The Simple Art of Breaking Bread

“Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.” ! Peter 4:9

I am a decent cook with a few meals that I make well and other dishes that I could improve on.  I watch cooking shows, read cookbooks, and have more recipes saved on Pinterest then I will ever make.  I use a wide variety of spices and herbs from bright basil to fruity sumac to spicy fennel seeds.  My main problem in cooking is that I don’t trust my instincts.  I tend to follow a recipe to the letter and have a hard time adding my own personal twist.  Honestly, I am ok with that because, although I love to cook, cooking is often a means to end for me.  What I really enjoy about the cooking process is putting food on the table and creating a comfortable place for people to connect.

Hospitality is a buzz word today.  If you shop at Target, Hobby Lobby or TJ Maxx, you can find all sorts of merchandise to help you with your entertaining needs including charcuterie boards, olive wood salad bowls, ceramic serving platters and glass lemonade pitchers.  Pinterest has all kinds of ideas for having your friends over, from a nacho bar to a burger buffet to a brunch.  Although I have tried some of these ideas, these social media constructs can put a lot of pressure on a person to perform beyond their level of comfort level. I’ve been pondering the concept of hospitality, both how to cultivate it in our lives and some of the pitfalls that keep us from inviting someone over for a simple meal.  I hope these thoughts help take the pressure off of entertaining guests.

 First, hospitality is a Biblical concept that Jesus himself practiced.  He could have easily sent the crowd away after performing countless miracles.  Instead, he miraculously provided a simple meal for the crowd consisting of fish and bread.  We don’t know what transpired during that meal, but I can imagine Jesus walking around the crowd, connecting with individuals, making sure they were satisfied and trying to get to know them better.  In addition, Paul admonishes both widows and deacons to practice hospitality.  Peter gives a general instruction to Christians in 1 Peter 4:9 saying, “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”  The Greek word translated here as hospitality is philoxenos, defined as being generous to guests.

Second, we need to find a way to be hospitable that aligns with our personality and gifting.  As an extrovert, having a large group of people over and making individuals feel connected comes easy for me.  You might prefer small groups, so then just invite one family over.  I am also a casual person, who always googles how to set a table properly when holidays come around.  On the flip-side, I do love putting my food in beautiful serving dishes.  Whether you prefer formal China or paper plates, do what is comfortable for you.  If you are uncomfortable with what you are doing your guests will know it and, in turn, they will feel uncomfortable.  We once attended an open house with a scheduled time slot, and the hostess ushered us through the house at a break-neck pace because she had a schedule of guests to adhere to.  Both my husband and I appreciated the invite, but we left feeling as frantic as the hostess.

 Third, the menu can be as simple or elaborate as your season of life and skill set can handle.  When my children were young, beef roast was often the meal I made when serving friends.  It sat in the crockpot all day getting tender while I attended to toddlers.  Now that my children are adults, I can prepare more elaborate meals, but, sometimes, I still keep it simple, like burgers.  I also have one go-to meal that is often a crowd pleaser, my chicken fajitas.  I have a good handle on how much to make no matter what the size of the crowd.  If cooking is not your thing, feel free to order take out.  Pizza is always a winner.  If you have a limited budget, soups are also good.

                Finally, it’s okay to be a “Martha” when prepping for the meal, but once your guests arrive, be a “Mary”.  We all know the story in the Bible when Martha pleads with Jesus to chastise her sister, Mary, for not helping in serving their guests.  To Martha’s surprise, Jesus admonishes her instead and says that Mary “has chosen the good portion.”  Although Jesus is referring to the fact that Mary was prioritizing spiritual matters over housekeeping, I think it can also apply to being a hostess.  Sharing a meal with other people requires us to be present.  Yes, put your leftovers away in a timely manner so no one gets food poisoning the next day.  Yes, you might want to quickly clear the table so conversation can continue without dirty plates in front of you.  But leave the dishes in the sink and use the time you have to visit with your guests.

