My family and I walked into our house to find a mound of damp, sandy beach towels–our own–piled on the kitchen floor, near the laundry closet. The closet doors were open, and the ironing board took up the kitchen floor space not covered with brightly-colored dirty towels.
We hadn’t just returned from a trip to the beach–rather, we’d just gotten home from visiting Mississippi (and attending the finals of a scholarship program with which I volunteered for many years). The family staying at our house, one we still hadn’t met at this point, had left the towels tossed on the floor–which surprised me, particularly since I’d let them know we’d be returning home that night.
I had chosen “hospitality” as my word of the year that year. I felt weak in the area of hospitality, and if you’d asked me to explain that, I’d have said I didn’t love going to the effort of having extra people over for dinner. So, for that year, I aimed to be more intentional with hospitality and to do so in ways that would stretch me.
Months earlier, I’d read in our Cru online newsletter that a family (formerly connected to Cru) would be returning from overseas and needed to find a place to stay for about a week. This family of 4 needed to be housed in our part of town so as to be close to a family member at a nursing home. The specific dates they needed temporary, free shelter–for 8 days, according to the online ad–coincided with the dates our family would be out of town. Brilliant. We could open our home, help meet a need, and not be too crowded in our townhouse while 4 extra people lived there.
I began corresponding with the wife, who’d submitted the ad, and later learned that my husband had met her years before, although they weren’t friends. We worked out the details: where I’d leave a house key, pool entry key, etc. I would make sure clean sheets covered the beds as we left.
However, not long before their house stay was to begin, I wrote the mom to confirm. Finally I got word that their stay was going to be longer by 3 days, the dates would be different than first stated, and they would overlap us for some time. Surprised she didn’t ask if this would be OK, I adjusted. We set up an air mattress in our bedroom for the boys, while the 2 teen daughters slept in the boys’ room and the mom and dad took the guest room/home office.
The dirty towels left on the floor weren’t the only reason I mumbled to my husband that this family was treating our home like a hotel. They also left a bag of trash in the hall, along with a sack of clothing, on the early morning they left. I kept the clothes for several months, wondering if they’d ask me to mail them somewhere, before finally delivering them to Goodwill. They left dirty sheets on the beds, along with a note that thanked us for letting them “crash at our pad.”
This wasn’t my first foray into letting strangers stay in our home while we were out of town. Years before, while pregnant for the first time, I read another ad in the Cru newsletter requesting short-term housing for a family visiting for a wedding. The contact person, a Cru staff woman, sought housing for this family in our neighborhood, and Mike and I planned to be gone (again for the scholarship program–this time I was judging) over that weekend.
The day before we headed out of town, the contact person came to look over the house. She told me that, instead of 2 couples and a baby (which I thought were the ones visiting our home), there was a couple, a mom with her baby, and a single man. Hmmm…How was I going to make this set-up work in our 3-bedroom townhouse that, at the time, contained only 2 beds?
I scrounged extra sheets and set-up our pull-out sofa, not the most comfortable option. Everything was ready as Mike and I left town. Our only requests for this group were not to wear outdoor shoes inside, not to smoke inside, and not to use the master bathroom (there were 2 other options). When we returned from the weekend, we discovered a battered box of slightly crumbly candles left as a thank-you gift–and the toilet paper roll from the master bathroom removed.
I suppose they’d run out of t.p. and, instead of going to the store down the street, they’d simply removed the roll from the bathroom they weren’t using. I’d have rather they kept the candles and sprung for a four-pack of toilet paper instead.
In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks to His followers about taking in strangers–and how performing this act of service is, in essence, serving Him. I wanted to serve Him.
I got over the dirty towels and missing toilet paper, and later we housed a mom who needed a place to stay (on her own) for 13 nights. Ellen (not her real name) spent the days with her family at home but needed a place to sleep for that time period. She was the most grateful house guest we’ve ever hosted. We’d first met Ellen when our church sponsored some families from the school where we held services. When Ellen contacted our pastor for help, it seemed natural for us to open our (not well-decorated) door to her.
And this is what I learned..Hospitality is more than entertaining people, more than hosting in a beautifully-appointed home. Hospitality is offering a welcome place of shelter–for a meal or for a week–to one who might need some nourishing.
I hope when I meet Jesus face to face, He says, “Hey, I noticed you took in those strangers! Well-done, you. And don’t worry; I have plenty of toilet paper here.”