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Hospitality in the Raw: Part 2

Last week: With the prospect of Marnell making it home from work, I set out to fill all the seats for our 5:30 evening meal. By late afternoon, Marnell had hit a snag with inventory at work. With an audit in the morning, I knew he had no choice but to stay until the snags were gone. But there was not turning back from hosting! Read last week’s account.

At 5:06, Marnell text me to say, “More snags… So frustrating.” I think it would have been most authentic for me at this point to sit down on the kitchen floor and cry. Instead, I pushed away the discomfort. Action, action! Not only did I have people to feed, I had a Walmart pickup order yet that evening. I had been hoping to leave Anina with Marnell for this too, and I didn’t have time to worry about whether he might still be at work by 7:30 pm.

Only one person still needed to be invited–the lady in the tent behind the car wash. I slid the bread in the oven, checked on the casserole, prepped ingredients for the salad, and put on Anina’s coat.

Anne, Anina and I stepped onto the porch. Anne noted a woman strolling along our street. Sure enough, it was Catherine, our guest, already arrived.

This was a bit of a dilemma. Should I let her sit inside the house while we ran over to the tent behind the car wash to invite Jane? Should we take her along? But, pressed for time, neither option seemed quite workable. At least it was warm outside, so we packed up and told Catherine we would back shortly.

Anina’s mood had been deteriorating. She fussed and cried on the short drive to the car wash. Among other growing grievances, she wanted “Dada home”. I didn’t want to tell her that I had no idea when he would be home.

We drove into the car wash again. Sure enough, the tent was still there, pitched against the overhead door. Anina was in such a fragile mood that I knew I should try to stay within her eyesight. I parked on an angle so she could see me.

I thought maybe I saw movement in the tent that was not created by the wind, but I wasn’t sure. “Jane!” I called. “Are you in there?” I explained I had met her at the soup kitchen and just wondered if she wanted a meal.

Now, if you’re thinking about what an interesting life I must lead, let me just clarify. Most of my life isn’t that interesting, but that moment definitely was. There’s nothing quite like talking to a tent, not knowing if there is someone inside, and if there is, if it is the person you think it is or a complete stranger.

But, since life is not like storybooks, there was no gunfire or smell of decaying flesh. In fact, no one replied. The wind rippled the tent, but I couldn’t tell for sure if anyone moved inside. I finally gave up. Had she heard me and ignored me? Or was she not in the tent? Or was it a totally different person wondering why I was calling them Jane?

It was a little disappointing, but mostly I was relieved to have something off my plate.

I drove home as fast as possible. Anina, fussy. Catherine, waiting for us to return. Joshua, soon to arrive. The food, not quite prepared. We let Catherine into the house and I dashed for the kitchen to check on the baking bread and pop the frozen peas in the microwave. We weren’t back long when Joshua arrived.

I introduced him as my cousin and the ladies as my friends. I explained Marnell’s predicament and we moved to the kitchen.

Now, this isn’t a case of food ruining the evening. However, if you want the details, the rice didn’t have enough salt, the chicken cordon bleu casserole had the wrong kind of cheese, I forgot half of the peas, the dressing on the salad was quite tart, and the bread was so hot it fell apart. But no one complained and everything was edible. Neither did anyone complain about my counters piled high with food prep paraphernalia or the thick layer of dust on some of my wood furniture.

The big hurdles were the missing host, an unusually fussy toddler, and a deep theological conversation turning intense. Whether Anina was at the end of her rope because Marnell was absent, or because we had just gotten back from a trip a few days before, I don’t know. Basically, she wanted my attention full time. If she went off to play, she was soon crying in the other room, or back at the table crying.

The conversation was robust from the beginning. We found out that the program Anne was going through was similar to the one Joshua had just been working at. We figured out they were both 21 years old, about half my age and even less a fraction of Catherine’s age. We had all four read C.S. Lewis. Not just The Chronicles of Narnia, but nonfiction like The Problem of Pain, The Great Divorce, and The Weight of Glory. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been at a table where every single person was so different (race, gender, age, socioeconomic status) but had so many things in common.

Yet I knew that there was one thing we did not have in common. Joshua, Anne and I were all Christian. Catherine? Definitely not. She thought maybe there was “something out there” but didn’t really believe the Bible to be creditable.

I suggested that Joshua and Anne share with Catherine why they are Christians.

But they got little space to talk as Catherine lectured on the reasons the Bible is unreliable. Why were there so many translations, and why did they disagree with each other? Other books like Homer didn’t have so many different translations.

It was an interesting topic, and way beyond the scope of the average person. Even I, who finds learning interesting, was floundering. Also, but I was almost unable to focus on the discussion because of Anina. But I had the odd feeling that God had arranged for these two 21-year-olds to hold up the other end of the conversation, alone. At one point as I left the table Anne was explaining what she had learned about the history of the Bible and the translation by King James in one of her recent classes. Joshua, too, replied to her skeptical words better than I could have.

But I was disappointed that they hadn’t been able to answer my question about why they were Christians. Catherine’s explanation for why Christianity is not valid had dominated the conversation.

Finally, about the time I relented and let Anina watch her favorite music video from Sounds Like Reign, Joshua said what I had been waiting for.

“Back to Katrina’s question about why I’m a Christian.”

This was the moment I had been hoping for. But how would Catherine respond?

The final piece of the story, including a more recent update on the tent lady, rolls in next Saturday! Thanks for your patience.

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