines of, “loving strangers.”

Hellooo! I’m the stranger. Couldn’t somebody take me around and introduce me to some people, make me feel welcome?


Pay. Attention. To. Me.


In a perfect world, this might actually happen. In my world, it rarely does. It is up to me to wipe my sweaty palms on my wrinkled linen skirt, pop a breath mint, walk up to the table of seated women, put on a smile and attempt to break the ice.

Here’s how it frequently goes:

Me, squinting to read their name tag: “Hello, Doris! Don’t you look spiffy in your springtime yellow dress!”

I look around and realize everyone is wearing yellow; apparently there was a theme I didn’t know about and I’m wearing my usual, “looking like I’m dressed for Halloween,” depressing black attire.

Doris: Looks up, says, “Hello.” Looks down again.

Me: Desperately trying to think of something else to say: “I’m your speaker!”

Doris: “Oh, that’s nice.” Looks back down at her program.

Me: “I live in Raleigh.” (Really, Sue?)

Doris, perking up now: “My next-door neighbor’s son-in-law’s sister’s best friend lives there! Do you know her?”

Me: “Um. I don’t think so.”




Someone rescue me, please. I can’t do small talk. After 15-20 minutes of making the rounds from table to table, I cannot tell you the relief it brings me when the microphone crackles and I hear the chairperson call the meeting to order.

Oh, blessed Jesus, just give me the microphone, please, and I promise I’ll give you my first-born son or anything else you want. Just don’t make me have to actually have a conversation.

Ok, so I maybe overplayed that a bit, but really, not all that much. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Sigh. I know, especially when the experts say that the difference between an amateur speaker and a professional is that the amateur looks out at the crowd and says, “Here I am!” and the professional looks at them and says, “There you are!

I want to be the latter but confess that more often than not, I’m so relieved to get past the meet and greet part that I come off just the opposite.

So it was with great interest and a real desire to learn from a “pro” that I shared the platform with my friend Becky Burgue last week. I knew from our weekly talks and individual post-speaking engagement rundowns that she was much better at all this than me. In my defense, she taught public school for 38 years and learned long ago how to “work a room.” Except for her, it’s apparently not work. She’d hate it that I called it that.

For this particular speaking engagement, I was the “feature,” meaning I was basically warming up the crowd with an inspirational topic before she spoke. Then she would come up and share her testimony. Seemed like a plan. We were prepared and prayed up, so when we walked in we both went into action, walking around the room, greeting the ladies and hopefully turning strangers into friends before the “real” part of the meeting began.

That, I quickly realized, was where I had it all wrong. For Becky, the informal introductions were the real part of the meeting. The best part.

I knew from our conversations that Becky often experienced that same invisible wall with certain ladies –the wall that sent me heading off desperately in search of a cup of coffee, a restroom, or a quick glance at my text messages; anything to avoid another close encounter. Becky apparently just considered those occasional awkward exchanges like a dropped call and moved on to the next woman.

A smile on her face, enthusiasm in her voice, she made her way through the room, interacting with the women, laughing and jotting notes on her note pad. “What in the world is she writing?” I wondered. I finally gave up, sat down and just watched her do her thing.

Not only did she speak to every woman in the room (I was exhausted just watching her) she quickly became on a first name basis with the servers and took it upon her self to learn their history and career aspirations. Here’s a picture of Becky and I with Beau, an energetic young man working three jobs. Pretty sure he’ll end up owning the place after the pep talk Becky gave him!



When she began to speak, it all became clear: she included those women, (and those servers) their names and bits of their stories, in her introduction. Again, in my defense, I had done this in the past; if I met someone with a really unusual story and characteristic, I’d weave it into my intro. But this was different. When Becky did it, the women were the intro.

And because of this, she had them in the palm of her hand. She saw them, she heard them, she entered into their world and in return, they gave her a little piece of their heart. They trusted her. And they responded to her presentation.

That day, I, the Shared Table “Hospitality Guru,” got schooled by a schoolteacher in the art of hospitality, as well as in the art of public speaking. See, I preached the gospel of “loving strangers” but in this situation, my own insecurity made me focus on the “stranger” part. Becky focused on the “loving.”


