The Hospitality of Friendship

Recently, I was honored to be a guest contributor on the blog at Women Encouraged, an organization dedicated to encouraging women to grow closer to Christ Jesus, find their identity in him, and be shaped by His Word.

I shared about my experience overcoming obstacles that can keep us from true hospitality. You can read my story here.

And I’d love to hear your story — how have your friendships been strengthened by hospitality you’ve given or received?

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On Folk Songs and Living Forever

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Years back, our daughters spent a few nights in their grandparents’ care while my husband and I were on a trip, and at bedtime the first night back in our home, my oldest surprised me.

“I want to sing you a song.”

Her small voice began rising and falling into a nonsense folk song her grandmother – my mother – had gathered in the days of her childhood. One I had heard but never recalled well enough to sing on my own.

I smiled, impressed at her quick memorization of the lyrics and tune, and together we crafted a quick video to text to my mother, now at her home hundreds of miles away. Grandma was equally impressed; they had sung it only once or twice during the visit.

Months passed and while visiting my own grandmother in the nursing home where she lives, we showed the video to her. Peering at my smartphone screen, her eyes filled with tears and with trembling voice, Grandma said, “My daddy used to sing that to me.”

And we all teared up, and I bit my lip and was so grateful for the sweet moment.

That silly song – so meaningful to this old woman who years ago was promoted to the advanced memory care wing. A woman who often asks the same questions over and over – even the hard ones, like where her husband has gone.

She can no longer live in her house, or even in the same community where it still stands. My grandfather has been gone over ten years; yet each visit requires gentle reminders that he has died.

Her parents are gone. Her siblings have all passed. Her roots are seemingly gone.

But for a moment, she heard her father’s voice in her great-granddaughter’s song. The roots grew deeper and she was home again.

I never met my great-grandfather, but this visit gave me a glimpse of a man who took the time to smile and delight his daughter with a song. And she still safeguards that little treasure in her heart.

We have the same opportunity to sow riches into the lives of those we love, whether they be lyrics of a song, a message written on a page, or thoughts or feelings we dare speak aloud.

Our words have lasting power.

The words we speak and the songs we sing can travel on in our children, grandchildren, and loved ones.

Not only has God blessed us with the gift of together – of relationship; we also have this precious way to hold onto one another, even though we may be separated for many, long years.

My great-grandpa lives on in a song. What words will tell your story?

Don’t Miss the Turn

I walk to the edge of the garage, smiling and raising both hands in a double wave as my husband drives my two precious girls off to school. It’s another morning in the days since I quit riding along so I could cup their sweet faces in my hands before they climbed out with their backpacks.

When the car is out of sight and the air falls silent, I turn and step quietly across the grey floor and inside the house.

My youngest began school for the first time this fall, and what was supposed to be a half day without her quickly turned into a full day when our school district made some last-minute schedule changes. Without warning, I was thrust into my role as mother of school-aged children, alone in my home for most of each week’s daylight hours.

I’m grieving a beautiful life of quiet mornings, children’s programming, coloring, and snuggling. Handing my youngest over to school feels like discarding her childhood – almost like it didn’t matter.

If you ask me how the school year is going, I’ll say she is really enjoying Kindergarten and share how surprised we are that she has adjusted to her new routine so easily. But selfishly, I’m sad for this part of life – this chapter of my life as a mom – to end.

As a parent, I have no choice but to help my children embrace new parts of life. I encourage them to look upon new activities and special days at school with excitement and not dread. I ask if everyone else dressed for Purple Day, what they learned in art class, and if they played with any new friends.

My forced smile is the only way I know to move them, and myself, forward. Because I know forward is the right way to go.

Autumn is the dying off of old to give birth to the new. And the cold of winter will be broken by buds of new life, new beauty and wonder. I trust that there is goodness ahead.

But goodness is not just way off in the distance – it’s right now. There is joy and sweetness even in these fleeting moments of transition. Can I embrace that?

