She has spread out a striped blanket on the floor. On it, she’s placed her finest china and an assortment of Melissa and Doug delicacies.
“Would you like a piece of cake?” she asks. “The flowers are edible.” She hands me a small piece of wooden cake and I fawn over her baking skills.
“This is incredible,” I say and she closes her eyes as a smile takes over her face. I love watching her take pride in something. She has planned this little gathering and when she heard I would be attending, she immediately announced that she had to get dressed up. The leggings and long-sleeved t-shirt wouldn’t do.
Just an hour or so ago, I was typing away at my computer while she was organizing beads. We were content to keep the afternoon exhaustion at bay by letting the music of George Winston play throughout our small den. When the interruption comes for an “immediate tea party picnic”, I admit, I balk. My spine goes rigid, my toes curl and the thing within me that craves just a few minutes of interrupted thinking space cries out, “No darling. Not now. Please not right now.”
She doesn’t cry or whine this time. In fact, she says a calm “Ok” and disappears back into her room.
“I’ll put the tea on,” I say, and with a sigh make myself leave whatever pressing work I think I have. We’ve just hit 4 o’clock and I feel the weight of all day attention wearing. This year we’re homeschooling, which means I am learning a new schedule. She is missing friends. I am missing quiet. It’s a strain on us both, and by 4 p.m. we are ready to hang it up for the day. I fill the kettle and light the burner and the blue glow of flame reflects off the side of the pot. Two bags of decaf Irish Breakfast in a white teapot wait. She has picked the finest china tea cups we have, and they’re waiting for us on saucers on top of the blanket.
“Can we have a real snack?” she asks.
No, I tell her. It’s almost dinner, Dad will be home soon and to be honest, I’m not in the mood.
“Today we’re having apple pie,” she says, motioning toward the other wooden toys shaped like pie. They’re all arranged. “With some mushroom salt.”
“Mmmm,” I nod as I fake a bite into the toy. “This is the best pie I’ve ever tasted.”
There’s that smile again. Broad. Red cheeks. Eyes closed as if she can’t see clearly when she lets herself feel the wave of being a successful hostess.
It seems so silly — that I had to force myself down to take these few moments with her. And yet I think of the faces who come in and out of our home throughout the week. People who come when I’ve put the kettle on and displayed a plate of cookies. People who come when I’m tired and have my arms elbow deep into the freezer, figuring out what we’re eating for dinner. People who come and lay on our couch and ask big questions.
How will she ever learn that hospitality is only a gift to others when it comes at the expense of ourselves? Will she learn that sometimes hospitality happens best when we serve others by being inconvenienced and make no mention of it? It’s letting someone talk to you about their life while you chop mushrooms and saute chicken. It’s staying awake to listen when you’d rather be in bed. It’s sitting down at a tea party when it feels like the more pressing issues need attending. These are the pressing issues — that smile, this wooden pie, that whistling kettle.
This morning, my husband left for work early, before the sun even rose in the October sky. He kissed me goodbye and woke up the little in her loft bed.
“Want to get in bed with mom?” he whispers.
“Really?!” she says. The bed creaks with her movement and I hear the sound of her favorite blanket dragging over Barbie dolls and open books. She makes her way across the hall and climbs in next to me. Not many words; just a snuggle up at my side before she falls quickly back to sleep.
This is where it begins, I think. In my space. In my arms. Here in the warmth where I’m resting, I invite her into rest as well. Here where we are still unkempt and the world feels awfully dark, we know there is safety and peace.
Her breathing has settled into a rhythmic swell. Like waves on a quiet sea, it rises and falls above the white comforter, across her footie-pajama feet and over the edge of the sleigh bed. Here is where hospitality starts — when she learns that in this world there is a place for tired hearts and showing up with bed head. This has nothing to do with presentation or performance. No Pinterest styling here.
I tuck an arm around her, just like I did when she was a babe, and smell her wild hair again. Here she’ll always have a place. Here in my arms and here in this home. For early morning wake-up calls or for spontaneous tea parties. This is what the Gospel has been to me — taking me in tired and weary, never too busy for my childish interruptions, always open arms. The greatest service of hospitality I’ve ever been shown is when the Father adopted me in, called me His own, and stretched His arms on the cross so that I could find my home in Him. If this doesn’t teach me how to parent, I don’t know what will.
May she always know that however people will come into her life, broken and weary, interrupting and jilted, having arms that make a place for them and an unfettered schedule will speak more loudly than any best-timed moments or perfect cakes will.