I just finished Shauna Niequest’s book “Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table”.  It’s a delightful book with essays on hospitality and includes some amazing recipes to try.  In a world where we have felt disconnected in the past year due to the pandemic, racial tensions, and political upheaval, I think its time to invite others back into our homes.  Shauna says it best: “This is how the world changes-little by little, table by table, meal by meal, hour by hour.  This is how we chip away at isolation, loneliness, fear.  This is how we connect, in big and small ways, -we do it around the table.”

No More Checking Boxes

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” 1 Chronicles 16:11

I love my patio in spring and summer.  It is the perfect place for my morning coffee, surrounded by all my potted flowers and herbs.  I often spend early mornings there reading scripture, studying God’s Word, and writing down my thoughts in my gratitude journal.  It is one of my happy places, enjoying the serenity of God’s creation.

The past few weeks have been a little crazy in the Collins’ household.  My husband fell down our stairs, three weeks ago, landing on his wrist.  He heard his bones crack, and X-rays revealed both his radius and ulna had been broken in several places, along with an acute case of carpal tunnel syndrome that had been previously undiagnosed.  The severity of the break resulted in emergency surgery.  His wrist is now full of hardware, one plate and seven pins, to assist in his piano playing and accounting profession.  However, these functions will only resume after weeks of healing coupled with occupational therapy appointments.

For the first time in three weeks, as I sat on my patio this morning, I stopped and took a deep breath.  I closed my eyes and listened to the sounds of the different birds singing, the buzzing of a bee pollinating my flowers, and the breeze rustling the leaves in my trees.  As the sun was rising, I lifted my face and let its light flood me with warmth and a sense of coziness.  I realized that, in the last few weeks, I have been just checking my boxes: devotions – check, prayer – check, meal planning – check, caring for Terry – check.  I was going through the motions, getting everything done, but, honestly, I was emotionally checked out.  I was in survivor mode, trying to anticipate my husband’s needs and still manage the household responsibilities.  The only thing saving my soul was the time I have spent taking solitary walks or hiking with a new friend.

Yet, this Is not the place where I should live.  I do not want to be just in survival mode.  I want to lean into God in the nitty gritty moments of difficulty instead of just going through the motions.  I do not want to be just checking my boxes, I want to be fully engaged and fully present, even in moments of stress.  I want to be in relationship with Jesus daily, true authentic relationship full of honesty, and admitting my need for Him.

This can only come through true worship.  I am not talking about the worship that we offer up Sunday mornings as we sing the words projected on the wall of our churches.  I am not talking about knowing just when to raise our hands and when to clap.  Yes, those can be moments of true worship, but all too often, we are just checking boxes even then.  All too often, we are just going through the motions, exchanging honest worship for shallow emotions.

 I do not want a religion based on emotional highs and feel-good moments.  I want a relationship with Jesus, discovering His true character and exchanging my faulty thinking and agreements for the truth of His word; my doubts and cares for His truth.  I want to be honest with Him when I am feeling discouraged, lonely, or stressed.  I do not want to just be a “good Christian”, instead I want to be a follower of Christ who acknowledges her desperate need for God!

This true worship is choosing to adore God in the places where I doubt His goodness, and even when I do not understand.  It is being vulnerable during crisis and choosing to find real living in God.  Sara Hagerty says, in her book Adore, “Adoration invites me into His presence.  His Word, spoken from my mouth, and a reaching for Him (however weak) within my heart, open me up to receive His presence.”

Yes, the last few weeks have been stressful.  And even though Terry is improving, there is still a lot of uncertainty.  When will he go back to work?  How will the numbers add up in our limited budget?  What are we supposed to be learning during this time?  I do not have all the answers, and I may never have all the answers.  But if I truly allow myself to adore God during this time of uncertainty, spending time with Him instead of just checking boxes, I know that His grace is sufficient to carry me through this uncertain time.

