Advent is here. We are straining forward each day with anticipation. But still, this season of darkness and yearning is upon me. The early day’s sun retreats leaving a smattering of white twinkling lights strung in rows across the tree like fingerprints. The candle’s flesh is melting down its sides like shedding skin and it flickers like a great hope in the darkness.

I can’t help but feel my depression is an assault on God’s goodness trying to blind me to everything but the most vulgar and ugly parts of the world. There is so much devastation and wreckage and each year at this time I find myself balancing the tender places familiar with a world in grief, in sorrow, and longing, with a world in celebration, rejoicing, and communing with a sent Savior.

How could we not have both?

I live with great hope. It might seem contrary but how can we rejoice a Savior without knowing intimately what we are being saved from?

I feel my salvation every day but never more than when I am weak and weary, when the thought of hospitality seems daunting and unwieldy, some mythical thing that only the elite and wealthy do well. When the idea of hospitality has more to do with entertaining and pulling out Grandma’s ivory china than offering a place to come weary and find rest.

I might be able to answer “fine” when asked how I am, but it would be the tidy answer I give to those who are already scanning the room for the next person and any other answer would be an assault to the pretense we’ve established.

I’ve never lived in a culture which appreciates tidy constructs as much as ours. The church should not be that place. 

When fine is my truth I guard it like first fruits ripening on the vine. I place hope in bountiful grace, ever growing. I know even my unfine cannot spoil the vine I’m grafted into. But sometimes the fruit seems pitiful and few when I can’t even manage my life well lived.

I wonder what I can offer in this conversation.

Maybe you wonder too? Maybe you’re struggling. Maybe you’re floundering and the manger isn’t enough to remind you how humbly we can come.

Hospitality has been hijacked and repackaged to mean polished and posh. What room does this give for those who have nothing but Kraft mac and cheese in their cupboards, $4.67 on their SNAP benefit card, and 4 hungry children to feed? What kind of hospitality are we erecting when it’s not accessible to all? When the poor, and depressed, the sick and afflicted can’t partake?

When Kris asked me to join Grace Table I knew I wanted to be a part of this. But I also knew my hospitality wasn’t going to be glamour shots of oiled oak tables and crusty bread pulled hot and fresh from my oven and broken wide open and fragrant. That said, I have nothing against fresh bread and if you bake some, by all means invite me over, but don’t call that hospitality. That’s baking.

Hospitality is what happens in the invitation. In the receiving and communion of souls making space for each other. And sure, we can do that over bread. But we can also do that over a hospital bed, or a checkout counter, or a blog post we disagree with. 

candle in the dark with quote

It can happen in an instant of really seeing someone and going beyond fine, it can happen in a lifetime of pulling back the chair and widening the circle.

I knew my hospitality would be desperate and soiled. It would be the remnants of a stretched soul and empty spaces and the room to understand the long exhale and too many inappropriate tears at the most inconvenient times. It would be the gift of being unfine and the pretense dropped like filthy rags. It would be making room at a table that wasn’t set just so.

The gift of an imperfect table, set with extra spaces is a gathering place.

It’s the chipped cup and the mismatched silverware. It’s letting go of making things for Jesus and wreaking havoc in the process, instead of making in Jesus. For we all dwell here in his presence, making room for the spent, the weary, the stranger, the enemy, and the other. 

We all gather here with sober minds to align our unguarded hearts to Him. Surrendering to Jesus as He leads. There are sick to sit with, gifts to wrap, hungry to nourish, hands to grasp hold of, hymns to sing, trees to decorate, tea to brew, prayers to pray, tears to shed, cookies to bake, forgiveness to ask, souls to harvest, and glory to be seen.

All can partake, all are called. Come weary, come full. Be met with Jesus. 

Advent is upon us and the invitation awaits. Hospitality happens there.

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Alia Joy Hagenbach / Posts / Blog
Alia Joy is a storyteller, speaker, and homeschooling mother of three making her home in Central Oregon. She shares her story in broken bits and pieces on her blog and finds community where other’s stories intersect. She's a cynical idealist who is always trying to find the beautiful bits in the midst of the messy and broken. She believes even the most broken stories have a redeemer and she'll always dance to the good songs. She is a regular contributor at (in)courage, SheLoves, The Mudroom, and Deeper Waters and can be found on twitter hashtagging all the things, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and making goo-goo eyes at her husband.
  • Katie Reid
    http://www.echoesofmyheart.com

    Oh Alia- A hearty thank you for your words poured out from a stunning spirit; inspired by the Spirit. These words about being hospitable and what it really all means were lifeline words to my weary, comparing and coming-up-short self. Thank you for speaking straight through my pretenses and breathing life and grace into a heart that wants to do the right thing but is tired just thinking about it. Thank you for showing me that I am being more hospitable than I realize. Heartfelt conversations are one of my favorites…cleaning for company is not. Thank you for giving me confidence to offer who I am and what’s in my hands at present. Keep pouring out your fragrant offering at His feet as you let the words flow forth.:) Hugs!

