Carolyn Lacey: Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People)
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Hospitality sounds exhausting. But author Carolyn Lacey knows hospitality can be extraordinary and oh-so-ordinary, welcoming people as God welcomes us.
Carolyn Lacey: Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People)
Carolyn: We forget that loving others is a way in which we love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength. When we put ourselves out there—and show care to someone, even if it's rejected/not received well—the Lord is pleased with us, and we've shown love for Him in the way we love others.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: So my question today is: “Do you have like a greatest hospitality fail?”
Ann: Yes. [Laughter]
Dave: You do?
Ann: Yes [Laughter]; the time we had the homeless man live with us. [Laughter] I let him start rearranging the furniture in the house. That could have been a fail, due to I didn’t set any boundaries. [Laughter]
Dave: I mean that—that's a long story we can get into later—[Laughter]—but I was shocked that you invited some stranger, sitting beside us on Easter Sunday in church. When the pastor said, “Hey, say ‘Hi’ to your neighbor,” you turn and talk to some guy who looked like he just came off the street.
Ann: He did.
Dave: Again, because everybody was dressed up and he sort of wasn’t. Then you turned to me and said “Hey, he's coming to lunch after church.” I’m like, “What?!”
Ann: And, then, when he was eating dinner with us, I thought, “Oh, he doesn’t have anywhere to live.” I remember looking at you, like, “Jim, you should just live with us.” You gave me this look, like
Dave: And he did; we'll get back to that later.
We're talking about hospitality today; because we have, on FamilyLife Today, Carolyn Laceyher first time ever—visiting us on FamilyLife Today. Carolyn, welcome to FamilyLife.
Carolyn: Aw, thanks so much for having me. It's great to talk with you.
Dave: I can see you're already laughing at our crazy story. Did that bring up anything in your mind?
Carolyn: Yes, just so many times when you think you're doing the right thing, and it doesn't kind of go quite how you think it's going to go; but that's okay.
Ann: That’s right. See; she said it’s okay.
Dave: [Laughter] Well, we can get into more details about our buddy, Jim, living with us. It was quite/quite the experience.
But you could probably tell, as you heard Carolyn, she's got a little bit of an accent. I’ll tell them a little bit about you, but you can tell our listeners anything I miss. You’re a housewife, a pastor’s wife, a mom of two teenagers.
Ann: —an author.
Dave: —an author—that we're going to talk about your book today—Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People). And you live in the United Kingdom; so you have this unique, beautiful accent.
Let’s talk about hospitality: “Do you have a hospitality fail story?”—or are you just the master of hospitality?
Carolyn: I'm really not the master of hospitality. My mistakes—they probably sound on a slightly smaller scale than having somebody to live with me—but ones that I can remember. When I’ve thought that I’ve been doing something really kind—I’ve gone out of my way to invite someone over, who I knew was struggling in a difficult situation, and prepared a really, really beautiful meal—and as we sat down, I asked her how she was doing. She burst into tears and just couldn’t eat at all. Then she felt really awful that she couldn’t eat this meal that I prepared.
I just thought, “Carolyn, she really just needed to come and have a cup of tea and a hug.” I made this big fancy plan, which actually was possibly more about what I wanted to do for her rather than what she wanted [me] to do for [her]. I guess that's probably something that other people have experienced as well.
Ann: Carolyn, I'm glad that you wrote this book; because often, hospitality may be different than what we thought.And when you pick up a hospitality book—I don’t know if you’re like this—but I’m like: “Oh, no! I’m failing,” “I can’t do this; I don’t have any time,” “My house is a mess,” “My kids are a wreck.”
Dave: I thought we were going to have another guy come live with us: that's what I thought. [Laughter]
Ann: But did you ever feel that?—like have you felt that burden of hospitality?
Carolyn: Yes, I have. Probably, I’ve placed it on myself
Ann: Me too.
Carolyn: by believing that hospitality has to look a certain way; because that’s what I’ve seen, or that’s what I’ve read, or that’s what Pinterest says. [Laughter]
I guess I've experienced, as a ministry wife—I think people perhaps not appreciating that I was also working part time—and have maybe had expectations on me that hospitality should look like me having everybody in my house in one go for a big meal—and me not feeling able to manage that.
Ann: It is true, in terms of you're doing so much, you feel so overwhelmed. I think that's why a lot of people feel like: “I don't have the capacity to do this,” and “What does it mean?”
So why did you start writing this, Carolyn? What was on your heart? Why is this important?
