2016 marks the centennial birthday of the home my husband and I moved into last fall. If you know me well, you probably know that places matter to me. I wanted to commemorate our home’s existence and usher it into another (hopefully) 100 years of being a place where people gather love, eat, laugh, mourn, change.
So my husband and I set the goal of serving meals to 100 people by our anniversary. Not only did we want to recognize this place God put us, we wanted to do a hospitality “bootcamp” for ourselves — learning how we show hospitality as #TeamMurrish and setting a rhythm for our marriage that looks out to others.
Today marks our wedding anniversary. Over the past 145 days, 106 folks sat down and ate food in our home during a mealtime. Here’s what I’ve learned through through the experience.
Simple meals are typically the best meals. I’m not the first to wax and wane about the merits of keeping meals uncomplicated. I usually cooked recipes I was familiar with or that were forgiving. I followed a simple dinner pattern: hearty entree + veggie side + starch (i.e., bread) + dessert. If someone offered to bring something, I almost always said yes. There were some flops, but most of the time, guests walked away with a decent, nourishing meal.
The crockpot is your friend. As Laura Vanderkam shares, a crockpot is genius not because it saves you time, but because it takes the prep work involved with making a meal and moves it to a time when you have less going on. For a host, a crockpot minimizes the work you have to do after your guests arrive. Of the 23 different breakfasts/lunches/dinners I prepared for our 106 guests, almost half of them involved the crockpot.
There’s the good not clean and the bad not clean. I recently listened to a podcast with Shauna Niequist and she explained there’s a good not ready and a bad not ready when having people for dinner. It’s ok not to have dinner completed, but it’s bad to answer the door in your bathrobe. So it goes with having your house clean. It’s ok to have some papers scattered on your desk, a few dishes in the sink and bookshelves dusty, but take the kitchen trash out and make sure there’s toilet paper and soap in the bathroom before everyone arrives.
Wine is good. As are snacks, a pitcher of water, lemonade, etc., but let’s be honest, wine is the best. Offering something to my guests as soon as they arrive isn’t just a hospitable gesture, it helps me relax while I finish meal prep.
Don’t expect to visit at large gatherings. We hosted to two gatherings of 20+ people in the past five months. They were fun, crazy and some of my favorite dinners, but I didn’t have much of a chance to visit with folks while hosting. I learned that if I want to spend time conversing and laughing with friends over a dinner, two to four guests (plus Mike & me) is my sweet spot.
I’m a friendly introvert. I love friends and family. I love our neighbors. I love our church. I love having people over. But typically, dinners and parties (even if I’m not hosting) wear me out. If hosting or attending multiple dinners or events in the same week, I know that I need to find time to recharge alone or with Mike the day after.
It’s not up to me. As we invited people to our home, I often felt guilty over everyone we weren’t inviting to dinner. At the heart of my guilt was a pride that believed the responsibility of showing hospitality and making others feel welcome was mine, and no one else could do it like me. Through this process, I’m learning that my goal is not to invite everyone, but to be faithful in welcoming those around me.
The ordinary groans. “Only miracle is plain,” writes Robert Farrar Capon. “It is the ordinary that groans with the weight of glory.” The miracle of the meals prepared over the past five months have been hidden in the messiness of this world. Washing dishes, dealing with recipe fiascos, making awkward small talk over dinner, frenzied house tidying before guests arrive, buying groceries have weighed me down. The ordinary has groaned with the weight of the glory. Through preparing these 100+ meals, I’m discovering how to keep my eyes on the miracle that is foretold in every shared meal. I’m even learning to lean into the groaning, because it is there I fully feel the weight of the glory.
The past 145 days have been messy, fun, beautiful and I know that what I’ve learned so far is only the starting point. I’ll keep cooking with my crockpot, serving wine, hosting dinners of all sizes and looking for the miracle.