God holds great things for us in each season and the time in between. With our heads turned back, remembering days sipping cocoa and watching Cinderella, we might miss the goodness He has laid at our feet this very day.

Yes, the leaves are dying, but look at the beauty the changing of seasons brings with its rich hues and curling leaves. We savor and celebrate the golden fall colors, but do we treasure the changing of colors in our own lives?

While my sweet baby sheds the leaves of the past, I look at the beautiful way God is turning her life! She is more capable than she knew. She is growing and she is blooming. And the turning itself is beautiful.

When a leaf drops in your life, I challenge you to look beyond its loss and to see what God is doing right there in that very moment. Don’t waste the gift – for He even makes change beautiful. Don’t miss the turn!

What leaves are falling around you now? What goodness is God providing through the colors?

“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven…” Ecclesiastes 3:1 (KJV)

Books: Come & Eat – A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table

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Hospitality is one of my “things.”

Things I ponder. Things I enjoy studying. Things I have to practice.

I’ve been the recipient of great hospitality and know how good a generous heart has made me feel. And I’ve had some practice being hospitable, as our family has surrounded ourselves with community in a city where we have no immediate relatives and as we’ve hosted those immediate relatives in our home when they travel our way.

Being a gracious host doesn’t always come naturally for me. I’m one of those blended extrovert/introverts social media is so excited to discuss these days. I’m fine in a crowd, comfortable on a stage, willing to speak up, and I enjoy being with others. Until I want to retreat to my house like a leggings-wearing hermit until I’m ready to people again.

And often, the Holy Spirit’s nudging to show love to others doesn’t happen when I’m refueled and ready to step back outside. Isn’t that convenient?

Certainly there is a heart behind the practice of hospitality – one of love for others and extending the grace that has been given to us. Author Bri McKoy of Our Savory Life has written her first book on just that.

Come & Eat: A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table explores the art of loving others through time at the table.

Bri’s blog, Our Savory Life, is a collection of stories and recipes (many Paleo and grain-free), so I dove into the book expecting delicious food and tips for building fellowship and community. I was prepared to make a grocery list and some dinner invitations.

More than amazing meals and useful tips, Come & Eat is a challenge to be intentional about life around the table, by being present and willing to follow God’s lead.

It is about reaching out when it’s awkward. Extending an invitation when it’s inconvenient. And sometimes, saying ‘yes’ when you kind of (really) want to say ‘no.’

Through engaging stories about meals and hospitality, and thoughtful questions that encourage introspection as well as looking around us, Bri reinforces the importance of meals and tables in our human experience.

She discusses the need to first show up at our own table, recognizing its great value to marriages, families, and friendships. Prioritizing time at the table naturally emphasizes the importance of our relationships.

She also demonstrates the value in making room for others at our table. Whether they are people just waiting for an invitation…

“May we understand that a lot of days there are people walking around replaying a harsh reckoning of themselves and their own failings, and may we interrupt that with an invitation. May we replace their internal dialogue with, ‘You are loved. You are known. You are seen. Come with me, and eat!’”

…or people in our lives that need our attention…

“If your table is the destination for people, then the people who sit around it are a divine invitation. And you’ll miss that divine invitation if all your preparation doesn’t lead to you actually sitting down with them and participating in the fellowship of the table.”

Stashing random Legos in the guest closet (don’t open that!), artfully arranging a charcuterie plate, and turning on some casual music matters not at all if I don’t see – really see – the people around my table.

Enjoy the People

Then Bri challenges us to (get ready for this) INVITE OURSELVES TO OTHERS’ TABLES. Fear not, this does not involve arriving unannounced to acquaintances’ homes and saying, “Hey! Do I smell tacos?”

There are times an invitation to your home just isn’t practical or possible, but there is still a need. Jesus lived this example.

“Jesus was, without shame, an expert at finding a place for himself in others’ homes. He wasn’t afraid of entering into the lives and worlds of others, places that were perhaps more comfortable for the people he was looking to reach.”

