Gracious and accommodating

This is the second post in a series on hospitality–one of my favorite topics. Today I’m continuing with thoughts from the workshop I hosted/facilitated last fall.

Hospitality has become an old, tired, worn out word. (When I made this statement several women nodded their heads in enthusiastic agreement.) Co-opted by the hotel/motel/restaurant industry the term now belongs almost exclusively to profit making machines, educational programs, and customers. And on the home front hospitality has largely given way to the idea of entertaining rather than generous and kind invitation to be together. While there is completely valid space for the “hospitality industry” and “entertaining” the concept and practice of welcoming people into home and personal space has not kept up–at least not in ways that are readily visible to many people. You don’t have to look far to find all kinds of reports and studies about the high levels of loneliness and isolation in our culture today, some of which could certainly be alleviated by either inviting, or being invited to join in around a table. And on that note we started our conversation.

My story of how I came to understand the meaning of hospitality.

My early years were spent mostly in the company of my grandparents. And like most grandparents of the day they spoke the language of a different era. Their speech was much more formal and their words were often big, and important sounding. My grandmother had been an educator and so was dedicated to teaching me to speak well, which of course required a large working vocabulary. I picked up many of their words simply by listening to them talk together, the context usually being crystal clear because of the experiences we shared together.

John and Beth, like most deeply bonded couples, finished sentences and thoughts for one another. They enjoyed a good turn of phrase and occasional word play, but most of the time they spoke clearly and with sincere feeling. One of the first phrases I learned from them was about hospitality.

We had just bundled into our “wraps” and were settling into the car for the ride home after having coffee and dessert in the home of some friends and their talk locked these words in my mind, becoming part of my permanent vocabulary:

Granddad: My, but they were hospitable. Grandma: Yes, so gracious and accommodating.

It could have been either one of them starting this bit of conversation that I heard many times throughout the years but the outcome was always the same–one started, the other one finished. Someone being hospitable was a kind, warm-hearted and generous act that we enjoyed and appreciated, and the easy welcoming of us into their home and world was called, “gracious and accommodating”. Even at four years old I understood this.

Taking a closer look at these beautiful words:

Being hospitable conveys the thought of being generous and open-handed in receiving guests. It shows a spirit of generosity that has nothing to do with how much money a person has, or how big their home is.

Graciousness is all about being sincerely kind, courteous, and pleasant. Compassion and mercy also play into this way of being.

Accommodation signifies the willingness to adapt or fit in with someone’s needs or wishes. To cooperate, assist, and serve.

Hospitality + Graciousness + Accommodation. In other words, moving in a spirit of generosity to kindly and sincerely make room for other people in our lives. This is a highly creative path that allows the giver and the recipient to flourish and grow.

It is true that hospitality is a mind set that allows us to accommodate people in a wide variety of circumstances, but in this case we’re talking about it mostly in the context of making space at our tables to share our lives we, to fill stomachs with food, and hearts and minds with acceptance and care.

In the next post I’ll write about some of the ideas and experiences shared by the workshop participants.

Sharing the table

This is the first in a series of posts on one of my favorite topics. There is always adventure and risk involved in practicing hospitality and here you’ll get to read about some of my experiences and thoughts on the subject

Last fall I collaborated with a team member to organize and facilitate a women’s workshop at our church.* We extended an open invitation to our women and any friends or acquaintances they might want to invite, the theme was hospitality and our title, “What’s for Dinner: loving people and life through the food we cook and the tables we share.” We had a great time, both in planning and prepping and in carrying out the vision with a wonderful mix of guests, aged from 12 to 76–all of whom came ready to participate, and to enjoy being together.

We talked about what hospitality means in this time and what it doesn’t mean. We worked through our prepared questions which resulted in a full participation discussion about our experiences, our anxieties, and our successes, some of which were very surprising. And we talked about new and/or different ways to bring people to the table. The discussions were honest, enlightening, inspiring, and most of all, very encouraging. The talk continued during lunch and we could see the conversations and ideas hopping from table to table with everyone occasionally stopping to connect in one discussion across the room.

Each person went home with instructions and zippered plastic bags filled with the beautiful components of a sheet pan dinner, except for the protein they might want to add before popping it in the oven. We offered 10 different kinds of colorful cut-up vegetables, olive oil, and a variety of seasonings. There were combination suggestions posted along the wall to take some of the mystery out of what could have been an overwhelming situation. Dinner for everyone in no time at all–it was meant to be a fun activity but also to serve as inspiration for a quick, inexpensive option that almost anyone can serve with very little notice.

