Lord, I declare that your word never returns empty and that you have set my heart on eternal things.

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The Reluctant Entertainer

Sandy Coughlin

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Real Entertaining for Real People
by Sandy Coughlin

Okay, ladies, let's have a show of hands. Everyone who feels like they just don't have what it takes to pull off a successful meal or a party in your home, raise your hand. I see your nervous hands! Now, everyone who feels totally at ease and 100 percent sure of yourself as a hostess, raise your confident hand. ... Um, where did the hands go?

I know the reasons why those hands stay stuck to our side. I also know the simple steps necessary to fix this growing problem that keeps us and our families isolated instead of connected -- alone instead of together. Through my blog, Reluctant Entertainer, I have helped women across the country transform from a reluctant entertainer to a confident one.

One of the main reasons we remain reluctant and isolated is that we have bought in to the thinking that perfection is required in order to be hospitable. This belief is a mistake I once held, which I realized after eating dinner at a friend's house.

As a young mother with a baby on the way, I was apprehensive when my husband, Paul, came home from work and informed me we were going to the home of a new artist friend of Paul's for dinner. Because I didn't know the family, I felt nervous. But as I walked into their house, which had stunning artwork displayed on the stucco walls, I realized the home was normal. It actually was a little chaotic, as four small children ran around in the usual sequence of life.

My senses kicked into high gear as I smelled the incredible aroma of garlic and fresh bread. Right away I felt at home. We sat down to a feast of some of the best Italian cooking I've ever tasted. The hostess was gorgeous inside and out. Her dark Italian eyes were piercing, and her smile welcoming. Her hair was long and mussed up, and I don't even remember her clothing, but I do remember the glow about her as she served up the pasta, poured the wine, and broke the bread.

I realized later our conversation was different from what I had experienced at many social events. It was real. I thought to myself, these people are not trying to impress. They truly cared about us, about our family, and our lives. Even though their home seemed slightly out of order, they knew the true meaning of hospitality: it's a matter of the heart. They understood people and connection. They took these essential ingredients of hospitality and put them to use. They understood that hospitality is unique to rebuilding communities, restoring relationships, and reviving families.


Glue That Connects

What a lesson for me. Little did I know how that meal would shape my thinking and help me become more flexible. As I watched the dynamics of this home and the love that flowed -- while kids ran everywhere and dishes stacked up by the sink -- I realized hospitality doesn't have to be perfect, it just needs to be from the heart. It's the glue that connects us with each other.

I love to share this story to point out that hospitality comes in different shapes and sizes. To some it may mean an elaborate dinner party. To others it's a casual party with kids underfoot. And to others it may mean opening their home to out-of-town company or taking cookies to a neighbor. Understanding people is an art in itself, and it's a big piece of the pie when it comes to simple acts of kindness that you can offer to anyone.

Paul and I have experienced hospitality many times around our table. We are always amazed at how God works through food, conversation, authenticity, and laughter. Hospitality is not just a potluck dish. It's about relating to people on a deeper level in a way that reflects your life and style while forming stronger bonds. Hospitality happens over real meals cooked by real people (not a small army of assistants just off camera for a highly polished television show). It draws people from the cold world of isolation into the warmth of connection and friendship. I know because it happens in our home over and over.

During our parties, things are never perfect. Mishaps happen, but my focus always remains the same: getting to know others in ways I didn't know before.


Catch the Spark

I believe that times are changing. The desire to resurrect the lost art of hospitality is growing. It's bringing people back to their roots and revealing what is missing in their lives: genuine fellowship.

It could be as simple as this. My friend Kay, who lives in a quaint little neighborhood, shared with me how one of her neighbors lost his job. The family was reeling from several devastating months without work, yet even in these uncertain times she'd find them out in their yard, right next to the street, barbecuing with friends around them. Kay said they would always wave and say hello and invite Kay and her family over. They'd extend a good amount of friendliness. My point is this: It takes effort to smile, to be thankful, and to keep a positive attitude even when times get rough.

But I have found out that the hard times are when we need each other the most.

Out of a hospitable spirit, we can show others they are loved.

Hospitality starts with a desire. Then, by catching the spark through the promise of guidance, you'll find it won't be as hard as you think. The Reluctant Entertainer discusses simplicity, and you'll read about my Ten Commandments to Hospitable Living, how "joy busters" and perfectionism destroy what could be a blessing, and how to create your style and shop for a bargain. I'll discuss how to make the five senses pop while entertaining, the importance of adding intentional conversation to your dinner party, and the benefits of learning to go deeper with your guests. And I'll mention how raising hospitable kids not only teaches them, it also brings the whole family into deeper relationships and into a lifestyle of love.

Simple entertaining combined with some inspiration can create spiritual monuments in our lives. It not only gives us hope, but it teaches us the benefits of moving forward and not looking back. It is a beautiful gift without a price tag.

Grasp a ray of hope, catch the spark, and let's begin living hospitable lives by living graciously.

From The Reluctant Entertainer by Sandy Coughlin, Bethany House (Baker Publishing Group), 2010


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