Today I'm beginning a new blog series called, "Good for Your Soul" Many of you have commented to me how much you've enjoyed reading the posts particularly in the category, Caring for the Soul. So I thought that it would be great to devote a series on the next several Thursdays to practices I've noticed in myself (and others) that are life-giving.

First up, hospitality.

Hospitality: it's such a buzz word in Christian circles along with its counterpoint words like: "Let's fellowship with each other?" "Let's break bread" and "Let us welcome the stranger." These phrases sounds so holy, don't they?

But, it's so much more rare to actually practice them.

We meet each other in public spaces. We keep our homes private. Nobody stumbles to coffee pots in their pajamas anymore while hosts unashamedly show off their messy refrigerators to offer their guests the creme and sugar.

But, in making these choices, we miss out on so much. We miss out on each other.

Both on what it means to receive as guest and what it means to also receive as host.

During my third year of seminary, I served a United Methodist parish as their student associate pastor. It was a lovely little church set in low country of Eastern North Carolina. I worked under a senior minister with serious standards for his students. Pastor Jerry would tell me, "You must love people to be in the church. You must really know them." (Some great advice for all pastors, I believe!).

As part of my training and because I commuted on the weekends an hour and half to work, Pastor Jerry arranged for me home stays every Saturday night. Each week I'd be hosted by a different family in the church. We'd share a meal on Saturday, Sunday morning and sometime even Sunday after church too!

Intern and Pastor Jerry cira 2005

When I first heard this news, I felt intimidated, of course. My internship ran the entire school year. That would be a lot of homes! And a lot of moving around! Plus I'm allergic to cats. And, what if I entered a place where I felt uncomfortable? So many questions ran through my mind.

While there were some unique experiences, overall it was one of the best trainings for ministry I ever received. I got to know a congregation so well in a short period of time. I learned what made people excited. I learned what made people anxious. I learned what they really thought of the sermon I preached the week before!

For one year, I lived, ate and sat in my pajamas alongside members of my church. And I experienced that some of the best, most life-giving conversations happen in the home-- a place where everyone is relaxed enough to begin to talk about what matters to them the most . . . especially later at night.

What instruction for  how to learn to be a guest!

But now that I'm a "grown-up" in my own home and have a not-as-nomadic life than I did during our Virginia/ Oklahoma years, I'm beginning to think again about the gifts of hospitality from the new lens of host.IMG_7221

When Kevin and I bought our current house in October, we knew there was space in it we didn't technically need. We could have bought a smaller condo in the city and done just fine. But we decided on our house because we wanted to be intentional about our practice of hospitality. Though we'd always considered ourselves the kind of people open to guests before (with a really cool visitors book I might add), we wanted to take it up a notch. We wanted our house to be a place that brought comfort, peace and joy to those who needed it. We wanted to be open to whoever needed a place to stay.

Seven months in, I have to say, hospitality has been one of the greatest gifts of this season. Hotel Hagan is up and running with steam!

And this is what I know: being a host is full of gifts of its own.

For when anyone stays with us, they leave a piece of themselves behind.  And when they leave, it's a joy to think of dear ones reclining on our couch or making themselves a salad at our counter. Or telling stories over cups of tea or laughing without end while sitting on the floor. What memories have been made in our new space already! Memories that fill our walls with echoes of joy.

Most of all, I'm all the better because a guest stays with us. Each guest reminds that I'm not alone. I belong to a community.

So let not all of our weekly meals be filled with take-out and grabbing a Powerbar on the run. Let us not always stay in a hotel because it's easier. Let us not be afraid to wash more dishes and do extra loads of laundry.

Our souls will thank us. God just might show up on our doorstep.