    December 3rd, 2014 4:28
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    • Alia_Joy

      I get tired too. Thinking about it all. But really it’s simple. We make space in our emptiness. In our lack, we are filled. We belong to each other as a body and we complete what Christ calls us to when we come together and love each other as such. And amen to heartfelt conversations, those are my absolute favorite, and cleaning is meh. Offer who you are, Katie, it’s enough.

      December 4th, 2014 6:17
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  • Barbie
    http://myfreshlybrewedlife.com/

    Alia, this touched my heart greatly. I use to love to invite people over. But as life has happened and we live on less (much less) I fear judgment. I know it’s my own perfectionist spirit that fears, for I know the women who are in my life would never judge. I sometimes just wish I had more to offer. Thank you for helping me to see that I only need offer me, who I am, who God has made me. I love you friend!

    December 3rd, 2014 5:19
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    • Alia_Joy

      You have a whole heck of a lot to offer, Barbie. It’s in the space, the invitation, the place to belong. I know you offer that. Don’t fear judgment. You’re invited to partake.

      December 4th, 2014 6:15
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  • Jennifer Camp
    http://youaremygirls.com/

    You just invite me to take a deep breath here, as I surrender, each year, to surrender the lies of what loving another person “looks” like in this world. It looks like Jesus, not a perfect house and a perfect life, according to a materialistic, superficial world. Thank you for your beautiful words and needed wisdom, Alia.

    December 3rd, 2014 7:01
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    • Alia_Joy

      I think social media, while it has it’s many good aspects, can do a disservice to those just walking with Jesus in their everyday. We can make it seem too glossy and filtered and the gospel is anything but that. You’re so right, it looks like Jesus. Amen.

      December 4th, 2014 0:35
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  • Kris Camealy
    http://kriscamealy.com/

    I appreciate you, Alia Joy. I’m so glad you’re here, at this particular table, at this particular time….thank you for sharing your heart, for not putting up any pretense, for being real. XO

    December 3rd, 2014 13:21
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    • Alia_Joy

      Thanks for setting the table for us all to come and share here. Honored to be part of your vision to see people impacted by Christ’s ridiculous love for them shown through the hospitality we practice with our whole lives.

      December 4th, 2014 0:22
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  • Linda@Creekside
    http://www.creeksideministries.blogspot.com/

    Ah … a table laden with grace, a home that welcomes with a blessing, a space that is open and free that we offer one another, so weak and weary and battered.
    Thank you for taking us there, bringing us to this place today, friend. For we feel welcome and enfolded.
    And can I tell you that you have become one of my favorite writers … and is it ok to say I’m a big fan?

    December 3rd, 2014 13:22
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    • Alia_Joy

      You’re sweet. Thank you so much. I really appreciate the encouragement. It means a lot.

      December 4th, 2014 6:13
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  • Kamille Scellick
    http://www.redeemingthetable.com/

    You have my heart dear friend. You have my more than “just fine.” I always say good is simply a vehicle or bridge to offering hospitality; but, not hospitality itself. I’m thankful for your voice here.

    December 3rd, 2014 15:46
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    • Alia_Joy

      Love you, my dear friend. I know I do and I know I can say I am not doing fine and you’ll always be a listening ear. I love the way you do hospitality. Also, your cookies do not suck. 😉

      December 4th, 2014 0:03
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  • Bri McKoy
    http://oursavorylife.com

    This was such a beautiful post, Alia. I am grateful for this message and your heart! Thank you.

    December 3rd, 2014 16:33
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  • Karrilee Aggett

    I never realize how starved for your words I am, until finally, I get to eat them up! Love you friend! This: “We all gather here with sober minds to align our unguarded hearts to Him. Surrendering to Jesus as He leads. There are sick to sit with, gifts to wrap, hungry to nourish, hands to grasp hold of, hymns to sing, trees to decorate, tea to brew, prayers to pray, tears to shed, cookies to bake, forgiveness to ask, souls to harvest, and glory to be seen. All can partake, all are called. Come weary, come full. Be met with Jesus.” SO MUCH YES AND AMEN!!! Just Come!

    December 3rd, 2014 18:18
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    • Alia_Joy

      Missed you too. You know me, online for a few days, absent for a few weeks. 🙂 Today was a heck of a day to make a return, I’ll tell you that. Love you friend.

      December 4th, 2014 6:12
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  • Becki Campbell

    Wow- just wow. You captured into words what I have been wrestling with in my heart. Thank you for sharing with beautiful authenticity. I was encouraged and so moved by this post. God spoke powerfully through you. So blessed.

    December 3rd, 2014 19:53
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    • Alia_Joy

      Thank you Becki. I’m so glad you feel encouraged to engage hospitality and advent as one called and invited.

      December 4th, 2014 0:41
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  • Dana Butler
    http://momentsandinvitations.com/

    You know you have my YES, friend. Wholehearted. Sitting and listening and learning at your feet today, and loving you big.

    December 3rd, 2014 20:44
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    • Alia_Joy

      Loving you back. Thankful for all the seeking you do with your whole life.

      December 4th, 2014 0:40
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  • Annie Barnett
    http://besmallstudios.com/

    Your voice here is one of my favorite things about Grace Table, Alia. Thinking through all this, and so grateful for your raw, honest, real words.