Carolyn: I think it was that, really, I knew it wasn't just me. I knew that people were feeling burdened and guilty because the Bible says: “Offer hospitality.” So we see it’s a command; we see it’s part of discipleship. But if it looks overwhelming—you've got to have everybody around for dinner; and it's got to be really nice; and the house has to look good; and the children have to behave wellthat just feels out of reach for a lot of people.
In particular, I was struck by friends in my church family, who struggle with depression, or anxiety, or some of those issues that genuinely make it really difficult to have people around in the home. I started thinking, “Well, what does it look like for them to be hospitable? This must be an area of discipleship that they can tap into; but surely, it must look different.” Or friends, who are married to unbelieving partners; or flat share with non-Christians: “What does it look like for them to practice hospitality?”
I really wanted to just explore whether we could broaden the definition/broaden the model: “Is it just about meals? Is that really all the Apostle Paul had in mind? Is it all Peter had in mind?” or “Did it mean something a bit broader?” That's really what got me started thinking about it.
Dave: I find it very enlightening; because you take this sort of narrow definition of: “Hospitality looks like this…”—and you pull back and say—“No, it's much bigger and better.” Help us understand: “What did you discover? What does hospitality look like?”
Carolyn: Yes; well, what I discovered was that hospitality starts right in the opening chapters of the Bible; because God creates a world, and He creates human beings. Essentially, He is inviting humankind into relationship with the Trinity. That is an act of hospitality; it is an act of welcome.
That really got me thinking about God's hospitality: if we want to offer hospitality, as He commands us to, we want it to look like His. I just started exploring the characteristics of what His hospitality—not so much the mechanics/what you must do—but rather what we should be cultivating in our hearts, and discovering that God is so generous in the way He welcomes people.
And so, in the book, I just take seven characteristics of hospitality that we see in God, and try and explore what they look like, and how we can start to cultivate them in our own lives. I discovered that it will look different in practice for each of us—and that's okay—according to our personalities and our circumstances.
Ann: I think that's really good, actually; because I'm thinking about those listeners, who are thinking: “I'm an introvert; I don't even like people. Do I need to do this still?” But you're saying it's not just about having people over; it's sharing your heart. It's opening more than your home; it's opening your heart. And that makes it feel different, like you don't have to put on this big spread.
I thought it was good when you said: “God is generous, so we should be generous too. As we reflect on His extraordinary generosity in welcoming us, we will find ourselves wanting to become more generous in the way we welcome others.” How do you do that? What has that look like for you and your personality?
Carolyn: Actually, I'm an introvert too.
Dave: Wait, wait, wait; an introvert wrote a book on hospitality.
Carolyn: I know; I know; it's funny—but I am in that I do love people—but I've learned to love people. If I'm feeling tired and exhausted, really, the way for me to recharge is: on my own, in a room, with a book.
Actually, learning more about just how generous God is in His welcome, has been so comforting to me; but also, it's grown a gratitude in me that wants to overflow in welcoming others; I mean, just simple things. It's tempting for me, at the end of the day, to come home; and pull into my drive; and just run into the house and shut the door, without looking around. But actually, as I've wanted to reflect God more in His welcome, I've learned to just take some time and look around: “Is there a neighbor out in the street? Could I wave or say hello?” “If it's somebody, who I know lives on their own, could I just walk across and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? How's your week going?’” Yes, that's partly what it's looked like for me; I guess.
Dave: We had a snow, up in Michigan; I got my snow blower out; I did my driveway. As I'm coming back up to the garage, Ann pokes her head out in the garage, and goes, “Hey, you know Dean and Nancy are gone. Why don’t you do their driveway?”—that's our neighbors—so I go over and do their driveway. I come back; I turn off the snow blower. I take all my clothes offI mean, you know, the winter clothes/my boots—there's snow everywhere. I plopped down by the fireplace; and Ann walks in and goes, “Hey, what about Nick and Pam?”
Ann: Well, I just said, “Oh, no. Pam’s outside, shoveling; and she's just getting over COVID. And her husband Nick is having heart problems,”—like—“Oh, Dave, maybe you should go over with that big snow blower.”
Dave: I wish I could lie and say: “Yes, I was like, ‘Of course, I want to be Jesus [to them]’; you know, ‘Let's go.’” I'm like, “Honey, I'm warm; I'm sitting by the fire.” Then I go, and I look out the window; and there's Pam, shoveling her bigger driveway than ours. I'm like, “Okay, the right thing to do.”
I’ve got to be honest—it wasn't so much I wanted to do it—I was like I have experienced, Carolyn, what you said—the welcoming of God in my life—and it really was, as I looked across thewe're in a cul-de-sacas I looked over there, I thought, “This is, not only the right thing to do; I want to help her.”