Bri recounts some opportunities she has had to do this, from delivering a meal to someone living on the street, gifting a cup of coffee to a stranger, or watching for someone in need of a kind word.

And sometimes, this means simply showing up and learning to live in the discomfort of others’ pain and suffering.

“He is not calling us to rescue anyone; he is calling us to pull out a chair and sit amongst the broken.”

Our presence says, “I can’t help. But I will sit here with you while you hurt.”

God calls us to the table for deeper fellowship with one another. The simple invitation to “Come, and eat” is a great place to start.

Person is Extravagant

Come & Eat: A Celebration of Love and Grace Around the Everyday Table by author Bri McKoy is available in bookstores September 5. Reserve a copy before September 5 at www.comeandeatbook.com and enjoy pre-order gifts including early access to book content and a digital print download.

 

Destinations: Sedona, Arizona

Taking the time for a vacation, while fun, is often a difficult thing to do. It is hard to justify time away from the demands and business of every day life. And it is maybe even harder to justify that same time away, when your family will stay behind.

Which is why, in 20 plus years of friendship, I had never taken a trip with my girlfriends.

Until now.

Usually spread across three states and two different time zones, one summer we had the chance to laugh and talk live in the town where we met. That day, our lazy pool party afternoon slipped away much too quickly, but not too quickly for us to commit to a girls’ weekend the following spring.

We had few criteria for our destination – somewhere new for each of us, somewhere warm, something active to do, good food, and a patio.

We settled on the stunning red rocks of Sedona and started making plans.

I’m all for feeling like I’m on vacation time once wheels hit the runway at the airport, but sometimes a little more effort is required to get to your destination. Making the time investment to drive the two hours from Phoenix is not unlike the time investment to maintain solid friendships. It is entirely worth it.

The beautiful desert setting of Phoenix and Scottsdale slipped behind our rental car as we navigated the scenic drive to Sedona. We watched and waited for the red rocks to appear, and while the scenery slowly changed over time, it wasn’t until we were about to Sedona that we saw the stunning red peaks. And within minutes, we were slowing into peaceful, elegant Sedona, nestled among the towering rocks.

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We chose the Arabella Hotel Sedona for its central location, great online reviews, and budget price. We planned to be outside more than in, so were careful to check out its patio areas and be sure there was a balcony. If hiking is part of your Sedona plan, you’ll find the Arabella Hotel to be nicely located in close proximity to some great hiking, only a short drive away. In fact, the Margs Draw trailhead is adjacent to the property, allowing easy exploration of Munds Mountain Wilderness. Even if you’re not a hiker, throw on your tennis shoes and walk up the short trail behind the hotel for some spectacular views. It’s worth a visit at both sunrise and sunset, or really, anytime you’d like to look at something that takes your breath away.

We had a great experience there — clean room, comfy beds, enjoyable outdoor spaces, free continental breakfast — and it didn’t hurt that the Elote Café, with its delicious Southwestern and Mexican cuisine, sits on property.

Speaking of the Elote Café, if you are wondering if you should visit, you should. Go early and plan to wait a while (no reservations here). But as we’ve discussed, sometimes a little time investment is worthwhile. Once you’ve got your name in for a table, get in the margarita line and remember to respond with an enthusiastic “yes!” when they ask if you’d like some house seasoned popcorn to enjoy while you wait.

If you’re wondering what to order, get the Elote corn (fire roasted corn with spicy mayo, lime, and cotija cheese), and the Shrimp con Espinacas (grilled wild mexican shrimp with sauteed spinach in chipotle crema) or Carnitas (slow-roasted Niman Ranch pork shoulder with sun-dried hatch red chile sauce and crema).

Elote Café was one of our favorite food stops in Sedona, so it makes sense that chef/owner Jeff Smedstad was named a James Beard Award Semi-Finalist for 2017 Best Chef: Southwest. So if I haven’t convinced you to visit, hopefully that will.

