Learning Hospitality Through Play

This morning, the Friday of the first week of school, Elle and I visited yet another park. Nearly every day this week, we’ve explored our favorite playgrounds, trying to fill the void left by Bea’s absence at school.

Normally, I bring a book along so I can read while Elle climbs and digs and scampers around. Today, our park excursion was unexpected––halfway through a practice bike ride to her preschool, we changed course and headed to the neighborhood park instead.

Finally, Elle had my full and undivided attention. I helped her climb a tree and we then commenced in a long and often incomprehensible game about camping and sleeping that only a four-year-old could imagine and sustain for twenty minutes.

I recently read a comment by a mom whose children are in their late teens and early twenties. She was reminiscing about the little years, wishing she could go back for just one day, put aside her own desires, and simply play with her children. Nostalgia keeps us going, doesn’t it? After five eternal minutes of playing, I know I’ll look back on these days with nostalgia but I hope I have a dash of realism mixed in. Yes, I want to pay attention and be present. I totally understand the developmental importance of imaginative play and made up games. And yet, I also recognize how mind-numbing they can be.

In her new book Invited, my friend Leslie Verner quotes Henri Nouwen. In his book Reaching Out, Nouwen talks about how we as parents are hosting our children. They are our closest guests. They are not ours to control but ours to host and extend the practice of hospitality.

That idea was what kept me playing today. Not for nostalgia or because I particularly loved the game but because in so many ways, I’m learning the art of hospitality from Elle. She invited me into her world and the least I could do was join in and participate, even if just for twenty minutes.

Where have you experienced unexpected hospitality? And, do you love or loathe imaginative games with kids?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “hospitality.”

Also, check out Leslie’s new book, Invited: The Power of Hospitality in an Age of Loneliness. Not only did I get to read one of the first drafts, I’ve had the honor of sharing conversations and playdates with Leslie as she wrote this book. It released on Tuesday and is an wonderful, encouraging look at what we can learn from other cultures about hospitality––and it doesn’t have anything to do with a beautiful table or a clean home!


Front Yard Living

At the beginning of the summer, during our daily Quiet Rest Hour, the energy in our house changed. I looked up from my book and felt that it had gone from Quiet Rest “Quiet” to eerily and suspiciously “Quiet.” I closed my book and walked upstairs where I found my oldest daughter obediently and happily reading in her room. My three-year-old was not in her room or in the playroom – our two designated Quiet Rest spots.

I looked into our garage and, sure enough, found the door open and a tricycle missing. Barefoot, I walked out to the front, crossed the street, and headed toward the most likely of our neighbors. There I found my daughter and her friend playing sweetly in the driveway. I waved to our neighbor who told me that, when asked, my daughter confirmed I knew exactly where she was.

Welcome to our neighborhood. Of the eight houses in our cul-de-sac, seven know my kids and take an interest in our daily lives. Three have an open-door policy, meaning if I can’t find my kids, I’m fairly certain where to look. But really, I know exactly where my girls are: out in the street, biking, playing, imagining, building forts, and exploring with the neighborhood kids and grandkids.

This community didn’t happen overnight. When we moved into our house in the suburbs four years ago, it was December so we didn’t have much of an idea about our neighbors. We had a good feeling – right away, people stopped to introduce themselves and I often found our driveway and sidewalk miraculously shoveled after a snowstorm. As winter merged into spring, we found ourselves outside more and more often.

Garage doors stayed open, front porches were filled in with comfortable chairs and hanging plants, and I discovered we had moved into a neighborhood of front yard people.

I responded by moving our water table to the front yard, stocking our freezer with Otter Pops, and learning the value of shifting from the backyard to the front yard. Often, my inclination is to go out back, where I can read quietly in our hammock, where my preschooler can run through the sprinklers naked, and where we have a sweet haven from the busyness of life.

