When I was in college, far from home, I was constantly throwing myself on the hospitality of near strangers. For someone who liked to feel in control of my fate, that was very difficult. But I couldn't control the dorms which closed for holidays and breaks, and I often found myself with nowhere to go. I had to reach out, sometimes to the unlikeliest of quarters.
A huge part of this year has been about asking for what I need. As I walked through these "lessons" I've realized that those desperate conversations in the dorm halls, walking between buildings, and sitting in my advisor's office, were the beginning of building these muscles in my life.
I was blown away by the way that people I hardly knew, or, in some cases, didn't know at all, completely welcomed me in. My advisor, who hosted me for Thanksgiving one year, made sure that I got to be a part of her family's St. Nicholas Day celebration, (which included a gift of a book, chosen by the recipient). Although I've gotten much less strict, at the time I struggled with many food sensitivities, and people went out of my way to make sure that I had cereal to eat, and that the cranberry sauce wasn't going to give me a headache.
The ways that they took care of me were lovely, but there were things that I never could have asked for or expected about the hospitality they gave, things that they probably wouldn't have thought twice about. Over the years, it's these little surprises when I am a guest, for any length of time, that leave me in wonder, thankful, and content.
Sometimes, it's something uncontrollable, like particularly good light in a bedroom, the depth of the pillows, or the serene tile in a bathroom. Sometimes it's the presence of a luxurious tub. These are all things that have made me sigh with pleasure. But if I had to put my finger on the wholly unexpected gift I receive when I fall, without effort or expectation, into hospitality, it might be harder to describe.
Perhaps it is the Spirit, whispering that I am loved, known, and seen.
Perhaps it is the presence, the grace that is given, knowingly or unknowingly, as I enter someone's home, and their space. I use their soap, (which sometimes smells of green apples), they let me into their life and let me sit for a while, out of the wind.
Perhaps these things are one in the same, intermingled, indistinguishable.
Lately, I've learned that hospitality exists at so much more than just a physical level. It is one thing to invite someone into your home for dinner, a cup of tea, or a weekend; it is another to invite that person into your heart, to be embraced, to sit a while, out of the wind.
As I've been disarmed by the physical hospitality of others for years, I am now being struck by this new, intimate hospitality I'm experiencing. There is something about a warm, heart-welcome that spreads through me, filling me with a quiet joy.
This is a place where I can't be truly lonely. This is a place where I belong, not because I have been there, or should be there, but because I have been embraced.
This season has brought good news to me, and I have been welcomed into a tight circle of arms, again and again, to celebrate. There has also been a pang or two, and it is then that I have felt that circle tighten and hands smooth my hair. It is there that I find the safety of a circle that surrounds me, rushing to my defense, standing with me as I renew my strength to fight again.
The tragedy and beauty of being a writer is that I struggle here, knowing that my words are not big enough for this, but that I have to try.
I hope for you, as this year begins a slow walk toward the door, and you prepare to step through yet another, that you would know this feeling for yourself, a hint of Spirit, letting you know that you are seen and known and loved, an invitation into the loving heart of someone who embraces you completely, still with you, through the good, the hard, and the confusing.
And when you've learned how this feels, I hope that you will learn to open the door of your own heart wide enough for someone precious to enter in, unsure perhaps, until you embrace them.