Two of our “Phoenix” grandchildren have been visiting us for the last month. My husband (Papa to that generation) put them on a Southwest Airlines flight two nights ago. First, we traveled for two weeks on a historical tour out east—Plymouth Plantation, Plymouth Rock, Lexington Commons, the Concord bridge, and the Freedom Trail in Boston.
Because their cousins are visiting, all our other grandchildren gather in different sets at different times. Those who are old enough attempt to beat Papa in the traditional miniature-golf tournament. We have “cooking classes’ for meals. The two then make a circuit of staying for a few days in their cousins’ homes.
The “Phoenix” grandchildren were ready to go home although we all agreed it had been a really great four weeks. My husband, David, said to me this morning, “You must have spent a lot of time cleaning.” I hadn’t—well, I vacuumed the living room and straightened the downstairs study where the children’s suitcases had been stored. The “cleanliness” was simply due to the fact that two bodies (and all their things, cell phones and games and garments) were no longer cluttering our downstairs.
Practicing hospitality with children is an art unto itself. This short story, quoted from my book Open Heart Open Home, tells how I began to learn that art.
The mud marks traced the path of little feet that had swaggered boldly across the gold carpet, marched around the freshly washed kitchen tile, meandered down the hall, stopped at the bathroom sink—then ended in scattered clods of earth on the porch and down the front steps. It all must have happened in the space of my quick dash to a “borrowing neighbor.”
“Joel! Jo-el Da-vid!” I called! My mother-mind had quickly assessed to which culprit the mud marks belonged: the great house despoiler, Joel David Mains. Two small figures came bounding joyously from the back yard, their snowsuits plastered with mud—my son and his pal Georgie. Georgie was five, but in stature he was eight, causing him to lope and stumble like an adolescent puppy.
“What have you been doing?” I demanded.
“Playing in the backyard,” came the reply.
“No! No! What have you been doing in my house? There’s mud from front to back!” I cried.
Innocently both boys checked their boots. All four were huge clods of clay properly cemented to moldering fall leaves.
“It was Georgie,” maintained the ever-loyal Joel. “It was Joel,” countered Georgie, a little slower on the draw.
Obviously chagrined by a mother who would make so much over such a minor incident, Joel volunteered more information. “Georgie/just/wanted/a/glass/of/water.” Each word was pronounced in a separate, distinct tone, in a manner reserved for communication with the deaf, the infirm, or the half-witted.
“Well,” I replied, also being deliberately distinct, “the next time Georgie wants a glass of water, tell him to/get/it/in/his/own/house.” And having the last word, I dismissed them.
Within minutes, aided by a wet rag and vacuum, I erased the telltale evidences. Glancing at the clock I discovered that two lovely hours remained before the older children arrived home from school. Grabbing my Bible, I crept past the baby’s door listening for the reassuring pattern of his breathing, then on to my very own place—a seat beneath the big window where I could see the sky, blue or gray. A little hurriedly I whispered, “Here I am again, Lord. It’s Karen. What have you to teach me today?”
Opening the Scripture, I continued my synoptic study of the Gospels (comparing each Gospel writer’s version of the same story). Certain vibrant phrases stood out. “If, as my representatives, you give even a cup of cold water to a little child, you will surely be rewarded” (Matthew 10:42, TLB) and “Anyone who takes care of a little child like this is caring for me! … Your care for others is your measure of your greatness” (Luke 9:48, TLB).
Shame flooded me. Georgie just wanted a glass of water. I bowed my heart and prayed, “Father, forgive me for caring more for clean floors and tidy schedules than for two little boys.”
Suddenly I remembered a voice from the past—Linda’s, as she leaned across the high-school lunch table. “Does your mother always sing around the house like that—like I heard her singing when we were talking on the phone yesterday?” When I answered that she did, Linda looked at me and said, “You’re so lucky!”
The world is full of Georgies just wanting a drink of water and of Lindas wishing they had mothers who sang in the kitchen. Many of them are our children’s friends. We really have no choice—we know the one who is the Living Water, this same who creates new songs in our hearts—we have no choice but to open our homes and our lives to those who may leave their telltale marks.
HOSPITALITY BEGINS AT HOME
Why is it always easier to extend the courtesies of hospitality to those outside our immediate families? Husbands, relatives, children, or—strangely enough—their friends often receive short shrift of our kind attention. This point was forcibly brought home to me by my daughter, who cleverly exclaimed before a roomful of guests, “Mommy, why aren’t you this nice to us when people aren’t here?”
Hospitality like charity, in order to be true, has to begin at home. The Lord has humiliated me enough through the comments of my own children that I have been forced to examine my attitudes toward them. Did it count, this gracious open-house business, if I acted like a hellion the hour before company arrived? Wasn’t there something hypocritical about receiving laurels for my church work if my own children’s friends were neglected? Wasn’t there a glaring inconsistency if I really treated my own children differently when outsiders were around? Through the years I had come to an understanding of the use of hospitality as a gift of the Holy Spirit for ministry. But was I really ministering to my own?
A woman can’t be perfect in everything, can she? Yet telltale marks had been imprinted on my own heart by the timely reading of the Scriptures: If you give even a cup of cold water to a little child … anyone who takes care of a little child is caring for God who sent me.
Other projects involving Karen right now are: Working with teams of Christian women to design Retreats of Silence, in both 24-hours and three-days formats, through the aegis of Hungry Souls. Developing hospitality initiatives that train Christian men and women how to use their own homes in caring outreaches through the Open Heart, Open Home ministries. Launching the Global Bag Project, a worldwide effort that markets sustainable cloth shopping bags to provide sustainable incomes for bag-makers in developing nations. Researching the impact of listening groups while overseeing some 240 small groups over the last three years. Experimenting with teleconference mentoring for Wannabe (Better) Writers. Designing the Tales of the Kingdom Web site.