With winter’s chill rolling off him as he and his siblings came in from the wintry night air, my son asked, “Can we have our friends over to play boot hockey?” Flanking him, his sisters echoed the question silently with their eyes.
We live in Iowa, and of the ten years we’ve lived in a place with a pond nestled in the woods behind our house, three of them have granted us good ice. He’d dedicated himself to keeping the ice clear—shoveling after each snowfall so that it would be open to play with his sisters, with his dad, with his grandpa and his uncle. And now he wanted to invite his friends—their friends.
My default response is “no.” It’s easiest for me and probably expected by my family. Still, I considered our calendar, formulating my answer—and my defense—in my mind.
We were in what had come to be our family’s busiest season. The weekdays were packed and the weekends were worse. There was, I knew, one time open every week on our calendar. And it was not a convenient time. It was after play practice, a practice that involved all three kids, most of their friends, and me. That meant we’d all—the kids, their friends, and me—show up at the house right at lunchtime, the kids starving and me empty-handed. And this—for me—was an actual problem.
Because I was known for my food.
First, it was chic food. Baked olives and pesto pizza, baked brie and artichoke dip, creme brûlée, and panna cotta served with low light and surrounded by candles. Then it became teenage food. Pizza bread and pizza burgers, St. Louis Dogs and taco bake, heaps of clementines and grapes served in continual large quantities.
That’s what hospitality looked like at our house—the right look, the right scent, and the right taste so that people could be fueled by the food and filled by the fellowship. Without time for candles or to prepare the food their friends put in not-so-subtle requests for, I started to tell my kids that it just wouldn’t work. And then I remembered: hospitality isn’t about candles. It isn’t about the food I’m known for. It isn’t about me at all. It’s about others—including my children.
So I put myself aside and we talked about it. We decided, together, that we could manage make-it-yourself peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served with baby carrots, chips, and a box of clementines. The food was easy but the decision, for me, was not.
The kids issued the invitations and hospitality at our house has never been quite the same.
On Friday afternoons that winter, middle and high school kids crowded around our counter to make sandwiches for themselves. They piled paper plates with carrots and chips and the occasional cookie and found a place at the table. More came every week. When no more chairs could be crammed in, they didn’t take to the couches; they leaned against the bar and the wall and stood behind their friends.
I learned from those kids.
They pulled up chairs. They brought extra boots and shared winter layers with kids who hadn’t quite dressed for the weather. They served one another. Some by shoveling snow. Some by making sandwiches for the shovelers. And some by offering guidance and grace to those who didn’t take easily to the ice or to hockey.
When my kids discovered boot hockey, it transformed hospitality at our house and shifted something in me. I’ll always prefer a little ambiance, but I saw the value of simply providing a place—a warm kitchen to crash in between games or a window to watch from as parents waited until the last possible moment to pull their kids away from the ice.
I ran into one of the boys from the boot hockey crowd late the next fall and he asked, ”Is there ice on the pond yet?” He’d been asking since the pools closed at the end of summer. He wasn’t really asking about the ice. He was just letting me know he was ready for more of what they had all shared together the previous winter—regular fellowship over something fun with a group of friends, something that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t followed my kids’ lead, put myself and what I was known for aside, and paid attention to what matters—people and a place at the table. Or on the ice.
Photo by Hill Smiley Photography
Natalie Ogbourne is a lover of frivolous shoes, short-ish skirts, and meandering conversation. A reluctant hiker and avid indoorswoman, she’s learned that a walk in the woods has plenty to teach her about the terrain of the heart. She writes to encourage women to navigate the landscape of their life by faith on her blog. You can also find Natalie on Facebook and Instagram.