Although pink jeep tours (Google it — it’s a thing) and helicopter tours abound, if you’re able, hiking is the way to really see the beauty of Sedona. It’s one thing to gaze upon the red rocks, and another to be entirely immersed in them. If you’re not able (or plain don’t want to), the jeep tours are off-road and will get you out in nature.

We found the guide book Sedona’s Top 10 Hikes by Dennis Andres invaluable in planning and enjoying our hikes. The guide is comprehensive, sharing logistical information (parking, prices, restrooms, etc.) as well as historical background and great commentary on each hike. It is also quick and easy to reference and small enough to carry on the trail. And most importantly, we found Dennis’ assessment of trail difficulty to be accurate, which aided in selecting appropriate adventures to suit our varying skill levels. If you wonder why that was important to me, ask me about the time I thought I’d die on Kauai.

We visited in May, which meant desert flowers were in bloom but the late mornings and afternoons were beginning to get warm. As such, we chose to start our days with an early hike to take advantage of the cooler temperatures and use the rest of our day for less taxing activity like long lunches and dips in the pool.

My favorite hike was the Brins Mesa Trail. It was a moderate uphill hike to Brins Mesa along Mormon Canyon. It was a lovely outing with the views becoming increasingly spectacular the higher we climbed. From the Mesa, we crossed over toward Wilson Mountain for a rest and snack. For this roughly 5-mile hike, we carried a lightweight daypack with food and water bottles, as well as an additional backpack with a hydration bladder. For the daypack, I love these Eddie Bauer Stowaway Daypacks for travel because they stow easily into an onboard pouch but offer a lot of space. As always, sturdy hiking shoes or trail tennis shoes are a must, and plan on them taking on a red tinge from the soil if you don’t scrub them. We had the trail mostly to ourselves on the way up, but began to cross paths with other hikers on the way back.

A much more leisurely hike is Red Rock Crossing along Oak Creek near the base of Cathedral Rock. This trail is near a park, so it was much more populated with families and such. There are many lovely sights to enjoy on both sides of the creek, particularly toward Cathedral Rock. We were unable to locate a footbridge so crossed the creek barefoot twice (probably not a good idea but we’re here to tell about it). Our only disappointment with this hike was that it wasn’t far enough from civilization.

Big hikes in the morning means leisure in the afternoon. My favorite afternoon was spent with a long lunch with wine flights at Rene Restaurant. Rene is set in the charming Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, which is a beautiful setting for whiling away the day. Wander in and out of shops and galleries, and stop for a bite to eat. Rene has a peaceful courtyard patio that was a perfect place for a ladies’ lunch.

We had two other meals of note, at Bella Vita Ristorante and L’Auberge de Sedona’s Cress on Oak Creek. Bella Vita is a cozy, dinner-only restaurant with excellent service. From our hotel, it was a bit of a drive, but it would be an easy drive for those staying in West Sedona or a great option for dinner after a visit to nearby Jerome or Prescott.

The elegant Cress was our splurge dinner and a really enjoyable night. L’Auberge has two culinary options with indoor seating or patio dining on the banks of Oak Creek which allow diners to take in the lush and serene creek-side, such a contrast to the red rocks just moments away. Cress boasts a prix-fixe menu and allows reservations, where Etch Kitchen & Bar serves an a-la-carte menu and at the time of our visit did not take reservations. Both have an extensive wine list. The food is delicious and inventive, the plating is elegant, and the service here is impeccable — from our personable, attentive, and knowledgeable server to the efficient and friendly valet (complimentary!).

There are many other places to see and things to do in Sedona, but we didn’t have time for them all. For the spa-lover, there are many great options, although we chose other activities to fill our time. We did make a visit to one “tourist” stop, the Chapel of the Holy Cross. Despite the large crowds, which somewhat detracts from the serenity and sacredness of the place, the chapel itself is a wonder and the surrounding walkways offer spectacular panoramic views of the area. I’d suggest asking a hotel concierge or visitor center staff for the best time/day to visit to avoid the crowds. Parking was a harrowing experience on the busy afternoon we arrived, particularly for this driver.

