Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hospitality Management

My daughter was my dinner guest last night. Jennifer lives in an apartment now, half a state away and I hadn’t seen her since we moved her in at the beginning of August. She was in our area not to come home for the weekend, but to spend it with her boyfriend, a young man I hadn’t met until last night.

I’m happy to say that my daughter didn’t knock on the front door, but walked right in as if she lived here, which she did until all too recently. I’m also happy to say that although my husband, younger daughter and I learned a lot about Ryan, that “grilled boyfriend” was not on our dinner menu.

I’ve been thinking a lot about hospitality lately.

My husband and I are sailing on a small cruise ship with four other passengers and three crewmembers next weekend. I felt like a giant pain presenting the chef with my page of dietary restrictions: no eggs, wheat/gluten, soy, milk, cranberry, sesame, asparagus, and then for my husband, no fish, walnuts, mushrooms. I thought Christine might kindly suggest we sail on a large cruise line with a buffet. Instead, she borrowed a gluten-free cookbook and is excited about trying new recipes. “I’ve been preparing the same menu all summer,” she said, “I’m ready for something new."

I’m not being accommodated or tolerated. I’m being generously and enthusiastically welcomed, and I haven’t even arrived. I’d like to be as generous and welcoming as Christine.

Jennifer and Ryan left after a three-hour visit, like real guests, and it was a strange feeling to hug her in the driveway and send her off. I got a glimpse of what my mother and grandparents have been through, saying hello and goodbye to me and all the friends and boyfriends I brought into their lives and homes, some for a single visit, some for a lifetime association.

When my children were toddlers and preschoolers, I made the decisions about which friends were invited over to our house, for how long and for what activities. Later in elementary school and on, they made the decisions, and I listened to their frustrations when activities didn’t go well. The last few years, my role has been to provide a big room, privacy and a freezer stocked with gnocchi and pizza for movie nights that materialized at the last minute.

It used to matter to me that I liked my children’s friends. I wanted them to have nice friends who would be nice to them. But, even friends I liked have hurt my daughters. Sometimes the relationships have been repaired; sometimes they have been over for reasons that seem ridiculous to me. The truth is, we never know how long a relationship of any sort is going to last, or how it is going to end.

For the record, I like my daughter’s boyfriend. In our evening together, it was clear that his 21 years have been full of adversity as well as adventure, and he’s made the most of it. And of course I like Ryan because he likes Jennifer and treats her with kindness and respect. But, last night, after they left and the rest of the family was asleep, and the house was quiet, I realized that it doesn’t matter what I think of him.

I am simply asked to make welcome in my life and home the people that my children have already made welcome in their lives. I think about that in the church as well. My congregation has a commitment to being welcoming. It doesn’t matter if we like the people who show up, or if their needs aren’t what we’re used to providing. Like Christine, welcoming me with all my food challenges onto her boat, the church’s job is to make welcome those whom God has already made welcome, and that is everyone. It’s easy with Jennifer’s boyfriend, but it’s not always going to be easy in my family or my church, in my neighborhood, and my community, which when I think about it, extends to everyone, even the people who push my buttons.

My youngest daughter, Chrissy, will head off to college next fall to major in Hospitality Management and take her place in the industry of welcoming people. Perhaps I should join her.

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