Updates, Book Club and Gratitude

“He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

About a year and half ago, I made the decision to start writing my blog.  I wanted to write about my stage of life, share how I was handling my transitions and reveal some of the insights I was gaining from the Lord.  I had no idea if anyone would read it, whether my writing was good enough, or even how long I would write.  I just felt God prompting me to be vulnerable, to share in real time some things I was going through and maybe be a voice of encouragement to others.

Vulnerability is hard.  It is easier to come from a place of expertise or to draw conclusions when you are on the other side of situations.  It is harder to be in the middle of messiness and share in real time some of the transitions you are going through.  I can speak from experience how to raise toddlers, looking back on things I did well and the things I wish I could do over.  It is harder to share some mistakes I made raising my teenagers and helping them to transition into adulthood because those mistakes are fresh.  It is easy to talk to young married couples and share with them how you adapted to married life.  It is harder to share that in the middle of your marriage you hit some rough patches and what you are learning.  It is easy to share pictures of the end of the journey of the weight loss, but harder to share that you are still struggling with losing the last 15-20 pounds.

Brene’ Brown, one of the leading researchers on vulnerability, says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”  This perspective on vulnerability is life giving.  It gives you the freedom to make changes, to attempt new things and to possibly fail.  In the spirit of vulnerability, I am sharing a few updates in my life and for Graceful Transitions.

For starters, I really had hoped to have my book, God’s restoration of my life from childhood abuse, completed this fall.  A few weeks ago, I felt the pressure of this self-imposed deadline looming over my shoulder.  Writing about my childhood trauma has made me aware of some unresolved issues that I still need to process.  That does not mean that I cannot sill write a book, because I believe restoration has happened on a large scale.  But to write the book well, honoring God and my story, I am going to give myself more time.

Next, I want to acknowledge that May was Mental Health Awareness month by being transparent about my life.  Currently, I am looking to do some more therapy to help me process some of these unresolved issues.  Solid Christian therapy should not be stigmatized within the church community.  Instead, it is an acknowledgement that sometimes you need an outside source to help you navigate difficult situations.  I pray that my honesty helps others to be reach out for help, whether it’s within your church community, or outside through formal therapy.

The next issue I want to be transparent about is that with some recent stresses in my life, I found myself going to back to some old habits related to food.  I seem to be looking for comfort in food again, occasionally overindulging.  Although I’ve gotten back on track, I need to examine this in my life and reaffirm that my satisfaction needs to be found in God.  To help resolve this, I am going to reread Full: Food, Jesus and the Battle for Satisfaction by Asheritah Cuicui.  I had thought about doing an online book club this summer through my blog and this book seems to be the perfect place to start.

Friends, this leads to a few opportunities for you.  First, for the next two weeks, if you subscribe to my blog through the link below, one lucky subscriber is going to win a free copy of Asheritah CuiCui’s book mailed directly to your home.  That’s right, you will win a free book!  I promise not to use your email address for anything else but to send my blog post directly to your email and occasionally some updates.  I encourage you to stop reading right now and click on this link.

Ok, if you are done subscribing, read on!  Summer seems to be one of the most natural times to start new healthy habits, so, on June 28, I am going to share with you real time some of my insights as I reread Full: Food, Jesus and the Battle for Satisfaction.  I will be creating a Facebook group in which readers can discuss passages, ask questions, and share some insights on what they have learned.  This Is not a diet plan, but instead it is on opportunity to understand your relationship with food.  There will be no shame or condemnation, just a safe place to share, encourage, and process the book.  Look for more information in the next few days on my Facebook page and Instagram.  I cannot wait for you to join me!

 I want to thank you all for reading and sharing my blog.  I have had a lot of you reach out to me and share how this blog has impacted you.  I am truly humbled that my words have made an impact and consider my writing a ministry that God is using to bring Him glory.  Thank you so much!!!