    December 3rd, 2014 21:03
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    • Alia_Joy

      Love you, friend. Thankful for you and the spaces you make to see people.

      December 4th, 2014 0:39
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  • Amy

    And once again you have cause water to pool in the coners of my eyes. Thank you for reminding me that it isn’t about the place we gather or the food we eat but the fact that we all find a way to gather together in grace.

    December 3rd, 2014 21:44
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    • Alia_Joy

      Yes, just finding a way to gather together and make space for others is really the heart of it all.

      December 4th, 2014 0:39
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  • Becky Keife
    http://www.beckykeife.com/

    You drip hospitality, friend, just by by being you. Even in your darkness you cast shadows pointing to the Light, the Truth. Hope. I’d be blessed to clink chipped cups and sip long at a table with you any day. Thanks for being real, the real God made you to be.

    December 4th, 2014 7:07
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    • Alia_Joy

      Yes, any time, friend. I’d love your company. Thank you.

      December 8th, 2014 19:12
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  • Shelly Miller
    http://redemptionsbeauty.com/

    “It might seem contrary but how can we rejoice a Savior without knowing intimately what we are being saved from?” This is such a redemptive statement Alia. One I am pondering today as I wrestle with depression during the most joyful season of the year. So much yes to all you’ve written here. Thankful for your perspective at the table, it mattered to me this morning.

    December 4th, 2014 14:57
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    • Alia_Joy

      I’m sorry you’re struggling, I am too. I’ve heard that statistically Christmas is the time of year when depression is often at it’s peak. There’s so much broken and we do well to admit that we need a savior so badly instead of glossing it over with the expectation that we’ve arrived. I think we need a better definition of joy to the world and what Joy really looks like for the Christian. It definitely doesn’t mean tidy and neat with everything lined up just so.

      December 8th, 2014 19:11
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  • Lisha Epperson

    We don’t know hospitality if we haven’t experienced it with empty hands. Opening the door when we have nothing to offer and when we don’t feel ready is the deepest sense of the word. Jesus walks right up in there with the person I didn’t invite and He’s not thinking about my dirty stove top or empty refrigerator. His invitation, the greatest invitation simply reads “Come”. I love you Alia and can’t wait to hug you again.

    December 4th, 2014 18:43
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    • Alia_Joy

      I love that. Come. Yes, that’s the kind of life I want to live. Come empty or full. Come just how you are. Love you, friend. Your post today was beautiful.

      December 8th, 2014 19:04
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  • Tanya Marlow
    http://www.tanyamarlow.com/

    This is really helpful – yes to hospitality being rebadged as polished and perfect – sometimes I wonder if what we call ‘hospitality’ is actually ‘entertaining’. Whereas hospitality usually has a note of inconvenience about it. My African friends know hospitality – it means going hungry that night because unexpected guests have arrived and there isn’t enough food to feed everyone.
    Your writing is YUM. E.g. This “The early day’s sun retreats leaving a smattering of white twinkling lights strung in rows across the tree like fingerprints”. Yum. Thanks for feeding me with your words.

    December 4th, 2014 21:59
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    • Alia_Joy

      Yes, entertaining is such a huge thing. And there’s nothing wrong with going the extra step to make something beautiful or special but when we tie that in with hospitality it leaves so many unable to come to the table right where they are. And thank you friend. I like pretty words.

      December 8th, 2014 18:59
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  • Episteme

    “I can’t help but feel my depression is an assault on God’s goodness trying to blind me to everything but the most vulgar and ugly parts of the world…I might be able to answer “fine” when asked how I am, but it would be the tidy answer I give to those who are already scanning the room for the next person and any other answer would be an assault to the pretense we’ve established.”

    That first part is the conditioning you’ve gotten from the second part. Our communities, made up on happy people, have convinced us depressed Christians (it was easy, given our anxious self-critiquing nature) that their refusing to offer actual community or assistance in our pain (a.k.a actual spiritual & corporeal acts of mercy) isn’t •their• fault, but rather somehow our sinful nature. And we’ve fallen for it – hook, line, and sinker – so as to have •some• role in the community, even if it’s only standing in the back mumbling five seconds of greetings before they move on to the others. To make the depressed feel like sinners because they’ve been pushed away like lepers is the worse of Phariseetical behavior by modern congregations. It’s frankly not •you• who is only seeing things in terms of what is vulgar and ugly, but they…

    December 11th, 2014 20:06
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    • Alia_Joy

      I so agree. And I struggle knowing that and yet still feeling like a mess most of the time and wishing I could make it prettier or more together in the hard times. I’ve finally realized I can’t let it stop me. I come weary and broken and worn out sometimes ( a lot of the time) and I’ve found the most beautiful connection and community in the midst of the hurting and broken, poor and oppressed of which I often count myself. I wrote about that specifically in a post here–>http://www.incourage.me/2014/11/when-you-are-not-fine.html and I know from the response so many others feel it too. That’s a big reason I write so much about depression. We all need to feel that we can come weary and not fine.

      December 20th, 2014 0:23
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