Month: December 2017

What If Hospitality Isn’t What We Think It Is?

 

I accidentally read about a book about hospitality this fall. I suppose no one ever accidentally reads an entire book, but that’s almost what happened.  I started reading the book because I met the author this summer, and she struck me as authentic, kind, and devoted to her faith.

As I leafed through the pages of the book, Michelle’s words began to echo in the deepest recesses of my soul, and I knew she was speaking truth. An Invitation to the Table: Embracing the Gift of Hospitality by Michelle Lazurek changed the way I perceive hospitality forever.

All fall I pondered our neighbors’ gift of hospitality. They invite the neighborhood into their home for birthday parties, autumn celebrations, slime-making, hotdog roasts, and more.  They bless us with huge amounts of delicious food, crafts for the kids, and genuine kindness that touches our hearts.

All fall I wanted to be more like them.

And then I picked up Michelle’s book, and I was sure her words would challenge me to be a better hostess, spend more money on community potlucks, and invite our friends for dinner more often. Michelle’s words did remind me that this kind of hospitality is important.

Her words also showed me that hospitality is much more than a clean house and good food. She writes, “Hospitality is more than just inviting some friends over for dinner.  Hospitality means messing up your life and sacrificing every convenience and comfort for the sake of promoting the gospel. . . Jesus set the expectation that if people wanted to follow him, they had to forgo everything they ever knew and, in essence, become foreigners and aliens in the land, relying on other people’s willingness to accept them into their homes. . . In the same way, we must offer our lives as an example of hospitality and live hospitably with others.”

Messing up our lives.  These words have echoed in my mind for months.

While we are called to open our homes to others, hospitality includes opening our hearts to others and providing a safe place to unload heavy burdens and connect. Hospitality can happen in our homes, but it can also happen on the corner of mainstreet, the bleachers of a high school basketball game, or the produce aisle of the local grocery store.

