The set up for the party was near perfect. It had turned out exactly as I imagined it, maybe even better. It was the 4th of July. We invited 70 children and their parents for fun, food, and fireworks, and I had gone all out. Peanuts, cracker jacks, bubble gum, popsicles, ice cream, cookies, cakes, you name the red, white and blue sugar or messy treat, I was serving it!
“I love you but this seems like a bad idea,” my older, wiser, and meteorologically astute sister said to me.
“It is fine!” I defended my insanity. “This is an outdoor party,” my delusions continued.
Approximately 37 seconds after enough small children to populate an entire elementary school arrived, the sky went from crisp blue to stark black, thunder roared, and lightening nearly struck us all.
The worst flash flood our town has ever experienced began to threaten our roads, waterways, and general safety. So too, and, in a way that felt inordinately important to me at that moment, did mother nature intend to wreak havoc on the stability of my mental state as all 70 children in attendance entered the interior of my unsuspecting home.
Just then, several Dads with good intentions, but a poor understanding of what happens when children can reach ice cream inside of a house, brought in all the food that should absolutely, positively, under no circumstances ever be brought inside of a house, and placed it so very nicely in front of a large group of very small toddlers. To top it off, and make it impossible to track where the small toddlers went running with said ice cream, the power went out.
Torrential downpour continued to wash away all of my plans. It was without a doubt, the worst party I had ever thrown.
Except it wasn’t at all, if you asked around.
“This is the best night of my life!” Said the several kindergartners who were found much later in the dark feasting on sprinkle cookies in the basement.
“THERE IS CANDY EVERYWHERE! THANK YOU FOR THROWING THE PARTY OF THE CENTURY!” Reported the four year olds as they continued to run in circles.
“I was having so much fun that I forgot about the fireworks getting cancelled,” my own children commented before they realized they would be the ones helping me clean up.
From that night on, I have decidedly thrown parties in a different spirit, a change born not only from the effects of PTSD, but also from a desire to not be such an inflexible curmudgeon.
The disaster of July 4th 2018, both natural and ice cream drenched toddler driven, taught me a bit more about what hospitality is, what it is not, and how I need to make room for the unexpected, not only in my home, but also in my heart.
It can be quite difficult to quickly detach from what we imagined, and accept ‘what is’ when the party does not go as planned.
Just ask poor Martha who will forever be remembered in Luke’s Gospel not for her perfectly planned party, but for being anxious and worried about many things. I imagine Martha had a good idea of how she thought she ought to impress Jesus. But because of her reluctance to shift gears and accept His surprise request for some face-time on the floor, He gave her party the ultimate insult. (Martha, I feel for you, and it must have been really frustrating to have Mary sit at His feet, especially if you had a seating arrangement in mind!)
Hospitality is not welcoming guests into the romantic version of the perfectly planned party thrown in my imagination before I thought to check the weather app. It is not an invitation into the ideal upon which I am attached, nor is hospitality’s worth wrapped up in my own razzle-dazzle party host performance.
Hospitality is focused service so as to encounter others.
While details matter, the main mission is in receiving others, which begins with self acceptance, flaws and all, mistakes included, no matter how momentarily mortifying things may seem or feel.
Hospitality is inviting and accepting guests as they are, whether they are two and acting like it, or a thirty-two year old Son of God insisting everyone sit on the floor.
Hospitality provides the goodness of gathering, the richness of revel, the magic of memories made when we let go of our own plans and choose the better part, even if that means finding bubble gum smashed in our carpets many months later.
Hospitality is making room.