I've done a good deal of hosting over the years. Because of my husband's job as a campus minister, a steady stream of college students visit our house on a regular basis. The largest number of students over for dinner at one time, you wonder? Over 50.
Let me tell you, that's a lot of pasta.
I know what it's like to trip over dozens of shoes at our front door. And what it's like to be unable to see your couch underneath an avalanche of cast-off jackets.
I know what it's like to make sure everyone has enough to eat, and what it's like to hug a steady stream of people as they say, "Thanks so much for having us over!" I know what it's like to sweep remnants of a meal off the floor and wash stacks of dishes once the final guest leaves.
Hosting? Yes, I'm familiar with hosting.
But last week a young couple in my church asked to host us -- all five of us -- for dinner at their apartment. They've been married for a little over a year now. Our three daughters served as their flower girls. Joel and I probably have had them over our house a dozen times -- summer picnics when they were dating, premarital counseling sessions before their wedding, various dinners throughout the year.
My automatic reaction to the invitation was to flip it. "Are you sure you want to host us?" My mental rolodex scrolled through scenarios of my kids spilling drinks, knocking over picture frames, or touching everything in their still-newly-married-non-kid-proof space. "Would you rather just come over to our place?"
But, no, they insisted on hosting. So we went.
As soon as I entered their kitchen, I saw the copious spread of picnic food -- hamburgers and hot dogs, corn on the cob, grilled asparagus, summer squash, salad, homemade macaroni and cheese. It was displayed on the serving trays that my friend had received at her bridal shower.
Something happened in my heart at that moment. A mixture of deep satisfaction (This wonderful couple! They're married! This is their place!) merged with humble acceptance. They did this for us. They want to host us. They get joy from treating us.
I followed my friend on a tour through the apartment, appreciating each decorative touch, noticing the framed picture of her with my youngest daughter at the wedding: my friend gently crouched to extend her bouquet toward Kerrington (then, a fresh three-years-old) who buried her face in its blooms, sniffing deeply.
When we went upstairs, I asked her to show me her closet. (We've shopped together. She's uber-fashionable.) I stood in quiet admiration for a moment before speaking.
"I think I'm living vicariously through your... " I paused, not entirely sure how to phrase the sentiment welling up inside.
"My youth?" she asked, a smile forming.
No, it wasn't just her youth. (And, for the record, I told her that I'm nowhere near old. Not even close. Sheesh, girl.) It was the whole glorious package -- the newly-wedded-ness, the first apartment together, the solid amount of framed wedding pictures because they don't have kids to take pictures of yet, the fact that these two wonderful people are their own complete family right now.
It was all so right.
It made me think back to when Joel and I started out, just the two of us. How grown up I had felt the first time we hosted friends for a meal at our new place. How we once had sent our friends on a much-needed date night by inviting their four young children to sleep over. (We had been astounded by how much those kids ate! And exhausted when they finally had their pajamas on, teeth brushed, and heads on their pillows in their sleeping bags in the other room. Oh, we were such novices!)
Yes, we had been a young newly married couple without kids once, too.
In case you were wondering, my daughters did spill drinks during dinner. Two of them. They touched everything. I'm also pretty sure they traumatized the cat.
At the end of the night, we hugged our friends and said, "Thanks so much for having us over!" Once we loaded the girls into the van and pulled away, I imagine that they swept remnants of dinner off their floor and washed stacks of dishes.
I think that their hearts were just as full as ours.
The night showed me that there's dual blessing in friendship. Blessed are those who host. Blessed are those who are hosted. It works both ways.
Would we like to come over for dinner? Why, yes. Yes we would.