Our backyard still functions as that but it has become so much more. When we intentionally decided to shift to living out front, we invited our neighbors into our lives. We met the little girl across the street, who is nearly the same age as our oldest. We met the grandparents whose grandkids often bike with our girls. We sat on front lawns and learned the stresses and joys of each other’s lives.

There’s a cost to living out front. We’ve had to navigate boundaries and space when it comes to kids trooping in and out of our side gate. On stressful days, I just want to close the door and hunker down and that’s not always possible.

Choosing community can often be messy. And yet, I wouldn’t give up that intention for the world. Now, as our kids grow and our activities have changed, we’re not just hanging out in front as often. Already I feel pangs of nostalgia as our kids get busier. I’m thankful for the newborn down the street, knowing that front yard living will continue for a few years more.

I think back to that relatively simple act of moving the water table out front and marvel at all that unfolded from there. Even as summer comes to an end and we look toward more structured days, I think about small ways I can keep my focus on our neighbors – from bringing a book or my computer out front to wave as others walk by to date nights after bedtime on the front porch rather in the backyard, I want to continue the spirit of loving my neighbors well by being present in my neighborhood.

What is one small shift you can make to live in your front yard more often? Perhaps sidewalk chalk or bubbles in the front yard will help you meet new neighbors? I am amazed at the ways the simplest acts bring about community.

Originally posted on The MOPS Blog: https://blog.mops.org/backyard-front-yard-living/

One Word: Threshold

Maybe it was early last year when the word threshold first came across my radar. My brother and I were chatting about life and that feeling that, when looking back on this particular season there will be a sense of, Oh! That’s when it all happened! You don’t see it at the moment, only in hindsight.

Months later, a friend and I were talking about all sorts of things – from books to motherhood to writing to teaching to travel and everything in between. She commented that it felt I was on the threshold of something.

I’ve been picking “one word” to guide my year for about five years now. I’m always amazed at how the word really does infuse itself into my perspective. (I think I write that sentence every year…) I’ve never had a word come to me so early, though. Usually it’s as I’m reflecting about the year gone by that a “next step” sort of word jumps to mind. But this year, threshold came early and often.

I think what I love about this word is that it really does feel like I’m the threshold of something. Maybe it’s writing. Maybe it’s activism. Maybe it’s the next phase of mothering and career. Maybe it has nothing to do with ambition but more of the idea of opening our home in new ways – of inviting people across our literal threshold. I suppose that’s the thing about choosing a word – I really don’t know what it will look like.

In a lot of ways, I’m heading into this year with much more openness than I have in years past. Maybe it’s because I’m starting to think about bigger changes in the not-so-distant future. Maybe it’s because I’m finally learning to live in the moment, with less rigidity. Maybe it’s that threshold is an invitation to offer myself more hospitality.

In any case, I’m excited to see what this year holds and how I find this word throughout my days.

What about you? What’s your “one word” for 2019? Or what’s your one hope or one goal? I’d love to hear!

When Hospitality Becomes Reality

Even though I wrote this for the MOPS blog well over a month ago, we’ve just come off three solid months of houseguests. As we head into the holiday season, I hope you find these words encouraging!

annie_rim_hospitalityWhen we were searching for a house three years ago, one of the pieces of my wish list included a dedicated guest room. In our tiny starter home, our guest room-office-library-catchall room was fine but didn’t exude Martha Stewartesque hospitality.

After looking at many different sizes and ages of homes with our realtor, we popped into a random open house one Saturday – and found our dream home. It was old enough to have character but new enough to be up to code. And it included a dedicated guest room with bright windows looking into our yard filled with mature trees.

My dream had been to offer this space to anyone in need: friends, family, folks from church, and those in need of a short-term place to rest.

For a variety of reasons (mainly consisting of two young kids), our guest room stayed empty, save for the annual visits from family and close friends. I loved walking by the one always-tidy room in our home, but I also felt a tug to fill it somehow.

This year, our guest room has been filled from mid-August to the end of October. Between weekend visits from family to friends visiting from Zimbabwe, to another friend moving to Denver and needing a place to land before finding a job and home of her own, our guest room has felt like a revolving door.