As I did her driveway, and then her husband Nick came out, the next thing I know, we're standing in her driveway, talking for 15 minutes. I hear about her life, about Nick being in the hospital earlier; and he couldn't come out and do this, because he had a medical condition. As I came back to our garage, I just felt like that was the best
15 minutesand it's all it tookthat I've spent with my neighbors in probably this whole year. It was just a simple act of hospitality.
And the funny thing is: I thought I was giving them a gift, and I got the gift. I'm the one that felt better about it. Is that typical when you help somebody? Do you often feel like it's more blessed to give than receive, as Jesus said?
Carolyn: I think that's right. I think there's unexpected joy; it's a surprising joy. You feel as though you're going to be giving out; and so you should be depleted in some way of your energy or whatever it is. But as we step out in obedience, I think the Lord honors that; and He gives us joy. We get the joy of—particularly if we're feeling a bit weary and not up for it—we get the joy of relying on His Spirit and finding out that His grace is sufficient; and He does sustain us; and He does equip us.
But also, the unexpected surprising blessing of community. I mean, we were/we were created to be in relationship. Introverts, like me, are tempted to forget that until we have those meaningful interactions and think: “Oh yes, that was great,” “Yes; it was the best 15 minutes of the day, and I didn't think it would be. I thought the 15 minutes, curled up by the fire on my own, would be the best 15 minutes; and it turns out I was wrong.” Yes, I can relate to that.
It's a good reminder; isn't it?—to pray when we're out and about—“God, just give me eyes for the people that You want me to see,” and “Just show me: ‘Is there some really small way that I can show Your care and compassion?’” If we pray that, I think He answers; and He gives those small opportunities.
Ann: I think that that's the key. I was thinking—as we were all talking—I thought, “When I have my eyes on other people; it’s because I'm, first, having my eyes on Jesus.” When He fills us up—and we see Jesus doing that: of pulling away/of being with the Father—and the Father fills us. He gives us eyes for those that are needy, those that we can love, those that He wants us to see and hear. I think that's the critical point; because when I am running so hard, and I'm stressed—I think so many of us are—if I don't take that time to be with Jesus, I want to come in my house; I close the garage door, and I don't want to talk to anybody.
And yet, I'm thinking: “If Jesus lived in my neighborhood, He would have spent time with the Father, and then He would make sure—like He would be talking to all of us—like, “Ann, how are you doing? What's going on?” He'd want to know and care about all the details of my life.
As we talk about that, Carolyn, I'm wondering, “How has that affected your kids?” You have two kids—19 and 17—“What does that look like as you have practiced this in your life and in your ministry?”
Carolyn: Yes; well, it's been really nice to see, actually. I think, during COVID especially, we had our season of lock down. And then, in the UK last summer, we were only allowed, for a period of time, to have six people in the home; and you still had to be spaced out. Our kitchen table is relatively small, and there are four of us. So really, for us, that meant having one person at a time. It was good for them to interact. And yes, I'm seeing them just grow in their ability to talk to people, who are not in their peer group/older people.
My daughter’s been home, and she was going back to university. She went round and spent some time with a lady from church, who's just been widowed. I just thought, “That's really lovely that's how you want to spend your last morning—is to just go and visit her—and have some time with her.” Yes, I think I see them growing, as well, in their desire to welcome others.
Dave: Now, have you ever found it hard? I mean, of course, I'm guessing you've had some struggles with hospitality. But you know, you write a book about it; and you know, you think, “Oh, she's the queen of hospitality; and it's always good.”
Because I know that, when we started, we're talking about this guy named Jim, who, as we invited him over for Easter brunch, we find out he is homeless. He had just become homeless. And then, he needs somewhere to live; and here we are, saying, “You can come live with us.” At that time, we had no kids.
But when I went later, to pick him up that evening, I pull up where he told me he'd be waiting outside a grocery store. He is outside, with a buddy in a wheelchair. They’re/they have a hat out for donations for people to give to his buddy, who's paralyzed. I pull up, and I'm like, “Hey Jim, you know, I'm here to take you back to my house.”
Here's what happens, Carolyn: his buddy jumps out of the wheelchair, walks into my car; they throw the wheelchair in the back of my car. It was all a scam. [Laughter] They were pretending that he was paralyzed, just to get money. I'm like, “This is the guy we just invited to come live with us?” And he did; he came and lived with us for—what?—six weeks?
All I'm saying is, as he came, and we're doing this nice thing—and at first, it was wonderful—and then, after four or five days, we started realizing, “This guy/—
Ann: —when he started changing the furniture around.