Sedona is a fairly sleepy little town come nightfall, but that worked just fine for us. We were focused on taking advantage of the daylight hours to explore and simply take in all the beauty and peace that is Sedona. The adventures and downtime together nurtured our friendship. I am so glad we took the time.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
Image Credit: Alison Joyce (featured image, Brins Mesa trailhead, the Mitten, and Chapel of the Holy Cross)

Waiting on Spring: A Lesson in Contentment

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Our family has been sick, one person after the other, one illness followed by the next. Add to that various other life stressors which pop up at inopportune times between and during each hard stretch, and life starts to feel comically hopeless. Our hearts are hovering somewhere between the dark shadow of late Winter and the brightness of the Spring the groundhog under-promised but over-delivered.

When life gets hard, I put my head down and plow through whatever activity is necessary. I work through the to-do list, focus on the next task and slowly, things will turn. I move a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer and stuff a new one in. I sanitize the countertops again, take another bag of trash out, wash my cracking hands for what seems like the hundredth time that day, and remind my little people to wash their own hands and take another small sip of water. Then I check the list to see what’s next.

We just have to make it through one more night, I tell myself. Life will be better when we get through this.

But lately, we walk out of one mess into the next. We have just enough time to breath, catch up on housework, and make new plans before the next crisis comes along. Then the cycle repeats. We cancel the plans, and fall behind again on the housework. Grab your thermometer – we’re back on the wheel.

And I’m hearing Paul say, “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11b)

I ignore Paul for a moment, because I am, after all, a pretty content person, especially when it comes to things like belongings or my role in life. Then I hear it again and pause. Whatever the circumstances? That complicates things.

I’m under no illusion that I should expect comfort or ease as a Christian. In fact, I believe things can be quite the opposite. Yet here I am, always looking forward, waiting for the load to lighten or the clouds to part.

I’m seeing that the space between hopefulness and contentedness in the moment is more fuzzy and gray than I believed. Can I be content in this moment? Can I praise God for life as it is right now? Can I cling to the promise that He works things for my good?

I often remind myself to thank God for my blessings when life is hard. We are sick now, but thank you, Lord, for bodies that heal and access to healthcare when we need it. My car isn’t running today, but I am grateful to have the resources to get it repaired. I’m exhausted from the tasks and stress, but thank you, God, for a family that needs my care.

The relentless waves of tough times got me thinking there may be a lesson for me here and one morning, some verses in 1 Samuel 2 caught my eye. Here is Hannah, who ached and prayed (and prayed) for a child, praising God for the long-awaited gift of her son Samuel. Her prayer was broader than gratitude, though. Rather than simply thank God for Samuel, she praised Him for His faithfulness and His power. In fact, she spent almost the entire prayer doing just that.

I may be further from contentment than I knew.

Can I praise God not simply for what I have “left” but for who He is through it all?

For I know this: His greatness is not dependent on my circumstance.

Focusing on my changing circumstance and my wavering outlook leaves me buried in frustration and despair when the waves come too quickly, and reliant on my own strength to make it through with spirits intact. Focusing on an unchanging God despite my circumstance steadies me and gives me a hope far more substantive than I could generate on my own.

I finish the laundry, climb into bed, and offer words of praise to the One with all the world resting in His mighty hands. Then I breathe.

Image Credit: Ron Gaedke (Montezuma Valley)

Parties: Birthday, Pity, and Otherwise

I talked to a friend this morning about her simple birthday plans, and it brought to mind my own birthday a couple of months ago.

That day began with very simple celebration plans, and turned into not what we planned at all. The interruption in our day afforded me lots of thinking time — about what a birthday means to me and what makes a “good” birthday.