My dream was put into practice. Some of the guests were incredible, helping with housework and entertaining our girls. Some were unexpected and high maintenance. Our long-term guest made our transition to kindergarten easier, as she stayed home with our napping toddler while I did afternoon pickup.

But, two full months of other people in our house also took a toll. Our five-year-old cried one night as she brushed her teeth in our bathroom, wishing she could just have her own bathroom back. My communication with my husband hasn’t been what it usually is, because someone is always around and we can’t talk as freely as we usually do.

Again, there are pros and cons. Maybe our daily communication isn’t the same, but we’ve taken advantage of someone being home after bedtime so we can take our neglected dog out into the neighborhood for an evening walk.

I just bought a book about hospitality being a Christian tradition. I’ve just barely started it, but I knew I needed the reminder that, as Christians, hospitality isn’t just something nice to do. It’s a rooted part of our faith – from Abraham and Sarah providing a meal to angels in disguise, to Mary and Martha hosting Jesus and the disciples, to the early church opening their homes to Paul and the missionaries – hospitality defines Christianity.

This season of hospitality has been rich and exhausting. In so many ways, I am looking forward to walking by an empty guest room again, smiling at the only tidy room in the house. But I am also thankful that we are able to model this open-handedness to our daughters. It’s been a challenge to them, but such an important lesson in sharing what we have, in using our own blessings to bless others.

It’s a reminder that, no matter what words I use to tell my children about the message and life of Jesus, the way they really understand it is when I choose to live it out, in our family’s values, in my own attitude, and in ways that they can see God at work in our family.

How has the practice of hospitality stretched you? As we go into this season of increased guests, how do you balance an open home with quiet space?

Originally posted over at The MOPS Blog: http://blog.mops.org/hospitality-becomes-reality.

Tithing as Hospitality

Frank and I were talking the other day about our finances. Now that we’ve moved into the house and things are settling down, we decided it was time to look at the budget again. We’re also at an age (this sounds so old!) when things like retirement savings enter the conversation. Maybe it’s because our parents are at retirement age or maybe it’s because a stressful job makes retirement sound amazing, but we’ve been looking at ways of being financially secure when we’re ready to stop working.

We also talked about tithing. Before we were married, we each gave a set percentage of our income to charitable organizations and we’ve since combined and increased those givings, as we’ve been able to. As we were looking at our own finances, we wondered about continuing to increase our giving. What is the balance between taking care of ourselves and our family and living an open-handed life?

https://www.flickr.com/people/fsecart/ CC-BY
https://www.flickr.com/people/fsecart/ CC-BY

Though the Old Testament gives a 10% guideline, Jesus is much more about the spirit of tithing rather than a specific number. We began talking about Kingdom Living and what that means as we choose organizations to give to. Is 10% enough? According to one story, Jesus requires 100% to be given. Other communities pooled resources to live communally. What does tithing look like in our modern, American, independent culture? How do we live responsibly without focusing on storing up treasures on earth?

At the beginning of the year, our church did a series on giving. One guest pastor, Mark Miller, talked about “spectatorship vs. ownership.” He was speaking in the context of church involvement, but as we grappled with our own giving, we wondered how that concept plays into the world at large. How do our financial choices – both in spending and in giving generously – reflect an ownership in the restoration of God’s kingdom rather than a passive spectatorship? On the one hand, it’s easy to set up automatic withdrawals each month. Giving is taken out of our budget before we ever see the cash and the fact that we do give can easily slip to the back of my mind. How can I change the mentality of giving to one that is more active?

For us, the way tithing and living generously becomes more active is when we lay a foundation of hospitality under our gifts. While we continue to give a set percentage of our income to various organizations, we also look at how our lifestyle reflects a spirit of giving. How do we open our home to others, displaying hospitality through food and comfort? How do we use the gifts we are given that don’t fit on a line-itemed budget to further redemption of our earth? I have a friend who uses part of her allotted tithe to buying ethically raised and butchered meat. We don’t only give to our church or Christian organizations, but to places who help redeem our environment and who give resources and tools to people learning to build their own sustainable businesses. We look at how our spending and choices affect the whole earth.

