Having an open door

30 05 2011

“I just invited Tom* to dinner,” my husband said, coming through the back door into the kitchen.

I stared at him in disbelief for a millisecond, but I knew he wasn’t joking. He would invite a neighbor to dinner at the last minute. The dining room table was already set, the food served, and we were about to sit down. Or, I should say, half of the table was set. The other half — the part we didn’t need for only the three of us — was cluttered with books, magazines, bits of mail, and assorted junk.

“Nice timing,” I said, beginning to stack the mess in an unbalanced pile.

“I just ran into him outside,” he explained, his eyes apologetic as he helped clear the space. “He’s really excited about coming. And I’ve been wanting to have him over.”

“I’m all for having him over,” I snapped. “It’s the timing I’m not so happy about.”

I stashed the precarious pile on the piano bench and assessed our simple supper: three ears of rapidly cooling corn-on-the-cob and ingredients to make “BLOATS” (bacon, lettuce, onion, avocado, and tomato sandwiches). Despite the ample-sounding acronym, it was slim pickings. Then I assessed my appearance, and the meal looked impressive in comparison. No make up, long tie-dyed jersey skirt, white t-shirt, and flip flops. Topped off with a vintage floral apron, the look suggested June Cleaver in her fifties after she ditched the pearls and pumps and moved to a hippie commune.

Oh, well. Tom would be here any second. There was nothing I could do to improve any of it. I headed into the kitchen to toast more bread.

When I returned George had broken the corn ears in half and was shifting the table runner from the center to the now empty end of the table. I huffed my disapproval, snatched a few stray pencils off the runner, and slid it back to center where everyone knows a runner belongs. I was setting a fourth place when George scooted out to answer Tom’s heavy knock on the door — hurrying no doubt to get to Tom and not away from me.

I promise I’m really not an ogre (except occasionally to the people I trust to love me no matter what, and no, I don’t want to stop and think about the implications of that statement right now), and I was already feeling prickles of conviction regarding my focus on appearances and lack of hospitality. Besides, it’s impossible not to like Tom. He’s soft spoken, friendly, and courteous. He’s also single and lives alone. The least I could do is allow him a little break from his domestic solitude. When he walked in I managed a sincere smile and greeted him warmly.

“Thanks so much for having me. I really appreciate it,” he said. Then, looking around, he added, “I don’t think I’ve ever been in this house. It’s very nice!”

Prickles became stabs. How lazy of a neighbor am I? Sure, Tom’s parents own the house he lives in, and he’s only been occupying it for a few months. But still. By this point God had my full attention. As we took our seats I breathed a silent prayer for eyes to see and ears to hear.

George gave thanks for the food, then fell into easy conversation with Tom, touching on topics I’d only vaguely been aware of or didn’t know anything about at all. Obviously these men had been getting to know each other in snatches, and George had been observant.

Almost immediately their talk turned to things of God, and I watched Tom’s soul open like a thirsty bud placed in fresh water. More than once he said, “I’ve been thinking about something and want to know what you think.” And these weren’t mundane matters, like where he should go to get a good deal on tires or how George handles fire ants. These were digging-into-the-Word-and-wanting-to-honor-God-with-my-choices matters.

I knew Tom was a believer, but I didn’t know much else — didn’t know he would sacrifice his own heart’s desires or comforts to please God. Didn’t know he held scripture in every bit as high a regard as George and I do. Didn’t know, because I never bothered to find out.

Tom has a seminary degree. He knows a lot, but he’s not haughty, and the more I listened, the more I heard a heart beating hard after God, humble, teachable, steadfast. He’s going through a tough season right now, casting himself on the Lord for wisdom and direction, and he needed an opportunity to talk to a brother and sister — to lay some thoughts out there and examine them in community.

We lingered long, and the God of mercy stooped low. He opened my eyes and ears, and I realized our dining room had become a holy place and our table an altar. We’d gathered around a simple supper of sandwiches and half ears of corn, but we’d dined on spiritual meat, and our souls were satisfied. God had prepared a feast we would have missed if George hadn’t opened our door.

My husband. He would invite a neighbor to dinner at the last minute.

When I grow up, I hope I’m just like him.

