With gloved hands I pull the chicken casserole from the oven. To my own amazement, I didn’t burn it. Relief fills me.
I have only 15 minutes before our guests arrive, so I take a special packet of seasoning and carefully sprinkle a fine layer over the casserole. Then I step back to admire my handiwork. For the first time in my life, I’ve actually cooked something edible.
My husband rounds the corner and gasps, “Why did you cover it with that seasoning? You’ve ruined it!”
“What are you talking about? It’s perfect!”
“Denise, the family had one request: No MSG. And that seasoning is full of MSG.”
“I don’t understand. What in the world is MSG?”
He rattles off some multi-syllabic word that resembles something from biology class a couple decades ago. Apparently it’s a chemical. The family I’m cooking for is allergic to it. And I’ve dusted the entire casserole with it.
So we order pasta to-go from Olive Garden and welcome our guests with the latest story of my cooking failures.
When it comes to hospitality, I have this deep yearning to open the doors of my home, to welcome newcomers in, to widen my circle of friends. The very idea of hospitality warms me straight through.
Except for the cooking part.
I don’t like to cook — probably because my failures in the kitchen far exceed my meager successes.
For years my conundrum left me feeling disqualified from most hospitality conversations.
Whenever I tried to join a conversation about hospitality, the discussion inevitably turned to food and recipes and cooking tips. So I’d slink into the background, hoping nobody noticed me trying to join the hospitality crowd.
When it comes to food prep, I don’t have much to offer.
I once attended a church where there was an official Hospitality Team, and I eagerly joined the score of volunteers. On Sunday mornings, the team showed up extra early to set a beautiful table of pastries and to brew large vats of coffee. By the time people arrived at church, the donuts and coffee were ready to serve. But I’m not a coffee drinker and don’t have a clue as to what it’s supposed to taste like, so I felt pretty inept around the Hospitality Team.
All I could do was offer to taste-test the donuts.
So I tried to give up this crazy notion that hospitality and I belong together. But then my church invited everyone to take one of those test-like inventories to determine your spiritual gifts. My test results said hospitality is one of my primary spiritual gifts — except I couldn’t remember any of the test questions asking if I knew how to marinate chicken or whip up some tasty enchiladas.
Something was amiss, and I didn’t know how to reconcile my desire to practice hospitality with my woefully deficient culinary skills.
To remedy my problem, I purchased cookbooks with the hope of figuring out the whole kitchen thing, but the recipes called for ingredients I didn’t even know where to find in the grocery store. Have you ever seen ginger root in its natural form? I finally had to ask the produce manager to show me where they hid it. I brought some home that day and just stared at it, wondering why God ever created such a thing in the first place.
I pictured God sitting on His throne, with the angelic host gathered round, all of them up there having a good laugh, while I stared helplessly at my new ginger root.
Eventually my cookbooks ended up on a high shelf. And that ginger root was never to be seen again. I accepted my lack of culinary prowess and decided — whenever a clipboard is passed around church, asking us to sign up to take a meal to a family — I’ll let the clipboard pass me by. If a family is hurting, then I certainly wouldn’t want to add to their pain by bringing them one of my meals.
Instead, I chose to focus on the things I can do.
On Sunday mornings, I can keep an eye out for first-time visitors so I can say hello. In the nursery, I can offer to hold a crying infant so the tired mom can sit through service without her child’s number flashing on the screen. At Bible study, I can invite the new gal to sit at my table.
And I’m constantly offering my home for gatherings. Whether it’s a moms’ group or a prayer group or a Bible study group, I love opening my home and inviting others in. I love making others feel welcome. And if food needs to be served? I buy it. Without shame.
Over time I’ve learned that hospitality can include a wonderful spread of food that’s been prepared with hands that delight to serve in that way, but more than anything, hospitality is about creating a space to make others feel welcomed and know they’re wanted. And that’s what I love doing most.