Hospitality is reaching into someone else’s world and inviting them into yours.

~~~

I was somewhere between middle school and high school when alternative music started making waves through Sony Walkman headsets across the nation. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Live changed the way our generation jammed, and they echoed the unspoken words of the angst we experienced in our adolescent quests for identity.

Michelle writes about this movement in a way that captures the culture of the 90’s:

“They did not just change the way I listened to music, but everything else changed too. I soon found myself walking down the hall decked out in identical Converse shoes and red plaid flannel shirts with my friends.  Soon, I was not myself anymore.  I found myself belonging to something much bigger than the music – a whole way of life.  Because I liked the same music as my friends, I found something I had in common with them.  They soon invited me to parties and to sit with them at lunch.  My commonalities with my newfound friends helped me relate to them.  Soon I wanted to do what they were doing and go where they wanted to go.

“Nirvana wasn’t just any band. They changed the face and future of music.  Although their music was original and innovative, they didn’t just create a fan base, they created a culture.”

What does Nirvana have to do with hospitality? By creating a culture where people felt free to connect, they unified young people who were questioning everything about their lives.

I’m not proposing we model or repeat the messages portrayed in all of Nirvana’s songs, but I do propose we create cultures of love and inclusion wherever we go. By the way we treat others, by the kindness – or lack thereof – in our eyes, by whether we live in a hurry or live gently, we choose to either extend open hearts of hospitality or leave the doors of our souls closed and locked.

Our neighbors have exhibited hospitality that reaches to the deepest levels of human connection. Not only have they learned the art of presenting good food and fun activities, they do it with kindness and care.  They’re more interested in connecting with us than appearing perfect.  They’re a living example.

So how do we follow Michelle’s advice and embrace the gift of hospitality? Here are a few simple ideas:

  1. Cultivate an attitude of both an open heart and an open home.
  2. Make yourself available to step into the lives of others.
  3. Show up for events that matter.
  4. Listen without offering clichés.
  5. Sacrifice your comfort for the sake of someone else.
  6. Invite someone into your home and don’t worry about the clutter or dirty floors.
  7. Invite someone to lunch at a restaurant and make it your goal to see through to her heart.
  8. Live slowly enough to hear more than just the words of others.

 

Hospitality begins in the heart. May we learn to lay our lives down for the sake of others.

 

Resources:

Michelle Lazurek, The Ripple Effect (Coudersport, PA: Michelle Lazurek, 2013), 19-20.

Michelle, Lazurek, An Invitation to the Table: Embracing the Gift of Hospitality (Abilene, TX: Leafwood Publishers, 2016).

 

6 Christmas Traditions That Put Others First

 

 

In a season saturated with commercialism and consumerism, it’s easy to lose the meaning of Christmas. Children make never-ending lists of toy requests, and parents are swamped with seasonal obligations, activities, party preparations, gift-buying, and more.  We incorporate traditions like trips to Christmas tree farms, cookie baking, and evening drives to gaze at dazzling arrays of Christmas lights strung across awnings.

One way to add a layer of richness to the Christmas season is implementing a Christmas tradition that focuses on making a difference in the life of someone who is in need. This list of ideas offers practical ways to involve everyone in the family in making someone else’s holiday brighter, because, after all, isn’t this really what Christmas is about?

To continue reading, join me at Parent Company.

5 Family Traditions to Restore Wonder This Christmas

 

Daylight’s fading fast in the northern hemisphere, and these are the days when I’m glad I didn’t take a teaching position in Healy, Alaska all those years ago. Pennsylvania’s winters are dark enough.

We find ourselves in closer quarters this time of year. The card games have been dusted off and pulled from the top shelf in the basement.  We pull colorful books from the neglected shelf of picture books and read until our eyes are too tired, and then we read some more.

This season of darkness is also a wonderful time instill a few traditions that restore the wonder of Christmas. Children are catalysts for restoring wonder, and simply being in their presence cultivates a renewed sense of awe.  As adults, we can learn from the awe of our children, but we can also incorporate traditions that teach our children the true meaning of the season.

Advent Candles

A few years ago, a friend mentioned that she’d purchased a few candles, and her family was enjoying the practice of weekly lighting a candle in anticipation of the coming Christ. We were new parents at the time, and I was coming off a decade of almost losing the wonder of the Christmas season.  I’d been so busy with my career and ministry that there were years I hardly decorated the house.  My friend commented that the simple act of lighting a new candle each week and reflecting on the wonder of the season was slowing her family down and helping them appreciate the meaning behind all of the hype.

The next year, I spent five dollars on candles and a wreath, and we began the practice of the advent wreath in our home. We haven’t missed a year since.  For a guide to weekly readings and candle lightings, check out this link.

Enjoy a daily Scripture reading

The Book of Common Prayer offers daily Scripture reading throughout the year and throughout the season of Advent.  While reading every passage suggested in the guide might be too much for young children, consider reading a small passage daily at the dinner table or before bed.

Another child-friendly resource for Advent reading is Ann Voskamp’s illustrated book, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.  This book examines the coming of Christ through the lens of God’s Word.

Create Jesse Tree ornaments

The Jesse Tree is the tradition of reading the Old Testament Scriptures leading up to the coming of Christ. Studying these truths and allowing children to participate by coloring pictures that match each story and using these pictures to create your own Jesse Tree is a great way to incorporate a hands-on activity into your study of the history behind the coming of Jesus.  Many web sites offer Jesse Tree printables and instructions.

Visit a live nativity

Nothing instills wonder like visiting a live nativity. Children who love animals will enjoy seeing the creatures, and seeing real people reenacting the birth of Jesus will leave a lasting impression.   While there is speculation about the accuracy of some nativity depictions, this is an event that will instill wonder and bring the realization that Jesus was born into humble beginnings.

Actually celebrate the birth of Jesus

It’s easy to let the thrill of gift-opening dominate Christmas morning. Consider what the day would actually look like if Jesus were tangibly sitting in your living room.  Some families celebrate his birth through singing happy birthday and blowing out candles on a cake (or muffins or doughnuts) before opening gifts.  This is a fun and healthy way to remind ourselves of the reason for the day.

Another idea is to put an empty straw cradle in the house before Christmas. Place a doll to represent Jesus in the basket Christmas morning.

Regardless of which activities you choose for your family, the anticipatory attitude of your heart is what matters most.  The Incarnation, in which God actually descended to earth wrapped in flesh is a wonder and a miracle.  May the commercialized hype not numb us to this reality.

 

Finding Beauty in Ordinary Moments

