a “scruffy hospitality” story


Early this summer, my husband and I ordered a build-it-yourself playset online.  Our oldest daughter LOVES swinging, so we were pretty excited to get three swings & a nice new slide in the back yard.  We also figured it would be a great way to expand our hospitality options.  We have kids, most of our friends have kids, and some of our friends have a lot of kids – so when we have company over, our 1450 square feet  can start feeling small pretty fast.  If we had a great play set in the back yard, then at least in the summer, we could count on sending older kids outside and giving the adults some breathing room.

The play set arrived.  Pete read through the instructions and sorted out all the pieces in the garage, and then … it started raining.  Almost every day for about a month this summer, it rained.  Whenever it wasn’t raining, it seemed, we had some other commitment that kept Pete from working on the playset.  Slowly I realized we’d be at least halfway through summer before it was done.

And then a weekend came up that was just ideal for having company over.  We talked about which one- or two-child families we could invite over, but meanwhile, I kept thinking about another family we knew from our community.  Shauna is a friend of mine from playgroup, and Chris is is in a theology book club with Pete.  We’d been wanting to have them over for ages – but they have five kids and we were just afraid we couldn’t do it.  We had talked about trying it after the playset was finished, but who knew when that would happen?  Impulsively I called up Shauna and invited them.

Did I mention four of those five kids are boys?  They spent about ninety seconds in our living room before heading out to the back yard and running straight towards … “the playset.”


The playset, at that point, was no more than a frame.  An extremely sturdy, well-built, representative of many hours of work, frame.  And you know what?  Those boys loved it.  They climbed up it, they hung from it, they swung from it – it might as well have been a full set of monkey bars.  After a few minutes of shyness, Maggie joined them.  She’s not naturally the daring sort, so it had not even occurred to her to climb on this thing yet.  But soon enough, she was climbing and hanging and swinging right along with the boys.

And meanwhile – the grownups (and two babies) had happy hour on the back porch.  We enjoyed some good beers and good conversation together.  Eventually we called everyone in for dinner – squeezed four adults and five kids around our table, with a baby in a high chair at each end.  It was crowded.  We all bumped elbows.  There wasn’t much conversation beyond the level of “Can I have some more rice please?” and “What’s for dessert?”  I loved it.

When the kids finished eating, they headed down to our basement – which is not very pretty, and not very big, but it does have a lot of toys, and it doesn’t usually have any grownups in it.  Perfect play space.  The adults lingered longer over the meal and enjoyed more conversation. When it was time for dessert, we sent kids back outside with bowls of ice cream.  And when the babies got tired, we called it a night.  For me – a perfect night.

Awhile back, I read an article about “scruffy hospitality,” and I thought it was a great way to focus on what’s important about hospitality – friendships.  Relationships.  This particular dinner party wasn’t quite all the way “scruffy” – I had actually cleaned the house, I’d planned out the meal, and it was even a meal with meat in it and not just beans!  But it was an exercise in setting aside limitations and just deciding they don’t matter.  So what if our house is 1450 square feet?  We can still fit quite a few people around our table.  So what if the playset isn’t finished?  Apparently it doesn’t need to be finished to be a lot of fun.

What does my home look like when Jesus is in charge?  It is full of life and friendship.  It is ready to welcome people in.  It is ready for fun to be made there in new and unexpected ways.  At the end of this particular evening, it was full of dirty dishes and happy memories.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.


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