I read something this past week that reminded me of my parents, and of the way our household was a bit odd growing up. This week at his blog, Mark Galli (editor of Christianity Today) reflects on his recent trip to the Middle East and describes an interaction he had on the airplane:
“On the plane from London to Qatar, I sat next to a young man who was studying in England but returning to his family in Qatar on break. Within ten minutes of conversation, he invited me to his home for lunch on Saturday. In fact, he followed up, and picked me up at the hotel the next day, and I spent the afternoon with his brothers and father (as a non-family person, I was not allowed to meet with the women). It was a middle class home by our standards, though larger, and the cars in the driveway were pretty nice (Lexus, Mercedes). I discovered they considered themselves a â€œconservativeâ€, religious family, but hardly fanatical. We talked about our impressions of one anotherâ€™s culture. I ate on the floor, and with my right hand (the custom).
Two nights later, one of the brothers invited me out to dinner in a local market.
Lots of insights during these conversations, but the bottom line: Their hospitality (which apparently was quite normal, I was told at the conference) put my Christian conscience to shame. There is no way I would invite a stranger, let alone a Muslim from overseas, into my home after spending ten minutes of conversation with him.
Except that now I might.”
As I read this, I thought about my home growing up. I think I have mentioned before how on any given weekend (or weeknight for that matter), any number of quite random people could be found staying in our home. I will never forget waking up one morning when I was home from college one summer to find our house completely filled, literally, with accordion players. It turned out that friends of friends knew this family of accordion players who were traveling to Seattle for a festival or competition, and they did not have much money and needed a place to stay. So of course, they called my mom and dad. And of course, my mom and dad happily welcomed them into our home.
Or there was the time we arrived at Sea-Tac to pick up our Mexican exchange student (who we had never met) who was studying dentistry at the University of Washington. Our student got off the plane with another young man who had flown to Seattle from Mexico City to visit some friends. While we waited for luggage together, this young man tried calling his friends (he was not the type to really plan ahead, so to speak), and he could not reach them. So, of course my parents invited him to come and stay at our house until he could get in touch with them. Gabrielle lived with us for over a month, even after Franklin, our “official” student, was happily settled in his U-District apartment. My parents have since visited him and his now wife and family twice down in Mexico.
There was also the time when I was in Mexico City, spending a week with Franklin’s family before moving on to Morelia where I would be studying for three months through my University. Franklin introduced me to a young woman named Laura who wished to travel to the U.S. to study English. She was sweet and sincere, and after fifteen minutes with her, I found myself saying: “Let me call my parents. I think they would be happy to have you come and live with them for a while.” And sure enough, Laura ended up living with them for quite some time. I always laugh when I see her in photos from family weddings and my grandparent’s big anniversary party. There she is, just one of the family! I think my relatives have grown to just expect us to always have random people with us when we gather for special events.
“The Carney Hotel” is the nickname people still use to describe my parent’s house, and I marvel at the depth of hospitality consistently practiced by both of my parents, and the way that was instructive and transformative for me. I know that I pale in comparison to their generosity and selflessness, but I am so grateful for the modeling they gave to me (and continue to give, perhaps now more than ever) of how to live as one who knows how to welcome and create space for people. I hope that we can give Aaron and Mercy a taste of what I had growing up, accordions and all.
Thanks, Mark, for a great story about hospitality. And thanks, Mom and Dad, for being such great models of it.