I wonder if that is a way to interpret what Jesus meant when he said, “Sell everything to follow me.” (Matthew 19:21) If it’s less about having absolutely nothing and more about using all we have to further the Kingdom. If that’s the case, then everything we spend, everything we invest in, every monetary decision we make is a reflection of the way we tithe and support Kingdom-building.

Do you give to charity? How do you balance generosity with responsibility?

Inspired by The High Calling’s theme of tithing.

Choosing to Welcome

In college, I was lucky to have a high metabolism and lived in highly walkable Paris. My dinners mostly consisted of soup, half a baguette, and half a wheel of camembert. While this was tasty and decidedly Parisian (in my mind), I did always look forward to “real” meals.

My friends and I would host dinner parties for each other, but one of my most memorable was given by a young couple at our church. They had two children and were settled in Paris – seemingly light years ahead of my own life experience. They invited some young marrieds, poor college students, single expats and we gathered around their cozy table for a traditional full-coursed meal.

What struck me most about this couple was not the fact that they filled their home with people they didn’t really know, but how they welcomed us all in. I got the times mixed up and showed up an hour early, which I didn’t realize until the other guests arrived. Rather than feeling uncomfortable, the wife poured champagne, curled up on the sofa, and chatted until it was actually time for dinner. During the meal, the husband kept our glasses filled without us knowing and at one point, I looked over to see a naked child out of bed, whispering to his mom, while she kept the conversation going without missing a beat.

Later, I was talking with a friend about how naturally hosting seemed to come to this couple – it seemed so effortless and graceful! He pointed out that they had a lot of practice. By opening their home, they gave themselves opportunity to practice the art of making others feel welcome.

It’s an example I’ve carried with me, years later, and one I hope to achieve: Someone who makes others feel welcome without effort.

Do you have a memorable experience of hospitality? How have others made you feel welcome?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Messy Hospitality

On Sunday, we held a housewarming party, exactly one week after we moved in. We did it partly to ensure boxes would have to be unpacked (at least on the main floor) but mostly because when we bought this house, we wanted it to be a space we could fill with friends and food and hospitality.

At our old house, we didn’t let its size stop us from having people over. But, our dining room table fit six snugly around it and there wasn’t much room to spread. We mainly hosted bigger gatherings during the summer when we could move everyone outside. When we started looking for a new place, we intentionally looked for larger living spaces: Where we could sit comfortably around a large dining room table, have the kids close by, and open our home to anyone.

We found that in our new house: We have designated spaces, but we turned the formal dining room into Bea’s playroom so it’s at the center of the house. The previous owners had a large farmhouse table custom built for the space, and we were able to buy it from them. We instantly saw ourselves entertaining both small dinners and larger gatherings.

Because our intention was to open our home, we decided the best way to inaugurate that vision was to have a housewarming as soon as possible. With the holidays, one week from move-in seemed the best date. Around Thursday, I began questioning my sanity, but by Sunday our main level was unpacked and our friends were warned about the scattered boxes in our bedrooms.

Our party wasn’t something out of Sunset or Martha Stewart, though my mom spent the week leading up baking family favorite Christmas cookies. We bought appetizers in bulk from Costco and there were no cute decorations aside from our small Christmas collection. (What filled our old house completely now looks small on our mantle here.) Frank spent the morning making the Silver Palette’s Chili for a Crowd, and people were invited to throw their coats anywhere and give self-guided tours.

10 lbs of meat!
10 lbs of meat in that pot!

Some close friends came early to help with prep and soon our new home was filled with laughter, screaming children running through the halls, and the laid-back coziness we longed for. No one noticed that our bookshelves weren’t organized and staged; no one commented on the boxes upstairs or the fact that we have camp chairs instead of a couch in front of our TV.