Some of you may know I lost a very special grandmother on my birthday eight years back. She was indescribably wonderful and my heart broke many times along the way as she declined rapidly out of this life.

It broke first when we learned the symptoms she was battling were attributed to cancer returning to her body after a first occurrence years prior. It broke again in the car outside the nursing home the day I left her bedside to journey back to my own home, knowing I would never see her again. It broke again in the hallway at work, where I took the birthday call my mom helped orchestrate. The one where my tired grandma told me she didn’t know what to say and we finally said goodbye. And it broke in the darkness of my bedroom as I sat on the floor with the phone and heard she had passed late that night.

Mixed in with the sadness of losing someone so dear on my special day was the bittersweet realization the day was now ours to share and exponentially more meaningful — my birthday now the sweet moment Jesus welcomed her to heaven.

We had always shared my birthday anyhow. Ironically, she was the type of grandparent who truly loved to celebrate her grandchildren’s birthdays. As a gifted cake decorator, she let each of us dream up the perfect birthday cake and then delivered it for our big day. And she always made arrangements to take us out for a special meal and shopping trip.

Those first few years made for a hard series of birthdays. Each year, my husband took me to breakfast for dinner at the same chain where she and I used to meet. The days were half happy, half melancholy, and mostly quiet. Lots of tears but also lots of French toast.

But as the years have eased by, my birthday has come to mean so much more. It isn’t about the day she died. And disappointingly, it isn’t about me as some supremely special being. It is about fullness, and life, and gratefulness.

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I am alive. My family is here with me. I have a husband I don’t deserve and daughters more precious than I could have imagined. My wonderful parents and in-laws are well and active in our lives. I have dear sisters and brothers, and nieces and nephews I love as my own. I have family I am so very lucky to be able to call friends. And I have friends I am so very grateful have become part of my family. I have a home to care for, sunsets to watch, and meaningful things to do with my time. And I have a God that loves me relentlessly, just as I am.

I have never been one to require a big birthday celebration or a full day (or week!) of my favorite activities. I don’t even usually need much in the way of presents. (But to be clear, I do quite like them so don’t let that stop you.)

I do have two general requirements: (1) my family remembers my birthday, and (2) we do something out of the ordinary to celebrate. Only one of those requirements has ever been overlooked and he is still really, very, truly sorry he remembered late in the evening after a full day of me looking at him angrily through narrowed eyes. It honestly wasn’t his fault.

There have been other birthdays, though, where I’ve wished the day had been more perfect. Maybe more celebratory. Maybe required just a little less work from me. Maybe all the friends I’ve ever had (like, ever!) wished me a happy birthday. Maybe everyone had gotten along swimmingly all the birthday long and my girls were well-behaved and thoughtful beyond their years. Maybe my husband was doting and devoted an entire day to me and my favorite (long, long list of) things.

Those kind of birthday wishes lead to discontentment. And crabby people. Mostly me.

We get so caught up hoping others remember us on our birthdays, but do we stop to remember them ourselves? To be thankful we are alive to celebrate and have people we love around us. To decide to spend them in a way that matters to us, rather than hoping others surprise us with exactly what we want (but don’t want to have to say).

So when my most recent birthday morning was festively spent in the urgent care waiting room while medical staff patched up my husband after a deck construction incident, and the rest of his day had to be spent working on said deck to make up for lost time, I realized the gift of a day spent doing work that is valuable to me. I enjoyed sweet hugs and downtime with my girls watching the live-action Cinderella movie (my choice, again). I was able to help my husband on his deck project and care for him and our home. I talked to my parents and one sister on the phone, and was able to text with my other sister who was heading up into the mountains on a camping adventure. I had a fun dinner out and shave ice (no candle).

Each time disappointment may have crept in and I began to pen invitations to my pity party, I reminded myself that a birthday is an occasion to take stock of my blessings. Mostly, it is a chance to reaffirm that as long as I am able to turn the calendar pages, I get to choose the type of woman I am and how I will invest the fleeting minutes of my life.

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