Giving thanks in community for:

#109 a husband who teaches me hospitality
#110 a neighbor who mentors me in loving Jesus better
#111 a simple supper turned into a feast
#112 forgiveness 70 times 7
#113 juicy red sweetness of garden tomatoes
#114 Jacob’s eyes alight with laughter, slurping a strawberry smoothie through a straw
#115 a kitchen, a table, an open door
#116 a Sunday sermon about rest and the quiet whisper to “Come.”

and especially today:
#117 the flag on our front gable and
#118 those who laid down their lives to preserve all it represents. Greater love has no one than this.

To those whose loved ones died defending our freedom, a humble thank you. Grace and peace and much love to you.

*Tom is not his real name. I changed it because I didn’t ask permission to share this story and want to respect his privacy.


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43 responses

30 05 2011
Sandra Heska King

Oh, Jeanne!

I hung on every word and feel like I just had an encounter with a porcupine.

And this . . .

“I promise I’m really not an ogre (except occasionally to the people I trust to love me no matter what, and, no, I don’t want to stop and think about the implications of that statement right now)”

Well, I don’t want to think about it either.

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Okay, I’m laughing. You feel like you just had an encounter with a porcupine, and I feel like maybe I wrote this piece a little *too* honestly. 😉

(Thanks, Sandra.)

30 05 2011
Sandra Heska King

I think I look quite lovely in this quill coat. Don’t you?

So glad my husband loves me unconditionally.

Thanks, Jeanne. I think. I needed that. 😉

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Yes. Yes, you do look lovely. All you need is vintage apron and your look will be complete. I think they’re on sale at the commune . . .

30 05 2011
suzi

thank you for writing this. i’ve been on both sides—as a single person living alone, sometimes getting invited for dinner almost feels like winning the lottery—and as someone who has a home that can be shared, i am far too often hesitant about doing just that.

again, thank you for sharing. don’t you just love that there is ALWAYS something new to learn?!

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Ah, Suzi. It’s so good to look at things from both sides — to try to imagine life in the other person’s shoes. I pray to be more consistent in this.

Yes, I love that there’s always more to learn, and such a very patient Teacher! How great is our God.

30 05 2011
tinuviel

My husband is more generous with hospitality than I am, too. Like Sandra, I felt the sting of the ogre sentence. The June Cleaver in a hippie commune image was perfectly vivid and funny.

May the Lord continue to deepen your family’s relationship with Tom and use it for mutual good.

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thank you — for identifying with my weakness and for joining me in laughing at myself. (Gotta laugh or cry . . .)

And thanks, also, for the prayer. George is already pondering ways to interact more consistently with Tom. Perhaps I should ponder ways to keep the clutter off my dining room table?

30 05 2011
laura

Oh, ouch. My husband and I had a “discussion” about this very thing a few days ago. I”m afraid I wasn’t as gracious as you. This could be a long discussion, I know. Suffice it to say that I’m trying harder not to care about these things. We will start hosting a small group here this Friday (please pray?) and my sanity will require that I let go of these things.

Such a blessing to find a new friend in the process, Jeanne.

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Dear Laura. Unless you clawed out your husband’s eyes, it’s highly unlikely you were any less gracious than I. But I will definitely pray with you. Perfectionism is a heavy chain, and I know all too well it’s not easily broken.

Many beautiful blessings on your opening doors.

30 05 2011
Kath

What a blessing this meal was for all of you. I love your telling and reflection, and appreciate your honesty. Thank God for all of it, and bless you.
Kath

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Kath. It’s not as hard to admit my weaknesses when others are encouraged in the process. Bless you, too.

30 05 2011
Jennifer, Snapshot

Really beautiful.

I’m the same way. I will often avoid going outside to get my mail if I see a neighbor out who I haven’t talked to and have meant to, because I am sloppy and un-made up. How vain and unhospitable!

I also do a lot more thinking about hosting people than actually doing it. Last minute is perfect. Love this.

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Jennifer. I wonder how many “feasts” we deny ourselves? A sobering thought. Perhaps last minute is perfect. Certainly it is when God pries open the door.