At the end of the day the returned evaluation forms told the true story. The women greatly appreciated having dinner to take home especially something most of them hadn’t tried before, but the most valued part was the authentic sharing between the generations and levels of experience. It was a game changer.

Here’s the big take away from our workshop:

  • Hospitality is a mind set.
  • Hospitality grows from a spirit of generosity and a willingness to make space for other people–where ever you are.
  • Hospitality requires some risk and some work (see above).
  • Genuinely practiced, hospitality makes stronger families, stronger personal communities, stronger churches, and a stronger community at large, which is hugely important in these very unsettled times.
  • The table will always be one of your best tools for making and sustaining relationships, and for hearing from people who may have different thoughts and ideas than you.

*We in no way think that the heart and work of practicing hospitality is for women only, but in this case we were asked to plan an event specifically for women and we chose this topic for this time.

An unanswerable question

Friends and acquaintances often ask me about my mother, wondering how she’s doing, or if she’s finally getting better… better enough to go back home. I have to adjust the answer to the first question to fit the circumstances. A change in medication brought about good changes for her and cut the cord on the never ending cycle of agitation, so yes, she’s doing better. But is she going to get better? After repeating my explanation numerous times over the last three years I’ve finally become blunt and give an answer that stops some in their tracks. I smile and simply say, “She not going to get better. She has Alzheimer’s and the disease is killing her.” A few people react as if I’d slapped them, but maybe they were embarrassed or ashamed for not having listened to me all the times they’d asked the same question.

Some will ask if she still recognizes me. I tell them that sometimes she recognizes me and is happy to see me, sometimes she doesn’t know me but is still happy to have my company, and other times she doesn’t recognize me and is afraid of me. The response that follows is always the same. “It must be so hard when she doesn’t know who you are.” Actually, it isn’t, there have been many worse things. We know that this is a natural progression of the disease and is to be expected. It’s not a happy thing, but it is a known thing–it’s not a surprise.

The surprises come when my mother talks to me, when I get a glimpse into the workings of a mind that’s fading away. She is/was a very bright, well-educated, well-accomplished woman. Her 87 years have been filled with a wondrous array of experiences and enough pain and heartache to sink a ship. Just like any other human being she didn’t always react well to life’s challenges but in the grand scheme of things she has had a remarkable life.

When I visited with her yesterday our conversation would have seemed very, very strange to the uninitiated. At times she could make astute comments that showed a great deal of insight, and in the next breath not be able to use the right words to describe her confused ideas. It’s a great exercise in rolling with the punches, not correcting, dipping into her reality no matter how fleeting it is, and then back to my reality.

When it was almost time for me to go we wandered down the hall to her room. I traded out the few Christmas/winter decorations for Valentine’s Day things–a pot of faux flowers and some pretty hearts for her wall. As I did the work I came to do I saw that she was watching me with fascination. I smiled and started looking for the pillowcases that were supposed to be on her bed pillows. I found them and she asked “What are you going to do with them?” I said I would put them on the pillows so it would be more comfortable for her. “But how?” So I started the quick work of sliding/stuffing the pillows into the cases. She watched carefully and asked how I’d learned to do that. “Well,” I said, “I’ve had a lot of practice with a job I had.” She nodded and kept watching. I picked up the newspaper from her nightstand and said, “Oh, it’s today’s paper!” and I unfolded it for her.

A look of utter anguish crossed her face. And very quietly she said, “I don’t understand how you can know so many things. Why can’t I know things? Why?”

And that is an unanswerable question. I had nothing to say. So many times question/answer means problem/solution. There is no solution to this problem.

Setting new goals in challenging circumstances

The circumstances of the last three years seriously upended my well-established life rhythms (see previous post).  This situation keeps me on the road between two homes in two states, in two churches, in managing two households/properties. My suitcase is never empty and the 350 miles one-way door-to-door travel through sea-level valleys, a significant mountain range, and many miles of high desert is a job of its own.  I had to walk away from my employment, and scale way back on involvement in supportive friendships and on my creative endeavors.

None of these years have been easy but my mother was tumbling farther and farther down the dark rabbit hole of dementia with no one but me to help her.  Advocating and working for her best interests is at the front of my mind most of the time.

