We have guests coming over for dinner at 6pm. In my home, we start early Saturday morning, for a day of cleaning. Each of my 3 kids responsible for cleaning their room, a bathroom, and one other common area in the house. My 8 year old son vacuums and takes out the trash, my crafty 15 year old daughter irons the tablecloth, takes out the good china for our French-themed tablescape, my 17 year old daughter helps with dinner. Her homemade French baguette is to die for! My husband spends the day cutting grass, trimming bushes, and watering flowers, taking a few cuttings to place in a vase for our centerpiece. I spend most of the day in the kitchen. Tonight it will be Lyon-inspired summer salad, French onion soup, potatoes au gratin, beef bourguignon, and crème brûlée for dessert. All chores and food are done by 5pm. Everyone hits the shower, and we casually linger around the family room, eagerly awaiting the arrival of our guests. That’s the dream.
As we think about including our children in our hospitality, it is easy to have unrealistic expectations about how it is all going to go. So before we get into the practical takeaway for hospitality in the family, here is real life hospitality for my family.
It’s a Tuesday morning. As we battle the morning traffic, I ask what we should serve our guests for dinner that night. After suggestions ranging from Chick fil A, to spaghetti (again) to kale salad (from my vegan daughter), I call my hubby (on Bluetooth) who says it’s totally up to me as long as I don’t experiment on our guests (which I’ve done plenty of times before and it usually turns out great. Usually). With no help from the peanut gallery, I drop the kids off and hit the grocery store, scanning the hot foods section for ideas. I decide against ham sandwiches and potato salad, and opt instead for a family favorite, a dish we call “yummy chicken” and which you are likely to have on your first dinner at my house. It’s easy, pretty quick, and tasty. It can be adapted to any dietary restrictions, except vegan, but we usually have vegan-friendly veggies, a salad and rice or pasta on the side. I grab my ingredients from the aisles, quickly check out, and head home so I can get busy cleaning the house before I cook.
Since I only got to clean upstairs this morning (I had a book lunch date with a friend and battled traffic picking the kids up from school), the morning dishes are piled in the sink, with the dishwasher never unloaded from the night before. So I rush the teens to unload and reload the dishwasher so I can start prepping dinner. I run to clean the downstairs bathroom and yell to my son to grab the vacuum and run over the floors before our guests arrive. I enter the kitchen ready to cook by 5:00, convincing myself I still have plenty of time to prepare dinner, and all the dishes are still piled high onto every available counter space, in the sink, and even on the stove. I yell upstairs to the girls asking why the dishes aren’t done, and they yell back over Netflix, “We were hungry and needed a snack first”. I yell back that our guests will be her in an hour, and I need to start cooking now. They saunter downstairs, clear a path for me to get started, and I realize that instead of getting thin cut boneless skinless chicken breast, I had purchased regular boneless chicken, so now I have to pound out eight chicken breasts! If you’ve ever done this before, you know this is long, hard labor.. I’m pounding the last chicken breast at 5:30pm, when my darling husband walks in from work, sees the chaos, and asks how he can help. I mumble something, which he understands as he should take out the trash, clear the clutter off the dinner table, and quietly play Madden 15 until I yell for something. The chicken is seasoned and breaded, it’s now 5:45, and I begin sautéing praying that beastly traffic would hold our guests back by 30 minutes (or an hour). While the first batch of chicken is cooking, I boil water for the pasta and put a can of diced tomatoes and roasted peppers in the food processor for the sauce. I ask my husband to find the kids again so they can set the table and I can run upstairs to pull my hair up and find a fresh shirt—all just in time for our gifts.
We’ve looked forward to having this couple over, and I try to remember that as I slowly walk down the stairs, catching my breath from the busyness of the day. In the chaos of getting dinner ready, some dinner was lost—but I salvage as much as I can and silently praise God that we seem to have enough ice cream for dessert.
We sit for a lovely time of sharing testimonies, recounting God’s grace in our lives, and laughing out loud about momentous nothings. My kids listen politely, speak when spoken to, and slip out to do homework (i.e. Netflix) as soon as they convince the youngest to ask our guests if they can be excused from the table.
Dinner is a success. Fellowship was sweet. New dishes were piled high in the kitchen. I breathe a prayer of gratitude, pick up Crazy Busy to see what we’ll be discussing next week on my lunch date, when I realize somehow I had missed reading a chapter in the book, the one entitled “You Need to Stop Freaking Out About Your Kids”. So I did. Instead, I recounted all the ways my children were involved in hospitality that day. Instead of expecting a perfect experience, here are some realistic suggestions:
There you have it! Dream on but embrace the reality of a busy life and fold in your children where and when you can. It won’t be perfect but it will be worth it.
“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
1 Peter 4:9
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