Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Company's Coming

There are two quotes I love, one is from the Bible and the other from Royal Doulton, maker of fine china:
Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.” II Ki. 4:10

The art of hospitality is to make your company feel as comfortable as when they are home and as pampered as when they are out.

Christmas is a time when many of us have company, whether overnight family, a party for friends, or the whole clan for Christmas dinner.

I have company frequently...and I do mean frequently, like a lot...all the time...at the least every week, usually more.


Two summers in a row (not last summer but the two preceding it), we found ourselves with a steady stream of company that left us exactly 3 and 4 days, respectively, without company for the months of July and August! I can easily and honestly say we have spent thousands of dollars feeding, housing, and entertaining guests...sometimes without even knowing I was hosting them until I got up in the morning to discover someone sleeping on my living room floor! We've hosted complete strangers, best friends, uh...not so good friends, friends of friends, family, students, foreigners...did I forget anyone? We've hosted meals, overnight stays, weekend stays, weeks-long stays, and even multiple months stays. We've had any number of guests, from 1 to, I think, 23! overnight...sprawled across the floor on couches, chairs, lawn cushions, futons, and air mattresses, spilling outside to a backyard tent!

We didn't used to live this way. In fact, when we lived in Canada the only overnight guests we had were my kids' friends for sleep-overs, my family from the States, an occasional friend, an occasional billet, one student from Mexico for 3 months, and a Bible college student for 8 months. Oh, I'd host baby showers, throw a party now and again, and have a big holiday dinner for family a couple times a year and think I was hospitable, but I knew nothing of what I know now!

When we moved from Canada to the U.S. 4-1/2 years ago, we left some pretty special people behind who we had known and loved for 20 years.  And not only did we leave our family and friends, but we just happened to move to a scenic location with an awesome summer climate...and an abundance of natural beauty found in ocean, mountains, forest and falls, fresh produce, attractions and activities, and a large city with great shopping and restaurants. So, whether people came to visit us or whether they came to stay free at our house while visiting Oregon, they never confessed. All I know is that people came...and came...and came, sometimes overlapping each other. I got pretty adept at stripping sheets, making up a guest basket, filling a water pitcher, and cleaning the bathroom in very short order---waving goodbye on the front porch to one set of visitors and then rushing back into the house to whip everything into shape by the time our next visitors arrived.

Because it's Christmas and you just may find yourself playing host this holiday, let me give you some of my best tips for putting together a guest room that reflects the values in the two quotes I shared.

  • A bed, a chair, a table and a lampstand - Practical items
  • As comfortable as home - Familiar items
  • As pampered as a hotel - Luxury items

Practical items - Think about the basics of what you need to stay the night someplace...a bed, of course, with clean bedding and towels; a place to sit, a place to write, a lamp to see by, a bathroom close by

Familiar items - Think about the items you use every day that aren't so much necessary as they are comfortable, just to make life a bit easier...an alarm clock, an extra blanket, a fan or a space heater (depending on the weather), a fresh bar of soap, bottled water, a mirror, hangers and space in the closet, an iron, a blow dryer

Luxury items - Think about the little extras that you love when you stay at a good hotel...sheets with a high thread count, a fluffy duvet, a great mattress, a choice of pillow (feather vs. synthetic / high loft vs. flat), flowers in a vase, lovely toiletries, a plush robe, yummy treats, Wi-Fi, matching towel sets, a cushy bath mat, a welcome note, a candle

When I prepare for company, I take into consideration how long they'll be staying (a week or just overnight?), how many times they've been here (first-time visitors get the royal treatment!), whether they've ever visited the area (out-of-country guests get a basket full of made-in-Oregon goodies), what family dynamic they are in (married couple, single, young parents, elderly), dietary restrictions (diabetic, gluten-free, dieting, etc.), and what time of year it is (hot/cold weather, holidays, special occasions).

So, let's get the guest room ready!

1. Clean it up! If you use one of your kids rooms or a storage room for a guest room, empty it out of personal effects and clean it thoroughly...vaccuum, dust, wash the window, change the sheets, empty the garbage, clear space in the closet, open the window wide and air it out. Scour the bathroom until it sparkles! Keep pets and kids out once you've cleaned everything.

2. Set it up. Bring in your good sheets and towels. I actually iron the pillowcases and the top third of the sheet so they are crisp and fresh-looking. I also keep a set of guest towels separate from my linen closet in a storage bin so they look new. (We have college students who stay at our house every weekend, and I can't tell you how many sets of towels have been ruined by the salicylic acid found in Proactive!)  Make up the bed in an attractive way, layered with coordinating bedding and pillows. Lay an extra blanket at the foot of the bed. Provide a fresh, new bar of soap and get rid of old bars and bottles from the shower.

3. Deck it out. Make a welcome basket. Fill it with travel-size toiletries, treats or snacks, water bottles, a welcome card. If I know my guests are shoppers, I will tuck in some coupons to local stores I think they'd like. Provide water bottles. Hang a freshly laundered plush robe in the closet or on the back of the door (most people don't pack them because they're so bulky). Invest in a luggage rack if you have guests fairly frequently.

Welcome your guests!

  • Offer them something to drink
  • Give them time to get settled, even rest, before doing the first activity
  • Feed them
  • Accept their offers to help but don't ask for it
  • Ask them plainly what they would like to do, when they would like to go to bed, what they would like to eat---don't make them guess or wonder, and don't let yourself guess or wonder
  • Give them instructions about your house (i.e., where the coffee is, how to work appliances and fixtures, how to get internet, what the schedule is, etc.)
  • Ask them if they have dietary or allergy issues, if you don't know them well
  • Let them set the pace (go to bed early, sleep in, go for a walk) and give them space

And here's my favorite piece of advice:

Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised. (II Pet.4:9-11)

Just in case you didn't know, sometimes you will have guests who are very annoying. To be perfectly honest, there have been times when I have counted down not just the days but the minutes until certain guests have packed up and gone home. Whenever I feel irritated by my company, I think of this verse. It's not about me. Who am I to grumble? When I serve others I serve God. When the job seems thankless and a whole lot of work without a whole lot of pleasure, I do it with the strength that God provides. It isn't a duty, it's a ministry! I always strive to "commit myself to my faithful Lord and continue to do good" (v. 19), because if I've done it for the least deserving, then, really, I've done it for Him!

And just so you don't get discouraged...hospitality is a lot more rewarding than it is rotten! My home has been blessed and enriched by so many wonderful people over the years. They have touched our lives and left an imprint in our hearts.

May my heart and home be always open!

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