WHAT I LEARNED FROM A DINNER PARTY

Newlyweds, 1995
Newlyweds, 1995

I circled nervously around our tiny apartment kitchen desperately wanting – needing – everything to be absolutely perfect.  I was a  recently wed, twenty-three year old woman.  And my big sister and her husband were coming over for dinner.

I carefully chose a recipe that I knew they would enjoy.  And I went to work preparing barbecue chicken pizza, using bottled sauce and a pre-made crust.  Everything was fine until I realized that I had bought the wrong cheese.  The recipe I was using called for jack cheese and I had accidentally purchased white cheddar.

I cried.

I was so intently focused on impressing my guests with a perfect meal that I allowed the wrong cheese to become a devastating discouragement.  And my frustration grew into certainty that I’d never be a good cook or hostess.

Sadly, I do not remember anything else about that evening.  I’m pretty certain that the pizza tasted fine with cheddar cheese and we had a lovely time.  But I let one silly mistake steal the joy of an otherwise wonderful evening with people that I love.

When I think about that memory now – as embarrassing as it is to admit that I was so dramatic over the wrong cheese – I realize that what made me so incredibly anxious that night was the immense distance between my heart’s desire to be wonderfully hospitable and my experience in the kitchen.

It is very hard to live in the in between time when we have a sense of the passions that God has woven into the fibers of our being – while still requiring much time, experience, and learning to actually be a person who radiates those qualities.

Just hearing our calling and knowing our passions is not enough.  We still have to live the journey of experience before we can consistently do the things that we love well.  Developing by our failures as much as our successes.

As a new bride I wanted to just be an amazing hostess, long before I had put in the effort needed to truly understand and practice hospitality.

However, the gift of that uncomfortable in between time was learning that the desperation to be perfect or striving to avoid mishaps would steal the joy of everything wonderful that I would get to experience along the way.

And so – through much practice – I have come to understand that hospitality is not about using the right cheese.  It is really about loving people well in our homes.  Creating a space where people are seen and accepted and cherished.  Providing nourishment and refreshment to the heart, mind, and soul of another person.

Recently I hosted a birthday celebration for a friend who I have come to love as family.  I decided that it would be fun to make an Italian dinner to celebrate him and how valued he is by so many people.

I searched food blogs for inspiration and recipes.  Made a special trip to Little Italy to purchase ingredients.  And enlisted my sons, my niece, and other friends to help.

Together we made an authentic, Italian feast.  EVERYTHING on the menu was homemade:

  • Fresh pasta.
  • Meat sauce made from Italian tomatoes, fresh aromatics, and red wine that simmered on my stove for hours.
  • Pesto created from Parmesan imported from Italy and fresh basil.
  • Ricotta made in my kitchen using a cheese-making kit I had purchased recently at a local artisan cheese shop.
  • Homemade bread.
  • Fresh Tuscan cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto that was thinly sliced at an Italian deli.
  • Vinaigrette created from a few simple, but tasty ingredients shaken together in a mason jar.
  • And mint-chocolate gelato, churned with fresh mint and skillfully melted chocolate.

The final result was good.  Really good.  But not amazing.

  • The pasta ended up slightly over-cooked and a little soft.
  • The sauce was delicious, but it cooked down so much while I simmered it for hours that I did not have enough for everyone to enjoy a generous portion.
  • The pesto could have used more basil.
  • And the vinaigrette was tossed with the lettuce greens too soon and the salad was wilted by the time it was passed around the table.

BUT the evening was wonderful.  The conversation was lively.  The celebration was beautiful.  And I will cherish the memory of those faces gathered around my table always.

Not because the place settings were arranged perfectly and the food was flawless.

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Because the meal was created by a community of family and friends expressing love and celebration through feasting.

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And the laughter, joy, and authenticity shared by the people filling the chairs is what makes my table stunning.

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Twenty years of cooking and practicing hospitality has taught me that I can profoundly bless people around my table – regardless of how good the food tastes – when I can see the meal as a vessel used to offer love, friendship, and belonging.

What are the things that you are created to do?  What passion has been woven into the fibers of your created being that God is calling you to develop and enjoy?

I hope that today that you will be anointed with grace and perseverance to learn to do that thing well – through the trials and the errors and the accomplishments – experiencing all the abundant joy that God is offering along the way.

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