Every four or five weeks I visit my dear friend Rosie to chat, sit and and stitch.
We arrange a time for my arrival and she will be there waiting with the gates wide open for me to drive up between the tall trees and lush greenery and park in her yard, right near the fish pond and her colourful array of various succulents and more lovely trees.
We hug and head inside, our chatter already begun, and Rosie brews fresh coffee while I settle at the table. It's already set with a pretty vintage cloth, china plates, sugar bowl and something wonderfully sweet. The atmosphere of 'welcome' is tangible, lifting my spirit instantly, regardless of the concerns I may have walked in with.
Rosie's art for hospitality is one my Nana found to be quite natural, and as a young mother with many children I too found it easy and enjoyable to open my home for other mums to come visit. Baking has always been a joy and sharing treats with my friends, especially those who were not keen cooks, put a smile on every face.
(the tea towels above were a gift from my lovely friend Margaret)
In our homeschooling years, even with teenagers, hospitality was again very easy as we had a network of other homeschool families who took turns hosting morning teas or a weekend BBQ and at every home a sense of welcome and hospitality filled the air.
In 2009 with our youngest children now mid to late teens we moved to the other other side of the country and no longer had people to visit or friends to invite over. My husband was teaching at a remote boarding school and I took a part-time position as teachers aide in the home economics department.
We lived in a small house on the school grounds and I very quickly discovered a number of the students knocking on my sewing room door each weekend asking, "Miss, can you help me put this together?" or "Miss, I can't do this stitch. Will you show me how?" Being a small boarding school and us living on campus I built a kind of 'auntie' relationship rather quickly with a few of the female students and enjoyed the extra hours helping them hone various sewing skills. In fact, I had to learn a few things myself just hours before instructing the girls - like inserting zippers, a ladder stitch closure for stuffed bear limbs, and using an Overlocker.
Over time a few would stay for afternoon tea or even lunch and I realised this was a new form of hospitality I was experiencing. We'd often rummage through my craft or fabric scraps and I'd send them back to the dorm with bits and pieces to practice on or add to a term project. The nicest thing though, was seeing the joy and relaxation they felt in our home, and the laughter we shared over biscuits, fabric, ginger beer and threads.
A year later we moved off campus and into what I will always consider the 'house of my dreams', though we only lived there for 18 months.
The students could no longer visit but I did see them in class for the next year or so as I continued my teacher's aide duties and it was always a wonderful time spent in their company and encouraging them to create.
At the end of 2011, with just one child left at home who was in need of employment, hubby moved the three of us to a larger town and we left the school. Soon I had a small stitching group regularly meeting at home and about a year or so after that we began taking turns to host the fortnightly gatherings.
How lovely it was to be welcomed into each nest!
Spending time with friends, having them open their home and make you a cup of tea, serve you a delicious lunch and put you at ease. There was much chatter and laughter, everyone showing what they were making and ideas bantering back and forth. When it came time to leave there was joy to spare in every smile as we planned the next get together before climbing into our cars and driving off in all directions.
Over time for one reason or another our group drifted away and it became just Rosie and I, which is where we're at today. But that's the cycle of life, isn't it.
Can you see the flow of seasons in my life?
Hospitality is like that.
As we age, move to a new town, take on new interests or occupations, no longer have children to care for, adjust to health restrictions or different housing, the opportunities to show hospitality may also change.
In fact there might be seasons when you're unable to open your home and may well find this to be a God given season of rest from serving others. Many of us can wear ourselves out from doing more than we should, and if you are recovering from an illness this is indeed a time to step back and give your health the time it needs for restoration. It's important in a quiet season to show grace to yourself and let that rest time run it's course for you will be better able to resume a life of hospitality later on.
Over the past year or two I have had less time than ever to extend the hand of friendship within my home, and it bothered me, a lot, but it was through this season the Lord taught me that life is a series of ebbing and flowing, like a tide coming in and then receding until the next cycle. Things do not stay the same, and friends often come and go. The important thing is to keep a hospitable heart for when it's needed again.
So I stopped feeling bad about the lack of faces within my home and instead chose to give myself more fully to sharing through my blog the joys of living this gentle domestic life, and to reach out into the Gentle Domesticity group I'd started the year before as an online sewing group to see if there were any members who wanted to more fully participate in the discussion and sharing of homemaker ideals and everything that entails.
The response was overwhelming and today the gentle ladies in our group have become very dear to me as I grow to know them and their lives more and more.
These women 'invite' each member to share a glimpse of their day to day lives with all it's triumphs, trials, laughter and tears. Through the reality of living where they are, in the circumstances they find themselves in, with abundance or lack or somewhere in between, each of us is growing into a better version of ourselves.
Hospitality is evident in that group every morning when I open my web browser to meet them across our virtual kitchen table. It overflows with encouragement, compassion, kindness and fun - exactly what we all hope for in face to face friendships, but not so easy to find with people you've never met and most likely never will. Yet, it has happened and some members have spoken out about the unusually hospitable and respectful attitude flowing through every person and post.
But let us not forget hospitality towards those who dwell under our roof, too, for they are most important of all.
I have been in homes where a wife can make her husband feel most unwelcome, as though he is in her way...and yet she will heap care and concern upon her guests, running here and there to fill their tea cup or offer more cake. This always makes me cringe and wishing I could leave immediately, so I try to speak kindly to the husband and ask questions about his work or hobbies as it is his home as well that I am visiting and I do appreciate the hospitality of being invited there.
Hospitality, it seems, can be shown in many ways and I'm eager to see what else the Lord would teach me about it this year - whether that be having new friends come for a visit, starting a stitching group or Bible study at home, teaching young ones new skills, contributing more to the online gentle domesticity group, preparing a welcoming and comfortable room for overnight guests or family, sharing coffee with a neighbour or welcoming my husband home after a long day at work with a hearty meal, an ear to listen and a loving smile.
Hospitality is an art form, a gentle and warm expression of care for the comfort of an other within the boundaries of your life, wherever that may be.
Some things I'd like to do this year in preparation for opportunities to show hospitality are :
* bake extra meals and sweets to freeze for times when there's nothing fresh on hand and someone arrives unexpectedly
* embroider or applique a set of pretty pillowcases for the spare bedroom
* make a few pretty hand towels for the guest bathroom (see the top photo for my first one)
* make a supply of simple hand made gifts or jams which I can take with me when visiting friends
* collect tea cups, cake plates and water jugs for serving a gathering of new friends around the table
* make a couple of pretty table cloths and more trimmed kitchen and serving cloths
* decorate the spare bedroom and remove all the clutter as it's become our storage space at the moment
I shall work through each idea as I am able and be joyful in doing so, all the while keeping my heart open to God's prompts for other ways of being hospitable that I've not thought of yet.
It seems hospitality was much more than I ever imagined.
How do you show hospitality?