And that made all the difference.


Here are some more lessons I learned from observing my friend:

  • Have a servant mindset
  • Greet guests as they come through the door
  • Mingle
  • Be curious – ask questions
  • Listen to the answers
  • Be interested and genuine
  • Be an encourager

As the main speaker, Becky could have easily put herself on a pedestal, but instead, she helped out by holding the door, passing out nametags, assisting the event organizers and servers whenever and wherever she saw a need.

She built rapport and connected with the guests by showing genuine interest. By the time she stepped to the platform she was no longer a stranger; she was part of the group. Because of her proactive approach, she didn’t have to do any awkward promotional gyrations or sign-up sheets at the end of her talk. I watched women pull out their phones and Facebook friend her while they stood in line waiting to give her a hug.

But the best part of all? Those early introductions paid off in an eternal way. She reached out to those women, showed them acceptance, showed them Jesus and so they responded to Jesus when she made the invitation. Lives were changed that day.

I know mine was.



When you’re in a room full of strangers, how do you practice hospitality? the end of all of our hospitable activity we are faced with two questions, “Did we see Christ in them? Did they see Christ in us?” Esther de Waal











Wide Open Spaces

“You have set my feet in a wide place………”

When we moved from our large home into a townhouse last fall, we were determined to bring along all the stuff we could stuff into the tiny rooms, especially the living room. If we couldn’t have ‘spacious’ then we’d darn well have cozy; it’s amazing how much you can get in a 13 x 13 room when you plot it out on graph paper. Besides the sofa, chaise and rockers, we managed to squeeze in a huge antique step back cupboard, two bookcases,  a big vintage cabinet to hold the TV, plus a wine rack and ottoman.

I went to great lengths to make everything look warm and cozy.

But cozy quickly turns into cluttered and cluttered brought out my clumsiness. The comfy ottoman and oversized basket of books looked great but became my downfall as I tripped over them not once but twice and landed hard.

I don’t know which hurt more: my knee or my frustration at not being able to move about freely.

The second time it happened the impact shook not just the house but shook loose whatever latch had been holding back all my emotions since the move. That thing sprung open and I thought I’d never stop crying.

I’d thought if I could just make this place a miniature version of our house I’d be ok. Instead it made me miss it more. My logic quite literally tripped me up.

The solution was simple: get rid of the obstacles – put the books on a shelf, shove the ottoman against the wall (I can pull it out when I want to put my feet up) and make sure the computer cord is tucked safely away from unsuspecting ankle.

Problem solved. Turns out I wasn’t really all that clumsy – my house was just cluttered.

Sometimes we get ourselves into tight places and sometimes God has us in circumstances that seem confining and close and every time we turn around we’re running into a wall or tripping over our own feet. We can pound on those barred windows till our fists bleed, ‘shake fists at the sky’ and fail to see that the door is open.

Even in our dungeons of despair and despondency, there IS ‘a spacious place, a large room’ to set our feet.

  • The tight space expands when we choose thankfulness instead of self-pity.
  • We whittle out a few more feet to move about when we choose to worship instead of whine.
  • We gain more ground when we remove the obstacles that fight for our attention and distract us from what is really important. 
  • We give Him thanks and he removes the obstacles; the things that try us and trip us up, he clears them out.

Unemcumbered…. not burdened, vexed, inconvenienced. Not hindered or thwarted or barricaded.

He gives us room to breathe (ahhh); He gives us a safe place where we can move freely.

The Good News version of the Bible says, “You have given me freedom to go where I wish.” 

What He really does is give us the freedom to wish for what He wishes.

I wish to be home, God.”

He whispers, “You are home, child.”

Yes, He sets our big, clumsy, wayward feet in a large space and we are amazed to discover it was there right under us the whole time.


Psalm 31:6-8   “But I trust in the Lord. I will rejoice and be glad in thy lovingkindness because Thou hast seen my afflictions; Thou hast known the troubles of my soul. And Thou hast not given me over to the hand of the enemy; Thou hast set my feet in a large place.”