I discovered a meatball under the china cabinet this morning. We haven’t had meatballs for two weeks in these parts, and I found it surprising that I saw the meatball before I smelled it. I pondered it while I continued my search for hidden treasures beneath the rest of the dining room furniture, and I also pondered the ordinariness of my daily life.

Ten years ago I spent my days teaching students with disabilities inside the walls of a respected high school. I used the knowledge attained through my master’s degree on a daily basis, and every day brought new challenges and changes in my schedule. My husband and I traveled overseas often, and when we had a week off, we regularly took off across the country with our camping gear in the back of the SUV. Life was filled with adventure and possibility.

To finish reading this post, join me at Her View from Home. . .

Why This Spiritual Attack Is Not Against Your Finances, Your Health, or Your Car

The year I started writing words for the world to read, things started falling to pieces all around us. We encountered three bouts with the stomach bug in four months.  The kids were constantly rundown with various viruses.  There were financial strains, serious health scares, and much more.

We were about ten months into a sequence of unfortunate events when I heard a single statement through a static-blurred radio station while driving to the grocery store. I don’t remember who spoke the words or exactly how he phrased them, but the man’s message was this: “Satan’s not out to break your car, wreck your finances, or steal your good health.  What he really wants to do is cause you to doubt God’s goodness.”

I was three weeks into a very trying month – a month filled with one trial after another. . .

To continue reading, join me at Putting on the New.

If You’re Searching for More from Your Life

 

White light breaks through smoky billows of fog, and I watch a fluorescent orange silhouette meander through wilted fields of beige. We open the first window on our colorful advent calendar, and the kids scarf down thin squares of chocolate to mark this first day of waiting.  We’re waiting for the coming King.  Waiting for the day that marks Immanuel’s entry to the world.  Waiting for God with us.

The hunter climbs a tree on the northwestern skyline, and he’s waiting too. All this waiting draws my mind to a question Bekah’s been asking all fall.  She’s seven, and she thinks about profound things.  At least a dozen times she’s gazed at the clouds above and asked what kind of clouds Jesus will ride when he returns.

Why do I fail to regularly ponder the reality that Immanuel is coming back? Why don’t I watch the horizon for the King’s return?  Why don’t I live more intentionally – like this really might be the last day I have on this muddy earth with dandelions sprouting on brisk December mornings?

Autumn in these parts prompted me to pause often, to watch for Immanuel’s hand in my daily life and live each day to the fullest. The biggest reason for this was a shift in my soul that begged for more.

I wanted more depth, a greater awareness of my purpose, and more in my relationship with God. I asked for direction from above, and I was led into a four-month study of Matthew’s gospel, reading one chapter per week, rereading the same chapter every day of the week, and coming up with an objective and practical way to apply it.

This study has enriched my life on every level and provided the more I was searching for.  It has astonishingly aligned with the trials and life events of our autumn, speaking truth into hard situations at just the right times.  It has nudged me to pause and consider that Immanuel is always working in our midst.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned through this study:

  1. Watching for Immanuel has the power to change everything.

The Old Testament prophecy that Immanuel would come was fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Matthew 1:23 reads, “And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means God with us.”

I spent one week listing the ways I saw God showing up in my life this fall, and while my goal was one event per day, the list filled pages. When we realize that Immanuel has come and continues to dwell among us, when we open our eyes to his hand, we begin to live in holy expectation that fills us and leads us straight to his ever-thrumming heart of love.

  1. Simple acts of ordinary daily tasks can be done with a grumbling heart or a worshipful heart. We’re prone to grumble more than we worship.

Inspired by the fact that the first thing the Magi did when they encountered Jesus was worship him, I spent a week practicing ordinary tasks as acts of worship. Somehow, learning to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, scrub toilets, and clean windows as acts of worship changed the overall countenance of my life.

  1. Sometimes the best way to break a habit is to discipline your flesh through fasting.

When we feel stuck in behaviors we want to change, sometimes the best way to produce change is to train our flesh to submit to our will through the discipline of fasting. Fasting is painful, and the flesh recoils, but once the flesh learns it’s no longer in charge, we step into a new kind of freedom.

  1. God wants more than “Please bless this day” prayers.

In Matthew 6, Jesus shows us how to pray. He offers a prayer that includes worship, confession, alignment with God’s kingdom purposes, asking for basic needs, protection from temptation, and a plea to glorify him.  Sometimes structured prayer is the gateway to greater intimacy with God.  Above all else, prayer is about a relationship.  Thoughtless prayers that ask for a quick blessing miss the heart of God who wants to commune with us.

  1. If we want to live transformed, we can’t live blind to our sins.

A discipline that’s often overlooked is the discipline of daily confessing our sins to God. If we want transformation in our lives, we ought to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:13-14).

  1. Losing our lives for others looks like action, but it also looks like the right attitude.

We can offer our time and our acts of service to others without end, but if we do it with proud, bitter, or grumbling hearts, we haven’t followed Christ at all.

  1. Rest is a state of mind.

We’re called to rest in the Lord. This includes keeping the Sabbath and daily quiet time in his presence, but it also means

resting in his goodness when trouble, hardship, and daily stress threaten to undermine our souls.

  1. Every great accomplishment begins with one step.

Every great building begins with laying a single brick. Every great work of art begins with a single brush-stroke.  Every great work of faith begins with one step in the right direction. Do not despite small beginnings . . .

  1. Life and death are in the power of my words.

Every day I choose to speak life or death over my life, my future, my calling, and the people I love. I’m called to choose carefully and guard the door of my mouth.

  1. God wants us to ask for the things we need.

Some of us have fallen into a trap of over-spiritualizing our prayers. We forget to ask for the things we need on the most basic level.  We ought to pray Biblical promises more than anything else.  We ought to make sure every prayer aligns with Scripture.  But we are free to pray for practical needs in our lives.  Our good Father wants to reach down from on high and provide.

~~~

When I asked God to show me how to walk in greater abundance, I was a bit disappointed by the strong impression that studying the Bible was my answer. I was feeling overworked, and digging into the Bible felt like more work.

Looking back, it was work. But it was the best kind of work.  It was utterly fulfilling to find practical ways to apply the Living Word to my daily life.  It was satisfying and purposeful.  It drew me closer to the heart of God.  And now, with just two more weeks until I finish the study and application of Matthew’s gospel, I can say that I’ve found the more I was seeking.

Thank you, Emily P. Freeman, for inspiring this post . . .