30 05 2011
Peggy Gnehm

Thank you, Jeanne, for such transparent honesty. Clearly, you are totally not alone in these feelings and responses. I am not happy to be missing time with my kids today because I am working really hard to prepare for a [much desired] weekend visitor as well as a potluck for a group from our Sunday School class. So much to clear up!! At least, I have advance notice. Yet, you remind me to put first things first, focusing on the spirit of the welcome rather than the perfection of the cleaning!! You bless so many with your writing :>))

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Ah, Peggy, this is the dilemma. When I know company is coming, I wear myself out making everything look just so — even parts of my house the company will probably never see, but I take no chances. And then pride interferes with presence when they finally arrive. I pray we’ll both find balance so we can provide a pleasant environment for guests without obsessing over unimportant details.

Thanks so much for your kind words. Have a beautiful time with your much desired visitor!

Love, Jeanne

30 05 2011
Windows and Paper Walls

Good grief. Gorgeous.

Glad to hear your table looks like mine! The papers and carp are encroaching ever farther onto our little dining end!

Also, my hubs and I are HORRIBLE neighbors. So busy, we never hang out with the people. Just smile and wave as we drive off to church..

Also, can I come to dinner?

30 05 2011
Windows and Paper Walls

That was “crap” – we do not have fish (live or otherwise) on our table. Your box doesn’t show the right side of my comment, as I’m typing. 🙂

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

You crack me up! Yes, please come to dinner. I could use a dose of your delightful presence. If you come, I may even invest in a fishbowl for the messy side of the table. A nice family of carp might distract your attention from all the other clutter. 🙂

30 05 2011
Sharon O

Oh I can SO relate. I would be miffed if my husband did that. And you know it always works that the Lord would be in the midst of it and make it a beautiful time. So glad you set your heart calm and listened instead of staying in a place of ‘closure’. Hospitality is not my gift and I am afraid I would react the same way. Blessings to you all as you enter a new ‘friendship’.

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thanks, Sharon. I’m trying to learn to invite Christ into all my moments, even (or especially) when I’m miffed. Thanks so much for your encouragement and blessings! Love to you.

30 05 2011
Joyfull

WHOA! What a convicting and also encouraging post! Hosptiality is an area that is so important, loved your lessons you shared. Many blessings to you.

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thanks so much, Joyfull! Many blessings to you, too.

30 05 2011
Linda

It is past time for me to leave a comment, for I have been enjoying your magnificent writing for a little while now – the writing and your heart.
Oh, I could see myself in this Jeanne. I long for the time I can quickly respond the way I know I should and avoid the selfish moments it often takes to get there. I wonder how many precious moments I’ve missed when I don’t get there at all?
Thank you for this gentle reminder and for your grateful heart.

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Dear Linda, thank you for these lovely and generous words about my writing and heart. I pray God’s grace shines through both, because I know how weak I am. Selfish, yes. And so often slow to recognize His gifts. Praying for you and for me, may we learn to see Him everywhere.

There are so many wonderful blogs, I’m honored you choose to read this one and took the time to say hello. You are welcome here with all my heart.

Love, Jeanne

30 05 2011
Grace

I loved how our house had an open door as I was growing up. It’s definitely shaped how I view my own house and how Curtis and I want to be as a family of our own. I’m so thankful for the example of hospitality I’ve had from my parents, and I don’t remember seeing the ogre side of you. (Perhaps you’ve had less practice recently and it’s time to move into a real commune!)

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thanks, Grace. If you don’t ever remember seeing me snippy or selfish, then love truly does cover (and hide and possibly erase the memory of) a multitude. However, you are right that I always loved having a house full of your friends when you kids were growing up, and George’s college students were always welcome at any time, too, and maybe I really am out of practice because there just aren’t as many people coming and going these days.

I love the way you and Curtis open your home and engage with your community. It’s beautiful, and I treasure every opportunity I’ve had to be part of it.

Perhaps it is time . . .

So much love to you! xo

30 05 2011
ldamoff

“When I grow up I hope I’m just like him,” is something i frequently say in reference to Daddy.

love,
luke

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

I’ll make sure he sees this comment, Luke. It will mean a lot to him.

Love you. PRAYING for you and dear Sarah and that sweet, sweet Naomi!

xo, mz

30 05 2011
Patricia (Pollywog Creek)

Beautiful. Your experience reminds me that my husband is a much better neighbor than I am. The ways we can reach out to our neighbors are almost always his. I’m humbled.