Stray jelly beans


Enjoying the rest of that Easter ham?


Other than a few stray jelly beans, Easter leftovers aren't an issue at my house, because I never have leftovers. Until this year.

Here's how my usual Easter dinner menu planning goes:

Me: "Johanna, what would you like to have for Easter dinner?"

Johanna: "A small farm animal on the grill." i.e.,  lamb.

Me: "Roger, what would you…  "LAMB!"

Me: Looking at guest list, doing the math… "It's so expensive."

Roger: "It's only once a year. Get a whole leg; I'll butterfly it myself."

Me: "Guess we're having lamb."

I sigh, dreaming of the ham and bean soup I won't be eating later in the week. Sure, I could make lamb and bean soup but I doubt it would be good with cornbread and besides – leftover lamb? Not at the Ely's. If there's lamb on the table, you better guard your plate because certain people aren't above snatching food when you're not looking. You know who you are.

So I priced the 'small farm animal' – pretty much equivalent to buying a small farm.

Not gonna' happen. I put my foot down. They pouted. Then I really irritated everybody by singing, "O LAMB of God" as I cooked the Easter HAM. For BRUNCH. I figured while I was at it I might as well really topple those traditions.

The final menu: Grilled turkey, ham, roasted potatoes, scrambled eggs and grilled asparagus, orzo salad, pancakes with strawberries, lemon cheesecake plus myriads of other dishes my guests contributed. I made the mistake of trying the pancakes first and barely touched the rest of the meal – I make really good pancakes.

Even after sending everyone home with plates of food we had lots of leftovers. I didn't want to let anything go to waste so I spent this afternoon making and prepping meals for the week from all the ham and turkey and scrambled eggs left in the fridge. Did I mention the two dozen Easter eggs no one ate?

Here's what we'll be eating:

  • Breakfast burritos
  • Egg salad
  • Chef salad
  • Scalloped potatoes and ham
  • Gumbo
  • Fried rice
  • Turkey tetrazzini
  • Turkey soup
  • Ham and bean soup.

Total grocery bill for the turkey and ham? $30.  

Like my grandson sang at his Easter program, "I'm so happy, so very happy!"



The Shared Table has been strangely quiet lately. Not a single invitation to join me at the table, no Dainty Morsels, no recipes, not even a crumb of inspiration from me for the past two months.

Like the Chinese proverb says, "Talk doesn't cook rice." The truth is, there are times to write about hospitality and times to do hospitality. I’ve been doing hospitality (cooking rice) full time for two months. My youngest daughter and her family of five stayed with us for five weeks and now my twelve year old granddaughter is living with me. You’d think that would equate to plenty of blog material, and you’d be right, so why the silence?

I’m sure I’ll eventually write a motivating post filled with lots of practical advice about how to successfully host groups of people for an extended period, but I’m still recovering from the mountains of laundry, dishes, boots and mac n’ cheese. And the noise. You forget how noisy a family can be when you’re an empty nester.

It takes me a while to process things. My friend Kerry Graham would say I'm a 'post processor." In the meantime, some things I'm reading have helped me to begin:

 "Hospitality challenges us to work through our attitudes toward property and possessions.”

Indeed. It’s hard to see Jesus in a child who just smashed scrambled eggs into the sofa. And how, exactly did the apple juice get on the ceiling? It's just stuff. Breathe, Sue; breathe.

 "We are often encouraged to be careful about our financial security but practicing hospitality involves a certain recklessness.”

It’s tempting to wait until we have “all our ducks in a row” before we fling open the doors to hospitality. By the time our guests arrived, our ducks had already flown south for the winter. The needs exceeded both our financial and emotional resources, but every time the supply ran low, God opened his storehouse for us. 

"A life of hospitality means a more continual interaction with others, and fewer opportunities to carefully project a “perfect image.”

The real me manifested every day around 5:30. With blood sugar crashing, the TV blaring, the dog chasing the cats (did I mention they brought two cats?)and kids practicing MMA in the kitchen while I tried to do a magic act on a pound of hamburger, June Cleaver made a hasty exit and the real me came out. She’s not pretty. 

