Invited to the Table

It has been such a joy through the years to be invited to the table by family, friends and those we did not know. I grew up in a home where hospitality was offered on a regular basis. My mom could bake her famous Hot Milk Sponge in half an hour and never needed more warning than that to invite friends over for tea. My mom always encouraged my twin sister and I to invite our friends to our home and made them very welcome. At times she helped us plan fun parties and special events that we hosted. I love this photo as it is the only one I have with both my grannies, my mom, my daughter, an aunt and cousin all together. It was taken in our home in Cape Town and I think this was my granny's birthday celebration.

My parents still host me regularly and love to have me at their table (or relaxing on the couch with our food on our laps!) Brett's mom, affectionately known as Ma, loves to welcome us to her home in South Africa and it is such a joy for us to spend time with her and the rest of our South African family. Brett's sister Sally hosted us and served very traditional food made with water lilies called Waterblommetjiebredie (see if you can pronounce that!) The table is set with the national flower of South Africa, the Protea.

On another occasion we were able to take some people who were traveling with us to see the ministry that Sally and Brett's mom help run. We stood in the kitchen and heard about the amazing work they do in feeding thousands of poor children. (Check out Life Community Services.) We were honoured to eat at the centre that is used to serve so many needy young people. You can see Ma with her apron on, explaining how this simply stocked kitchen serves so many meals each week. Inspiring! 

Building lasting family relationships takes time, commitment and financial resources. Brett's mom visited his other sister in Maryland, USA and we realised that this would be a good time for our whole family to connect and also for Ma to meet her newest great-grandchild. So we all traveled to the East Coast and spent the July 4 weekend together. You can see the joy on Brett's mom's face to have part of her family that she doesn't see very often around the table!

A year ago Rebecca, who is like a daughter to us, was married in Tuscany. A group of 18 of us stayed with the bride and groom in a big, old villa near Florence. The week was filled with rich fellowship, fun tourist activities and preparations for the wedding. The night before the wedding, friends and family from different countries around the world gathered around the large dinner table, held hands and prayed blessing over Rig and Rebecca.

The following day this same table was set with exquisite Italian dinnerware and flowers to create one of the most stunning table settings I have ever seen. The 34 guests who attended this intimate wedding, were treated to a gourmet Tuscan dinner served family style. (On a later blog I will share more photos as Rebecca and Rig's beautiful wedding photos were featured in Italian Vogue Bridal Magazine!)

After the wedding we enjoyed a Tuscan picnic in the garden of a local artist, before everyone headed home again. We had left-overs from the abundant provision of food at the wedding and this pretty table was filled with tasty treats and the wedding flowers. We were thankful that we had the time to relax together in the warmth of the Italian countryside and spend our last day together. The guests in this photo live in India, Ireland, Germany, South Africa, Switzerland, Taiwan and the USA! Isn't that amazing? 

Through the years Brett and I have been hosted by people all over the world and have received such warm hospitality. Last year we took a group of people who volunteered their time with our non-profit rēp to South Africa. We stayed at T'Niqua Stable Inn in Plettenberg Bay. The owners Michiel and Bettina Meyer have beautiful Percheron horses and took us down to the coast for a picnic in a carriage! It is not every day that one can picnic out in the veld overlooking the Indian Ocean and even have a table on which to arrange all the food. It was transported down there on a horse cart! Such fun! 

A few years ago we went to Egypt right before Arab Spring.  We were so deeply touched by the hospitality we received from the local Egyptians we met. This delightful woman, Nirvana invited us to her home in Cairo right after meeting us and prepared a special meal for us. She cooked fish that her dad had brought from the Red Sea and even though her baby was due in just a few weeks, she opened up her home and heart to us. We felt such an affinity with the people we met in Egypt that we returned to visit again. Hospitality bridges people from different cultures and opens doors for on-going connection and community building.

A table can be so much more than a table. It can be an oasis, a fortress, a bridge, a door, a key, a gift, and the start of new ways to be generous. I encourage you to make the time to "Set the Table" today.

Questions:

When have you been impacted by an invitation to the table?

Please share a memory of a special dinner you have attended in the comments below.

 

Holes in the Floor

While visiting the Kalaupapa leper colony on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai, I was deeply impacted by what I saw in the small, historic chapel on the cliffs of the infamous bay where lepers used to be thrown overboard. 

There were holes in the floor.

Grotesquely disfigured lepers hid in the lush Hawaiian foliage, intently watching as Father Damien, a 33-year-old Catholic priest, arrived on the remote island of Molokai. It was 1873 and there was not yet a cure for the dreaded and highly infectious disease that was present in the islands of Hawaii. Heeding the call to come and serve, and eventually die with the lepers of Molokai, Father Damian left his native Belgium and arrived on the tropical shores. 

On his first Sunday, Father Damien prepared for the service and with eager anticipation waited for the congregants to arrive, but only a few sat on the wooden pews.  Mystified, Father Damien asked why more people were not there and was told that many of the residents of the leper colony had been embarrassed to attend. Due to losing feeling in parts of their bodies, they were unable to prevent themselves from drooling and did not want to expose themselves to ridicule or worse yet, anger from the newly arrived priest.

The following week Father Damien was seen to be hard at work in the small chapel and he encouraged everyone to attend mass that Sunday. When they arrived they noticed a curious sight. Large, tropical leaves had been picked and twisted into funnel shapes and were standing upright with their bases pressed through holes in the floor. Spittoons made of leaves. Up and down the rows in front of where the parishioners would be sitting, Father Damien had chiseled  holes through the beautiful wooden floor of the chapel to make drains for his makeshift spittoons.  

The comfort of the people was to Father Damien way more important than the beauty of the building. He disfigured the floor so that castaway people would experience welcome.

As I saw the holes in the floor and heard the history, I was profoundly moved and challenged by Father Damien's bold and creative act. This captures the heart of true hospitality.

To ponder:

  • As I host people, are they more important than the mud prints they may leave on the carpet or the crumbs on the couch?
  • Would I be willing to lay aside my pride, comfort or embarrassment to invite people home, even if my house is far from perfect?

What are your thoughts?  Please share in the comments section below.

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Early morning birthday surprise!

While chatting with Fay’s Grade 4 teacher, Nancy I found out that her 60th birthday was the following week.  Recently widowed, she answered my question by saying that she had no plans for her birthday.  I knew that something had to be done.  On the day of her birthday, I woke the children early and we set off to deliver a surprise birthday tray.  I can no longer remember exactly what was on the tray, but I am sure there was a burning candle, small flower arrangement, pretty card and something yummy to eat.  What I do remember though, is the surprised look on teacher Nancy’s face as she answered the door in her pajamas to see three eager, excited children and their mom holding a birthday tray.  The cost was negligible, the effort small and the return profound.  The teacher started her day knowing she was loved and appreciated and my three children saw how small acts of kindness bring so much joy and delight.  Who could you surprise with a tray this week?

Check out lots more tray ideas on our Setting a Pretty Tray blog post.