I want to tell you about the fantastic book I just read.
Leslie Verner had me at her opening metaphor: a rootless tumbleweed. A self-described “goer,” Verner knows what it’s like to not only be a stranger in a strange land, but to also feel like a misfit back home as she struggles to learn how to stay put. In “Invited,” she weaves her own stories with insights gleaned from other cultures and the Word. She takes the empathy she gained for lonely people and turns it into a lifestyle of reaching out to others.
Verner shows us that hospitality is not about being an excellent cook or setting a beautiful table. It’s about inviting, no matter how tired you are or messy your home is. Verner writes about the art of lingering, filling up your reservoir so you have something to give, listening and understanding, and making others feel welcome, with oodles of practical ideas of how to do this. She writes:
“I want to err on the side of love, generosity, having an open home, and inviting people even when I don’t always feel like it. Then again, we also need systems of solitude and rhythms of rest, renewal, and recharging. We can’t pour into people out of an empty well. Our reservoirs must have a sustainable Source.”
When I met the author at a retreat for our mutual Redbud Writers Guild, I knew I’d met a kindred spirit. Leslie and I connected immediately on our love of going, she to China and Uganda and me to Eastern Europe. I felt certain I’d like her book, but now that I’ve read it, I can say I love it. It is a MUST READ.
When Steve and I first married, we established some traditions. At that time, I had recently returned to the States and I struggled to fit in. We decided we would always invite people to join us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Not just anyone, but specifically lonely people. Internationals, widows, divorced people, single parents, recently released prisoners.
And we did–in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Some of my favorite memories include our huge Thanksgiving meals, on folding tables and mismatched tablecloths, with students from the nearby seminary.
But here in a small town in the South? Not so much. My biggest (probably only) regret about this town we chose is also what I love: its size. Because it’s small, when we walk around the quaint downtown square, we invariably see people we know. Coming from a place where we never saw neighbors step outside their homes, it’s refreshing to now chat with our neighbors, whether it’s in our back yards, walking in the park nearby, or at the many parties we take turns hosting. My neighbors get it. They invite. We’ve created community in our development.
But on the flip side, our town is small enough and Southern enough that the so-called lonely people we meet are part of larger extended families who include them. While I’m glad they’re not neglected, what we’ve found is that families are a fortress unto themselves, surrounded with thick stone walls encircled with a moat and a drawbridge tightly in the up position, with non-family left outside.
And due to the smallness of the town, there aren’t so many internationals. That’s what’s hardest for me. It’s nagged at me for a while now; this sense that something’s missing. I long for the days when I, like Leslie, had an apartment always full of internationals.
Steve and I have invited and invited, and except for the one widow who came every Christmas for five years, we’ve rarely found people to share Thanksgiving and Christmas with us (something which suits my elderly parents just fine). We can’t control the number of internationals or worm our way into families we weren’t born into.
So what can I control? With my innate restlessness and my love of “going,” does this mean we give up on the idea of staying put? Do we uproot and move again?
No, we stay put. I put into practice some of the ideas I gleaned from Leslie’s book, the ones still being formulated in my mind. I learn to bloom where I’m planted. Meanwhile, I continue to pray, to look for opportunities, to notice the people whose paths intersect with mine. And I don’t give up. I keep inviting as I stay put.
I invite because I am invited. I invite because God invited me first.