"For introverts especially (i.e., me) homes can be a sanctuary providing respite and relief from a tiring world.”

So what happens when you open the door and invite the world in? And they stay? Where is the respite when there’s very little time or place for my precious (read legalistic) “quiet time?” At such times one becomes acutely appreciative of even a minute spent with Jesus.

The bottom line, of course, is that it's much easier to write about hospitality than it is to practice it. I tend to do the "woulda', coulda' shoulda" routine on myself. Perfectionism is a harsh task-master. There’s another quote that comforts me at such times:

“Even the crudest hospitality can work miracles.”  


Do you struggle with expectations when it comes to practicing hospitality? Stay tuned for an upcoming post about dealing with expectations!

*Quotes from "Making Room" by Christine Pohl and a blog post by Adam S. McHugh, author of "Introverts in the Church"


You say you want a resolution?

THE SHARED TABLE is celebrating the New Year with a GIVEAWAY – the first ever! And yes, of course it's a book – but it's not a cookbook; I'm pretty sure you already have plenty of those. Read on to see what it is and how it can be yours!

We're already one week into the year 2011; that's plenty of time to have broken some or all of your New Year's resolutions…so, how are you doing with that?

The etymology of the word "resolution" comes from a word that means to "to loosen, dissolve, untie," which makes sense if you consider that before you initiate new habits, you have to "loosen" the bad ones that have kept you in bondage. What things keep you in bondage? For many people, it's food.

The significance of food in our lives is pretty obvious when you consider New Year's Resolutions; food and our relationship with it generally ranks pretty high on the Top Ten list. What if we decided to think about food in a different way?  What might happen if rather than studying every morsel of food we put in our mouths we studied food itself? Specifically, the spiritual significance of food?

Author Sara Covin Juengst took on that project back in 1992 when she wrote "Breaking Bread, the Spiritual Significance of Food." In the foreward of the book, author Parker J. Palmer notes that the author shows "how food is woven as intricately as faith into the entire fabric of our lives." Of Juengst's work, Walter Brueggemann says, "The book lets us retaste and renotice and reswallow our life from God."

Among others, the author covers topics such as:

  • Stewardship: Food as God's Good Gift
  • Hospitality: Expression of Grace
  • Bonding: Strangers No Longer

In the chapter titled Compassion: The Great Inasmuch, Juengst includes a poem she wrote after coming home from hunger-stricken Africa to affluent America:

I hear these words about “the poor”
and brush them into the corners of my mind.
I cannot think about them now
I am too preoccupied
     with the choice of hors d’oeuvres for my party
     and the color of my new shoes.
I am too anxious
     about the impression I make
     to decide for diminishing
     or to question the givens.
I am too cautious
     to risk the highway
     that leads away from safe places.
Convenience blankets me,
 stifles the clamor of a hungry world.           

The fact that I own a copy of this book is pretty amazing; prior to launching THE SHARED TABLE, I read everything I could get my hands on about the connection between food and hospitality – there's not much out there, by the way.

One day after futilely combing through the more than 500,000 used books at Steven's Book Store, I literally stumbled over a pile of books blocking an aisle, glanced down and there on top was the out of print "Breaking Bread."  At $1.95, it was a steal, being that I'd searched for months without finding a copy for less than $100.

Here's my well-loved copy:

This book has become one of my most prized possessions and now I've come up with a way for you to have one of your own. Recently I came across another copy, only this one is just like new, so I've decided to give it away to one of my subscribers as part of The Shared Table's First Giveaway. To enter for a chance to win:

STEP 1: Enter your email in the RSVP box in the upper right hand corner & click submit.  (If you've already subscribed to "The Shared Table", skip this step)

STEP 2: In the comment section, let me know how you plan to share YOUR table in 2011. 

One lucky winner will be chosen Monday night!


A little Google Search Trivia on the above subjects:

"FOOD" …762,000,000 results. Apparently people are interested in the subject.

"SPIRITUALITY" …40,800,000 results. Hmmm….


Maybe we could start a "RESOLUTION REVOLUTION" by changing the way we think about food. Who's in?


