John 1:16 “From His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
I have overnight company coming in a few hours and therefore am completely stressed and upset with my mother who did not, because she could not, teach me to entertain with grace. Like my father, she was raised in poverty. It was good, Christian poverty so she learned respect and care for others, but she never had occasion to learn what was expected when someone came into your home because, of course, no one ever did except for those much worse off than she was.
She didn’t learn it and therefore I didn’t either. We subscribed to National Geographic. I don’t ever remember seeing a copy of Good Housekeeping lying around the house. Or any kind of magazine that has recipes at the end or teaches you which common household objects can be turned into tasteful napkin rings. Food went on the table in the pots they were cooked in. Or, more and more, in the TV dinner trays. My mother was a brilliant organizer and gifted teacher, but she couldn’t cook in the way that most people understand that term.
Once when the seldom-used back burner of our electric stove was turned on for a holiday meal, it caught fire. The mice had been storing dog food in it. Now I understand in other households that is cause for disgust and alarm. But in our house we just laughed until we cried, continuing unabated to rescue the mice from our two cats, who would routinely catch and store them in our bathtub for future play. I thought those who considered mice to be disgusting little rodents were just on TV sitcoms, and I was as happily unaware of my error as I was unaware of people who required more than one fork to eat with or who took off their shoes in the house for any reason besides comfort.
So having guests now reminds me of the difficult moments of my life when work and circumstance brought me into situations with those of better estate—when I realized that clothes I thought made me beautiful were made of laughable fabrics or that the hat I thought was sophisticated didn’t belong at an evening affair. It reminded me of the time my husband picked up a grilled cheese sandwich made the way my mother always made them—smashed almost flat in a waffle iron. He waved it above his plate, “What is THIS?” He looked as if he’d caught sewage on his fishing line. It reminds me of how late in life I learned that you were supposed to tip service people who didn’t work in restaurants, that people brought gifts when receiving hospitality, and that many people expected a thank-you note in the mail even when you had opened a gift in front of them and said a very sincere “Thank you” right then and there.
It brings up the time in Florida that I was asked to pick up the Bishop at the airport. While I was glad to take the time, I was well aware that my car was not bishop material. Paid for but peeling paint, I prayed for it every morning as I had no money for a car payment. And it was all I had to carry my two big dogs, one of whom had helped herself to a bite of the back seat. I arrived at the airport and there was the Bishop—AND his wife. As it was doubtful that the tall Bishop could ever have been extracted from the back seat of my two-door Pontiac, his wife took the plunge. On the way he asked about my family and I said I had dogs. “This is their car, isn’t it,” said his wife.
Guests bring out my insecurities, especially now that I have no spare room or closets in which to hide unsightly clutter. Guests in my new home see every room there is in all their cat-hair glory.
But I need today’s guests. I need them to come because I know them to be gracious. And I need their grace to embody the grace of God just at these points when my neuroses make me forget that, like my mother, I am more than my cooking or housekeeping skills. As my family took pictures of the mouse sitting on the curtain rod in the living room and said, “Aw, how cute,” so God sees past the faded sofa with the dog-chewed ruffle to the good in my heart. From God’s fullness in them, I will receive grace upon grace.
But right now, I think I’ll vacuum.
Help me, God, to relax into your loving grace. Amen.
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