And then this last year brought more troubles than I could have imagined. In the spring my oldest daughter had to have emergency spinal surgery which left her fairly disabled with significant obstacles to overcome well into the future, and at the end of the summer someone very close to my family died in a tragic accident—it crushed all of us.

My purpose here is not to sing my lament, but rather to say that none of these life changing difficulties were anyone’s fault.  We could not have planned any better or have done anything differently to avoid the hard outcomes. And I want to acknowledge that they’ve changed my life in enormous ways.

Trying, heartbreaking times for sure.  Many times, all I could do was cry out, “Oh, Lord God in heaven, I need your help!”  Help came in a variety of ways, many times unexpected, but it still took all I had to push through.

As my load is lifting a bit, I’m finding more mental space to think about other things, to think about goals (besides survival) that are actually attainable.  So many of the 2020 goals I’ve seen published on various social media platforms are all based on the assumption that nothing important will change in this new year.  In fact, many are further built on the assumption that things will only get better because that’s the supposed natural progression of things.

 At this time in my life I need to think about goals that I can work toward no matter what happens around me or happens to me, because I know from a lifetime of experience that the externals can change very quickly.  I don’t want to be caught in a shortsighted cycle that says that I can’t grow or change or develop in some targeted way because I’m being challenged to what seems like my full capacity.  So, for now I have set two goals related to how I interact with and/or serve other people, and one “hopeful” goal regarding personal creativity.  All three give me reason to look up and out of my circumstances and are not dependent on where I am, but more on who I am.  I think the idea of a “hopeful” personal creativity goal is more loose–it gives me space to work with current situations and allows more easily for the ebb and flow of life while keeping my eye on something I want to develop.

 

Finding springtime in the winter

In a few weeks it will be a solid three years since my step-father died and I had to walk out of most of my life to manage my mother’s dementia-driven world.  I can’t truthfully say that I provided care because she wouldn’t accept anything of the kind. It was more like walking, and sometimes running behind a toddler with arms open wide to catch her before a terrible crash, or to head her off before some disaster could unfold.  We came so close so many times, but we made it.

Soon it will be one year since she was discharged from the hospital directly into a memory care facility. That sentence makes it look so easy, but it was hard won and excruciating… and it took two years of incredibly hard work, praying, and waiting to make it happen.  Just thinking about that day makes my eyes sting and my chest ache.  It went exactly as planned but it was one of the most painful days of my life–a body and soul searing mix of extreme sadness and the profound and painful release of years of frustration, fear, and fatigue.  I wanted to scream, but it was all I could do just to breathe.

Having a parent in residential care certainly doesn’t solve all issues, but in my case it does offer the immeasurable relief of not having to keep my mother safe at home.  I am extremely thankful to have come this far intact.  It sounds dramatic but so much was at risk, for both of us.

IMG_20200114_131935_242

It is the middle of January 2020.  We’re having snow showers on and off today with bright spots of blue sky and sunshine in between.  It’s typically a gloomy time of year but it’s springtime for me.  I finally feel like there are possibilities ahead even though I can’t see them clearly yet.  Happy New Year.

 

 

Eden

20180615_180642.jpg

In the  summertime, particularly during the time approaching mid-summer I find myself fully at home in my world.  I used to think that early to mid-spring with bright bursts of color and surprising weather was my favorite but I’ve come to think it’s just the pathway leading me to the perfect place.

Here in the Pacific Northwest mid-summer dark does not truly come until 10pm or later, depending on where you are.  The air is warm enough to dry clothes on the line within a few hours, or least before it’s time to start thinking about dinner.  The roses are flourishing, flowers are blooming proud, and tomatoes, basil, mint are strong and healthy enough to give off their strong fragrances when I brush against them.  And in my kitchen the first scents of the day, even before coffee, come from the armful of peonies holding pride of place in the clear vase on the table, and from the nectarines ripening on the counter.  Doors and windows open, sometimes all night.  The perfect place, the perfect time.

The calendar says I came back from my mother’s home just a week ago, but it could have been months for all the work of readjusting to my own life and place in the world.  But then the freedom, freedom of time, space, and being and to be at home in my own house, and at home in the season of early summer.  Absolute joy.

 

It’s interesting to think about the freedom that joy brings, particularly when I’ve been weighed down with care and uncertainty.  It feels like my mid-summer Eden-like hours lift the top off the sky and anything, everything is possible.