A Savory and Spicy Hospitalitarian*

Where and how do you practice hospitality? Today I'd like to introduce you to someone who has carried her passion for hospitality out of her home and into her workplace.

She is Cindy Jones, owner of Savory Spice Shop, which opened last month in Lafayette Village, a European Shopping Center in Raleigh, NC. Cindy and her husband, Bob made the bold move to be one of the first shops to open in this spanking new plaza and already the business has developed a devoted clientele. The selection of herbs and spices is mesmerizing and Cindy's warmth and personality make you want to savor every moment of your visit. We hit it off immediately and as we chatted yesterday, I tried to discover what it is about people who, like her, seem to have a knack for connecting.

Susan: What was your upbringing like, in terms of your family extending hospitality?

Cindy: My family is Italian; so we spent every weekend at my grandmother's house. There were at least 30 of us that she fed, plus some who were absolute strangers, people off the street. There were always people there who I didn't know and would never see again.

Susan: How did your grandmother become aware of these people needing a meal?

Cindy: I think she belonged to clubs and societies in the church, food pantries, etc., and she would come in contact with someone who had recently immigrated or fallen onto hard times and they were hungry. She just collected people.

Susan: Didn't your grandmother eventually come live with you?

Cindy: Yes, when my grandpa died, she and a great aunt came to live with us. There were seven in my immediate family plus the two of them and later on, two cousins.

Susan: How big was your house?

Cindy: A tiny, four bedroom Cape Cod.

Susan: And what was that like for you as a young teenager?

Cindy: I do remember being overwhelmed by the amount of people around, plus on any given night people would pop over. My grandmother started every day with her rosary and her missal. Now I can't start my day without quiet time first; if that gets interrupted it really throws me off. I rely on it to fill myself with whatever I might need to pour out during the day.

Susan: How was your mother able to feed all those people?

Cindy: She made tons of food, seemingly out of nothing, what she called peasant dishes – pasta with eggs and peas, polenta with red sauce and mushrooms, pasta fagiole on Friday nights. I think her budget made her creative. I remember her saying, "As long as you have pasta in the house, you can make something amazing." 

Food is the way we connected with one another – it was always about the food, sitting around the table, watching grandma roll out the pasta. Today if you walked into my mother's house at 9 pm, she'd say, "Would you like some pasta?" It's like a springboard into conversation. That's how she interacts.

Susan: Did you inherit that gift?

Cindy: When I was newly married I didn't know how to cook. Mother never wanted us standing at her side, it was such a small kitchen. So the cooking part didn't come naturally, but the entertaining part did.

I can't remember when I developed a passion for cooking; it must have been after I had children. What was modeled for me was inherent and I didn't know it was there until I had to retrieve it. I couldn't even cook an egg when I first got married: it was pitiful.

Susan: I've heard you talk about always setting an extra place at the table. Do you mean physically or symbolically?

Cindy: Now that it's just the two of us, I would say symbolically, but when the kids were younger, they knew they were always welcome to invite friends over. It was a way of life. There were never just five of us at the table.

Susan: How did you and Bob go about choosing this business? Did it have anything to do with your passion for hospitality?

Cindy: Hospitality was totally at the center of our decision. Bob is a people person; that is something we share. We sat down and thought about what brings us the most joy. We made a list, put it on paper, talked about family and friends and memories of food and wine and conversation.

We looked at other opportunities but realized we wouldn't be able to interact and get to know people in those environments. When we found Savory Spice Shop, we knew this would be like having people in our kitchen, an extension of our home. People gather around the counter and share their entire lives with us; it blows my mind.

Susan: You and Bob are such warm people; that's a big part of it.

Cindy: The shop is so aromatic; it triggers memories for people and they like to talk about it. .

Susan: How do you go about making customers feel welcomed? It just seems like people open up to you. You're a good listener.

Cindy: It's more that I just have a willingness to listen. I don't know how to explain it, but I feel like I've been given a gift to intuitively see people's hearts when I meet them. I care enough to ask the questions. People really need to be known.

Susan: So your "table" during this season is the shop.