I loved that our first party was messy and imperfect. That we threw it because we wanted our house filled with friends, not because we were showing off our beautiful decorating skills. I hope that it sets the precedent for future gatherings, no matter the size. That we can invite friends over for take-out pizza or a complex homemade meal and the point is community. I want this space to be a place where people are comfortable and where we can value conversation and laughter over presentation and style.

In this week leading up to Christmas, I want to keep that in mind. That the wrapping and perfect gift, while amazing to find, are not the point. The point of this is the thoughtfulness and love behind the presents and time together.

I hope your holidays are messy, imperfectly perfect, and filled with laughter and family!

Embracing Culture Shock

Frank and I are on a movie-watching roll and saw Silver Linings Playbook last weekend. I cringed through the entire movie. The drugs! The fighting! The social awkwardness! Yikes!! Frank thought it was hilarious. While the details are different, the film itself reflected his life growing up in Philadelphia in a loud, feisty, passionate family.

Growing up, I always thought I came from a loud family. My mom is one of seven siblings, so family gatherings were filled with kids running and playing and adults talking and laughing. What I didn’t realize is that there are many different kinds of loud. My family’s loudness came from many conversations happening at once. If you were able to focus only on one, it wouldn’t be all that loud in itself.

Frank’s family is large, but each conversation is also loud. When I first met his sisters, I wondered if they were upset with me. Frank looked at me quizzically and said, They’re just talking! He grew up in a Jewish-Italian family and in our holiday trips back east, I’ve encountered many cultural experiences – from the Feast of the Seven Fishes and midnight Mass to weddings and smorgasbords. Each time we go back, I’ve experienced less culture shock, but no matter how much I prepare, there always seems to be some shocking moment.

In college, I always thought it would be amazing to marry someone international. We’d raise our kids in a cross-culture environment and they’d get a well-rounded life experience. Lack of prospects as well as the reality of the exhaustion of living abroad brought me back home and, a few years later, I met an American. What I didn’t realize is that, even though we have similar pop cultural backgrounds, there is a definite east coast – west coast divide. Maybe it’s not the extreme cultural differences of separate nationalities but there are definite new cultural norms that we’ve each had to learn.

Once I started viewing our Philadelphia trips as a cultural learning experience, rather than a stressful navigation in family dynamics, our trips became easier. Maybe they’re not completely drama-free, but I’m not sure they’ll ever be, and I’m learning to adjust my expectations.

Pizza at the Jersey Shore last Christmas
Pizza at the Jersey Shore last Christmas

I am thankful that Bea will grow up with both experiences: From my family, she’ll learn how to throw beautiful dinner parties and extend gracious hospitality. From Frank’s family, she’ll learn to loudly embrace anyone, no matter their background. Both our families value hospitality and inclusion, but they are modeled in vastly different ways. And, while it’s shocking to me, I’m glad that she’ll be able to navigate those two coasts and mentalities from a young age.

What about you? If you’re married, are your in-laws similar to your background or do you navigate cultural differences? Do you embrace them or are they stressful?


“Come! Come, ‘Ma’oes!” Bea eagerly led any guests to our home straight to the tomato plants, towering over her 11-month self. Once she discovered our garden, and especially the delicious cherry tomatoes, Bea wanted to share her wealth with others. At any given moment, her small mouth would be stuffed with red (and often green) tomatoes, as though the plant would suddenly wither and she would have only what she had squirreled into her cheeks.

Tomatoes off the vine
Tomatoes off the vine

Many guests over the summer bonded with Bea behind those tomato plants. You knew you were part of her pack if she led you to the raised beds at the back of our yard. This small act of hospitality reminded me how simple giving to our friends can be. People were delighted to share her tomatoes, and not just because she was adorably offering them. I don’t think relationships require much, and I often need to remember that generosity and hospitality can start with simply sharing a few cherry tomatoes off the vine.

Linked with Lisa-Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday, a time to sit and write without editing for 5 minutes.