I’ve been away from all things internet since Thursday and most anxious to know about Miss Naomi Belle’s arrival. I’m guessing she’s just happy to be right where she is. XOXOX

30 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thank you, Patricia. I have no doubt your graceful presence is a gift to your neighbors.

We are still waiting for Naomi Belle to make her entrance. Thank you for praying and waiting and longing with us!

Much love.

30 05 2011
Jennifer@GDWJ

First of all, the way you tell a story, Jeanne? Fabulous. You really drive home a point with vivid, memorable images and great storytelling. I’m grateful for your ministry of words.

Secondly, what a great lesson for anyone who second-guesses having the neighbors over. Sounds like God provided enough food to go around, and that you also had your fill of soulful conversation.

Great, great post, Jeanne.

I wish I could come over for BLOATS. And I’d love to see you in that apron. I’ll wear my Peace pajamas and slippers. How ’bout it? 😉

31 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Oh my, Jennifer. Coming from a gifted story teller like you, that is a humbling and encouraging compliment indeed. Thank you!

I wish you could come over for BLOATS, too! Please, please do! How fun would that be? And I’m sure you look adorable in your Peace pjs and slippers. Comfy is always best — plus, if we decide to make it a sleep over, all you’ll need to borrow is a toothbrush.

30 05 2011
Patricia

You brought smiles to my face as I read this. What a wonderful God appointment you had. I can so relate to this because we’ve been taught that hospitality means neatness and perfection. My friend has a little wall plaque that says “If you want to see me, door’s open…come anytime. If you’d like to see my house, please make an appointment.” Isn’t that a good one?! My truth is that I’m actually mad at me when unexpected guests come because it forces me to see my imperfections or messiness. The guests really don’t see them. I started changing my definition of hospitality when I saw the word “hospital” in it. How can I be the best Physicians Assistant?… by letting people in… just like you did. A wonderfully told story… thank you.

31 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Patricia, what a wealth of wonderful tidbits you are! Love your friend’s wall plaque quote. And how true that guests don’t notice the little messes and imperfections. Also, “Physician’s Assistant.” That’s so great! Thanks for sharing. 🙂

31 05 2011
Ann Voskamp@Holy Experience

And can I be you when I grow up? If?

*Thank you*…

31 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Seriously? Good gravy, Ann, you are such an inspiration to me. Why would you want to backtrack?

And, yes. That “If?” Reminds me of the Rich Mullins’ line, “If I ever really do grow up, Lord, I wanna grow up and be just like You.” When we see Him, we shall be like Him. Until then . . .

So thankful for you, faithful pilgrim, shy but shining star. Oh, how you bless. You remain in my prayers, that God would hold you always present, listening to His whisper above every other roar.

Much love.

31 05 2011
Susanne

This was beautiful. I linked over from a link someone put in a comment on hospitality somewhere and I’m glad I did. Thanks for the reminder to be open to God even when I think it’s the worst time possible.

31 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thanks so much for stopping by, Susanne, and taking the time to leave a comment. I’m so glad and grateful that God met you here.

31 05 2011
katdish

Oh, you know what, Jeanne? I was right there with you. Feeling the same conviction. I enjoy having people over, but I must admit I cringe a little when I hear the doorbell ring and we’re not expecting anyone. Beautiful words as always. xo

31 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thanks, Kathy. I tend to think of you as someone who would be up for party times on very short notice, but I suppose this just proves we all like to guard our sanctuaries and bristle a bit when they’re invaded.

If I ever show up at your house unannounced, I’ll be sure to bring snacks and karaoke and maybe even something wonderful from Sky Mall. Then will you let me in?

xo

31 05 2011
Deborah King

As someone who enjoys company (that involves much planning) but also someone who cringes at last minute drop-ins, what a lesson you’be taught me. What am I missing in inpromptu fellowship for my need to control. Thanks for sharing. You’ve inspired me to be a better neighbor and friend.

31 05 2011
jeannedamoff

Thanks, Deborah. I’m so glad you were inspired. Hopefully I will keep growing as a neighbor and friend, too.

Your comments are a gift. Please know I read each one with gratitude.

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