Cindy: Yes. Here I am, passionate about food and having people over to our home and now I don't have time. I'm struggling with not being able to be as spontaneous as I was before, to sit down and have a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a friend, but really, in the shop I have the opportunity to minister to more people than I ever did in my home.

Susan: Any last thoughts?

Cindy: What I came away with through your probing is how deeply shaped we are by those things in our life; I didn't give a lot of thought to it until I first read your blog. It prompted me to remember. If more people just stopped and asked those questions – that's what's important, the willingness to ask the question.

I've been pointing people to your blog because it's about connections and what I think God wants us to do for one another. Caring enough to ask the right questions – the rest comes after that. We were designed for relationships with God and for one another.

Bob and I don't want to waste time anymore on the mundane. We want our work to be valuable and to matter in somebody's life. If it's through food and spices, we want to be able to use what God's put before us. I'm excited about that.


Whether you're writing a blog, running a business, or sitting around the kitchen table, hospitality is about reaching out, in a way that works for you.  Like the Curly character in the movie "City Slickers," we need to know that when all is said and done, there's "Just one thing," that really matters……connecting.

*If you missed the post Hospitalitarian….Whaaaat? then you might be scratching your head wondering if I just made up a word; it is made up, but not by me. It's a recognized word in the hospitality industry these days, originally coined by Danny Meyer, basically referring to someone who in any situation, puts the other person's interests first. Even strangers.


Who Are You? I really want to know you…..

Are you my reader?

When I launched this blog, I wanted to "share my table" with as many hungry readers as possible so I did a lot of studying on how to create a successful blog.  One piece of advice that blogging experts are united on is the importance of knowing your audience. You have to ask yourself this question: Who is my reader?

Keep that person in your mind and write each post as if it were a personal message to them. If you write for yourself, you will be your biggest fan, but you won’t have many followers. Since this blog is called The Shared Table, I decided to turn the tables and ask all of you who have stumbled on or been directed every so subtly to my blog:  Are you my reader?

 You’re my reader if you:

  • are tired of living in your shell; it feels safe in there but after awhile, it begins to stink.
  • want to open your home but are waiting until: the kids get older, you have a bigger place, you have more time, more money, become a better cook.
  • would rather share life than share the juiciest gossip.
  • want to but fear reaching out to others.
  • realize you’re supposed to “love strangers’ but don’t know any.
  • you value relationships and community more than commerce and productivity.
  • want to get over your perfectionist tendencies about hospitality.
  • think there must be more to hospitality than napkin folding and appetizers.
  • need encouragement and skills to impact your community with the love of Christ.
  • want to be more available.
  • sense that something spiritual takes place when you share your table.
  • long to be at home with God, with your neighbors and with yourself.
  • are interested in discovering the real meaning of hospitality


Have you ever thought about inviting someone to your home for a meal, but didn't act on it? Next time, take a minute and think about how you feel when YOU receive an invitation: Excited? Wanted? Accepted?

When God invites us to his banqueting table, he offers a feast that feeds our hungry hearts and makes us long for more. Do you know anyone with a hungry heart who would be thrilled to be invited to your table? Don't wait, don't hesitate – issue the invitation, and focus on feeding their hearts. 

Isaiah 55:2 "Listen carefully to me and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance."


Haphazard Hospitality

Hospitality is a lot more relaxed around here than it used to be, I guess because I'm a lot more relaxed. Or maybe I'm just more tired…. Either way, I've found that even on a "tired" day, I can still share my table as long as I don't get into the "gotta' be perfect" trap.

So, here's what hospitality's been looking like at my house this week:

Tuesday: we were supposed to host our weekly home group, but had to cancel due to my husband's work load. I invited a friend to stop by to visit me and share some leftover homemade potato soup. She arrived bearing beer, a bottle of wine, bread and flowers. Flowers went in a vase, beer got poured and we used the bread to make grilled cheese sandwiches. We talked until 10pm.

Wednesday: my husband had clients stop by the house to sign some contracts. They were happy to sample an assortment of goodies from my current cookbook project. Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen baking away. I ran out of the house at 4:30 to do some quick errands, leaving behind a sink full of dirty dishes, and a chicken waiting to be made into something for dinner. The errands took longer than I thought and by the time I finally walked through the door at 6:00, I was exhausted, dreading the clean-up I'd have to do before I could even begin to think about dinner. Instead I was greeted with the aroma of this bronze beauty!

