The two best things we can offer. The Savior - and ourselves.

Giving of oneself to care for God’s people means sharing one’s life and home with others. An open home is a sign of a loving, sacrificial, serving spirit. A lack of hospitality is a sure sign of selfish, lifeless, loveless Christianity. - Alexander Strauch

Had I read this quote 15-20 years ago it would have made me cry because I was embarrassed to invite people to our "imperfect" home. I thought people cared about landscape and flooring and furniture and decor. I thought people only appreciated fancy buffets overflowing with food and drink. I thought they needed things to do or they would be bored and consider us terrible hosts.
You see, I had confused the act of hospitality - with entertainment.

The Lord had to teach me that entertainment can be found anywhere, and offered by anyone.
Hospitality, however, is purposeful, intentional, and an act of love.

First, He placed a wonderful little book in my hands. I cannot recall the title or the author, but I remember the author's words as if I read them yesterday. The book was written during the peak of Martha Stewart's rise to fame when women were running themselves ragged trying to create the perfect table setting, centerpiece, Easter egg designs, and homemade Christmas ornaments. Joy was being sucked out of hosting. By the time the hostess finished etching her family's likeness into the pumpkins lining the staircase and hand-stamping every piece of wrapping paper, she had nothing left to give to the people sitting on her couch because she was exhausted. The guests came to spend time with family and friends. They did not arrive hoping to find a personal cheese wheel in the shape of their initials made from the milk of the goats roaming in the backyard.

Now, for some, the descriptions above cause their eyes to light up and make their fingers itch to pin more ideas to their Pinterest board for future events. "Personalized cheese wheels?!? I am so doing that!" They are creative, see beauty in everything, and love details. They whistle a happy tune while painting the resurrection scene on twelve dozen cookies, hum while carving personalized bath soaps for each guest, and twirl through the house while stringing laced garland cut and sewn together from every wedding dress worn in the family. And then, when the front door swings open the guests are greeted by a smiling hostess and a warm hug, causing every person who walks through the door to feel it was all done - just for them. What a gift! And what a joy for those who enter their homes!

This focus of that little book was simple. It does not matter whether you live in a mansion or a shack, have $20,000 worth of antique furniture or stains on your carpet and couch, or serve filet mignon on china dishes or grilled cheese and pickles on paper plates - INVITE PEOPLE INTO YOUR HOME.
Why? Because we were created for relationships. We need connection. Where we are, what it looks like, and what we eat or drink does not matter. We do not need aesthetics to build relationships.
We need each other

This shift in thinking changed everything for me in terms of the purpose behind hospitality. Sadly, however, the Lord still had another obstacle to tackle. My pride. We lived in apartments or rental homes in which we could not choose the paint, the carpet, or anything else. We were stuck with "what was" rather than what we wanted. And I was embarrassed. Whenever someone entered our home for the first time I would declare, "This is a rental! We did not choose the mauve carpet or the glittered stucco!" I worried that they would judge me based on my hand-me-down furniture, the 70's tile, or the meager snacks sitting on the counter. Instead of pouring all of my energy into my guests, I directed it toward my fear of man and my pride.
And then Dennis stepped in.
I do not remember the genesis of the conversation, but his words are etched into my brain. After a whining/complaining/rant about how ugly the house was, how we could not afford to change it, etc. etc., he looked me square in the eye and said, "Michelle. That is ENOUGH. You may not like this house and you may not like our budget, but your attitude is deplorable and you need to repent. The Lord provided this house for us, with a rent price well under market value so we can afford it. He allowed us to live next door to the high school so I can walk to work and we can live with only one car. He continually provides for all of our needs and even some of our wants. So instead of whining, how about giving THANKS for the countless blessings that surround you?"
Rebuke: Heard and Received
I never complained about that house (or any other place we lived) again.

The last thing the Lord did to settle this lesson once and for all happened more than a decade later.

The Lord sat me in front of an older woman at a booth in Panera Bakery. I was struggling with rejection and people-pleasing and asked her to speak truth to me. She did. She leaned across the table with a serious countenance and asked, "Why do you keep chasing people who don't want you? Instead of trying to become something different to everyone just to make them happy for the moment, you need to focus on the people the LORD drops in front of you. The Good Samaritan did not go looking for someone to save. He saved the man he tripped over in the road. Pay attention to the ones God places in your path, Michelle, and then serve them."
That was the night the Lord revealed that hospitality blends beautifully - with ministry.

Good hospitality is making your home a hospital. The idea is that friends and family and wounded and weary people come to your home and leave helped and refreshed. - Kevin DeYoung
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25

I used to think that hospitality meant impressing people. But I was wrong. Hospitality is about making people feel welcome and wanted and treating them with the same love given to us by the Savior. They do not show up on our doorstep hoping to be entertained and impressed. They knock on our door because they want us. And outside of taking them to the feet of Jesus, that is the best gift we have to offer - ourselves.