In our first year after moving to Texas we had people over to our house 47 out of 52 weeks. I haven’t kept track since then, but I’m pretty sure it’s been close to that often in the second year. Our small group comes over each week. We’ve had neighbors and friends we’ve met through the community theater group our older son David participates in come over. We’ve even hosted James’s life skills class from school.
It isn’t always easy. James doesn’t always like to share with kids who come over. He steals pickles and brownies off people’s plates if they aren’t watching. And the Island of Sodor may be set up on the coffee table where guests want to put their cups. But hospitality is important to us. It’s one of the ways we share the love of Christ with friends and neighbors. And the better people get to know us, the more understanding they will be of all families impacted by disabilities.
Because we open our home so often, we’ve come up with ways to make it easier. Here are four hospitality tips for special-needs families:
- Lower your expectations. No matter how much time we spend cleaning, James will probably dump out a bin of toys right as people walk through the door. As my friend Kristin writes in her book The Turquoise Table (affiliate link), “We’ve got to debunk the myth that hospitality is the same as entertaining. Genuine hospitality begins with opening our lives.” And when families like ours open our lives, that includes circumstances that may not be picture perfect. But our guests don’t come over for perfection anyway.
- Keep items on hand that make hospitality easier. We have an island in our kitchen with cabinets that hold everything I need to pull out if we’re having people over. I keep plasticware in mason jars, different sizes of disposable plates, and even plastic containers to send leftovers home with our guests. Having it all handy makes it easy when it’s time to eat!
- Know your strengths and weaknesses and invite others to contribute. When we invite people over and they ask, “What can I bring?” my automatic answer is “nothing.” But I’ve learned to accept the help and ask for what we really need. That usually means dessert because as much as I enjoy cooking, I struggle with baking. As Kristin says, “Hospitality starts with our acknowledging our weaknesses, strengths, and shortcomings. That’s how we empathize with others. Grace can only flow freely through cracked pots.”
- Keep “building a bigger table.” It’s easiest to invite over families we know well or extended family members. But as Christians, we’re called to keep building a bigger table so more can know the love of Christ. Kristin writes, “We spread more light into a dark world by opening our doors than hiding behind them.”
I know it’s isn’t always easy to have people over when it feels like you’re already overwhelmed by what’s happening at your house, but it’s worth it!
Sandra Peoples is a pastor’s wife and mom to two boys. She’s the author of Held: Learning to Live in God’s Grip (a Bible study for special-needs parents) and the upcoming new release, Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family.