Dave: —“he's moving everything in our house.” We catch him in a few liesand again, a wonderful guy; and we're trying to help him out—but it became hard after a while, like, “What did we just sign up for? We didn't sign up for this. We're not really helping him; he’s sort of using us.” You sort of feel, you know, sort of that kind of thing.
That's my question—because a lot of us get afraid to be too generous, like God has been with us; because it could go that way—“What do you say to that when it gets sort of difficult?”
Shelby: You're listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Carolyn Lacey on FamilyLife Today. We'll hear Carolyn’s response in just a minute; but first, at FamilyLife, we believe God does some of His most amazing work right in ordinary homes—whether that's a small group Bible study, or laughing on the floor with your kids, or sharing a meal with neighbors—the home can be the launching pad for God's work in this world. If you believe that, too, would you help more families experience this by partnering with FamilyLife?
All this week, as our thanks for your financial partnership, we want to send you a copy of Carolyn's book. It's called Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People). You can get your copy when you give this week at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call with your donation at 800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now, back to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Carolyn Lacey and how to be generous and hospitable, even when it seems difficult.
Carolyn: I'll say two things. I think one of them is part of the problem is sometimes that we see hospitality as a solo sport. We think: “You know, there's this difficult person,” or “…difficult people; and I have to do it myself.” But if we're part of church family, we probably need to draw others in to help us.
If we're finding that somebody is—taking advantage a little bit, or just draining us of our energy, or conversations [are] hard; whatever it is—I think, probably, we need to not try and do it on our own and to bring church family in to help. Is there a friend, or a couple of friends, you can say: “Look, I'm trying to get alongside this person; but it's a little bit tricky. Can you help me? Can we share the load?” or “Can we take them out for coffee together so that we can keep the conversation going?”
Sometimes, I think our struggles are because we're trying to do too much on our own, and perhaps we have to know our limits in that sense. Of course, the Lord equips us; but one of the ways He helps us is by giving us church family. We perhaps need to lean on each other a bit more.
And then sometimes you just have to persevere; don't you? I write, in the book, a bit about those people—whom you’ve got a heart for, and you're really trying to welcome; but they just either pull away, or they're hostile or distant—and just making a call about how to persevere. I had to do that. I share a story in the book about a lady I met at the school gate, who just really seemed to dislike me, I think, just because I was a Christian. I just had to learn how to persist, how to show an interest, how to start small: “Would you like to take our kids to the park together?” I think she thought I was going to brainwash her kids into this cult or something. [Laughter] I just had to go very slowly.
It would have been much easier, I think, to have said, “You know, I'm just going to go somewhere else. I'm just going to find somebody else, who actually is interested in my efforts.” But the Lord had placed her on my heart, and He did seem to keep bringing our paths together. Over time, the walls came down; and actually, we became very, very good friends. She's probably my closest non-Christian friend now.
Carolyn: I think I just had to learn to press in, and to be willing to be uncomfortable, to try not to take offense when she was rude or unkind—and to keep reminding myself Jesus died for me when I was His enemy; and He's welcomed me with all of my/all of my baggage, all of my sin—and if I can, in His strength, I need to try and persevere. It's not easy, but that doesn't necessarily mean we need to give up; but we might need a bit of help.
Ann: That's really inspiring. I love that you kept pushing through; because I think a lot of us, as people, we put up walls because of past hurt or pain. And when someone continues to persevere, and go after that friendship, that means a lot.
I'm just thinking, for all of us, this has been a great reminder for me to get my eyes off of myself and onto other people. I mean, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength,” and “To love your neighbor as yourself.” Sometimes, we forget that second part. We kind of bunch in, and we gather as our family. But there are people—our neighbors, or people that are at work/at church—[who] could use a friend/[who] could use someone to say: “I see you,” “I hear you. Tell me: ‘How are you?’” That can be sharing the gospel in some respect—the beginning of it—to some people. God is calling us to it, and you've reminded us of that. So thanks, Carolyn.
Carolyn: I think/I think it's also we forget that loving others is a way in which we love God
Carolyn: with heart, soul, mind and strength. You know, when we put ourselves out there, and show care to someone—even if it's rejected/not received well—the Lord is pleased with us, and we've shown love for Him in the way we love others.
Shelby: You've been listening to Dave and Ann’s conversation with Carolyn Lacey on FamilyLife Today. Her book is called Extraordinary Hospitality (for Ordinary People). We’ll send you a copy with your donation today at FamilyLifeToday.com.
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Tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson will continue their conversation with Carolyn Lacey about what it looks like to be hospitable with friends and family in our life, who aren't Christians. That's tomorrow.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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