AND the dishes were done and the counters cleaned up. I wasn't expecting to be on the receiving end of hospitality yesterday, but I'm married to a man who knows his way around the kitchen and the way to my heart.

Today: friend came by for coffee at 7:30am, we chatted, and she sampled a few goodies. Coffee and chocolate at 7:30? YES. Around 2:30 my daughter Johanna dropped by to get in on the treat sharing – I loaded her up and got this text message 1/2 hour later:

"Mom" (grandson Tyler speaking): "How did Grandma get to be so good at baking?"

Johanna: "She puts love in the batter."

Tyler: "Oh, cool."

THE LAST COURSE: This hospitality thing isn't really all that complicated. You just have to put love in the batter, even if it's Duncan Hines. 


Have You Ever Been the Stranger?

Have you ever felt overlooked, looked down upon, ignored, or had people distrust you because you were different? Have you ever felt invisible? I know I have.

Years ago when my husband and I were searching for a new church home, we walked into the lobby of a very large church and were immediately directed over to a huge metal rack. The rack was full of name badges, one for each member of the congregation, who upon arriving, picked their badge off the rack and pinned it on. We were instructed to fill one out for ourselves, which we did and we then spent the next 1 1/2 hours without being greeted by a single soul.

What was meant as an exercise in hospitality had become a dead tradition.

Name tags, though they can be helpful, do not produce hospitality, do not truly welcome the stranger, and do not build community.

People build community.

Do you know who make the best "greeters?" It's the people who were once strangers themselves, the ones who remember what it felt like to be invisible.

Have you ever wondered why homeless people, even after receiving assistance and offers of help, so often return to the streets? It's because the sense of belonging is so powerful. For many, it's the only place they've ever experienced acceptance.

It's been said that we think what we need most is safety. The homeless have something to teach us – what we need most is acceptance.

Hospitality is about acceptance.


Hospitality in a church setting is a reflection of God's gracious welcome. Congregations that don't emphasize shared life will have a difficult task in reaching out to strangers. Sometimes, though, even churches who seem to be doing it right, fostering a sense of care and community among members, can lose sight of the strangers in their midst.

How would you rate the sense of welcome in your church family? It can be very healthy to visit other churches periodically to remind yourself what it's like to be "the stranger."



Ever heard the term "HOSPITALITARIAN?"

Danny Meyer, the famed New York City restaurateur and author of the book "Setting the Table" coined the term to describe people who believe that nothing else is as important as how one is made to feel in any transaction.

He defines hospitality further by saying, "Hospitality exists when you believe that the other person is on your side…that they are for you." Meyer attributes his business success to his practice of only hiring hospitalitarians.

Now isn't that interesting? You'd think he would be boasting about all that amazing food. Instead he credits his team – chefs, servers, bus boys and hostesses for creating an atmosphere that entices customers to return time and time again. This year Meyer launched Hospitality Quotient, a learning business which empowers companies to transform their businesses through the power of hospitality.

I'm privileged to know quite a few folks who are worthy of the title "Hospitalitarian" and I'd like to introduce them to you. Each month I'm going to invite one of them to join us at The Shared Table – to share their heart, their vision for hospitality, their stories, their secrets and maybe even some recipes! While some of them may have careers in the hospitality industry, most of them are just like you – brave souls who have made the decision to live their lives with an open door policy.

In tomorrow's post I'd like you to meet my dear friend, Bonnie Jackson. Years ago, my husband nicknamed her "Bonsai" for no reason other than the fact that it made her laugh. But I just discovered something interesting about that nickname which makes it very apropos.

Many people mistakenly think that a bonsai tree is a naturally small tree or plant when in fact it's actually an average tree or plant that has been trained to retain its small size. Hmmm. That is Bonnie in a nutshell. When you're Bonnie's guest, it's never about her – it's about you. 

Bonnie with one of her favorite guests – her granddaughter Annabelle.