Providing Hospitality: A Conversation with Becky Allender

Continuing a conversation about hospitality, Dan invites his wife, Becky Allender, back to the podcast to recount a personal, life-changing experience that changed their perspective of hospitality. Sometimes it is assumed hospitality is setting a ‘perfect plate’ for guests, however, we need to remove ourselves from the idea that hospitality is simply entertainment. How are you engaging others at the grocery store, in your neighborhood, or at work? What does it mean to offer care and welcome from the heart? Throughout the episode you’ll hear more of Dan and Becky’s stories as well as how they are actively changing in order to become more hospitable in their day to day practices.

Note: Some names and identifying information have been edited out to protect personal information. 


Episode Transcript

Dan: There are not many honors that I have in life as sweet as being able to do this podcast with you, my beloved wife. And so welcome, Becky, to a podcast on hospitality.

Becky: Oh, it’s really good to be back with you and it’s a great, a great topic for us given our lives.

D: Yeah, well, and I want to begin by what prompted this series and I’ve written a bit of a blog that you can find on our website. But the story is that we’ve had for years, actually decades, had a particular family unit that has cared for us and our lawn. And Lupe has a number of folks who work for him and one particular day (name) was here and again, the story is a lot longer than I’m about to make it. But in the afternoon, my son in law who was living with us with our daughter and two granddaughters went out to the garage to talk to my daughter and saw that there was a man lying underneath a truck and ran over noticed that he was breathing very He couldn’t get a pulse, yeah, couldn’t get a pulse. Got our daughter Amanda, who is a nurse practitioner and they began to do CPR.

B: Well first, he came in. It was a very unusual day where he was walking outside quite a bit even and usually he’s working. And that struck me as a strange thing. But he walked in and said to call 911 And then he actually called 911. So you can take it from here.

D: Well. And the bottom line is (name), we don’t know what caused him to stop breathing and his heart to stop. But our daughter and son in law kept him alive until our fire department was able to arrive and to continue to provide good care. But in the aftermath we were in the garage and you said to me sentences that I’ve never heard you say, but it was so stunning and that is: we are not good hosts. And I said what do you mean? And you said, we do not have the kind of equipment we would need to be able to provide good care. And you said to me that you wanted to purchase– what?

B: An A. E. D.

D: An A. E. D. I don’t even know what it stands for. But whatever it stands for, it basically is the ability to shock the heart to keep someone alive. And I looked at you and before I could get the words out, you said– there are two Things you’re about to say. Do you even recall what you said?

B: I don’t recall what I said.

D: You said. Number one: you’re going to tell me it’s too expensive and number two, you’re going to say we don’t need it. Well, today, it’s proved that if we were good hosts, we would have had an aide to be able to care for somebody on our property who is one of our guests. And whatever the cost, it’s worth being able to provide for others. And that was the comment. We need to become more hospitable

B: Right. When someone dies in your presence, you realize I haven’t taken CPR. I wasn’t helping Jeff and Amanda. I was watching the grandchildren, and that was an important thing to do at the time. And I was praying. However, yeah, we just had this conversation with four neighbors last night and we’re like, we need to have a neighborhood class and go do CPR training.

D: Well we have purchased the A. E. D., we have not yet done the CPR, but I’m actually grateful that other neighbors are going to join us in that process. But as we begin to address the category of hospitality, we want to come back and say there are a lot of misunderstandings that really rob us of joy, of the joy of hospitality, both receiving and being able to give. And I think one of the areas that needs to be articulated is that hospitality is not primarily providing entertainment or entertaining someone. And this has been a point of tension between us at times because when we have guests, your own history, your story of how your own family provided hospitality. Like there’s your world needs to be fairly–

B: I care about the setting a lot. But yeah, I think what I did grow up seeing my parents at their best was actually taking food to sick people and that’s where I look back and see that’s where they were the best as a couple. And I think as a couple we have taken hospitality very seriously and it’s changed over the now we’re in our fifth decade.

D: We’re close to our seventh decade!

B: Well yeah. Anyways, yeah, it’s changed with the decades. But I really took it seriously. You know with Genesis 18:2 through 5 I married you and you were in a new denomination and I was scared out of my wits that I would have to always be you know, entertaining angels and not knowing it. So I really took it seriously. We were like maniacs with inviting people.

D: Yeah. And I think we develop both the rhythm, but sometimes hospitality gets known as providing a perfect place and I think you felt that pressure at times. And I have, you know, in our relationship, I felt that resentment of just that people come in! Don’t worry about having everything be as clean and well ordered. But on the other hand, you create a peace, often by the nature of how you prepare the table, the home, the setting, that people have named again and again. That there is peace in our home. That I don’t think would have come from me primarily, but comes because of how you hold the setting in a way that it feels very life giving. So all I’m really underscoring is it isn’t primarily entertainment. Your home doesn’t need to be perfect, but on the other hand, you really do want to set something of a tone, atmosphere of you are invited, you are wanted, you will be safe in our presence, and we will do our best to be able to provide for you in some sense the best of what we can do. And I think that’s where your exposure of our own lack of having something to care for a guest an A. E. D. Not saying everyone needs to run out and buy an A. E. D. Nonetheless, that question of is your home is your own heart a safe place for people to come to be able to be well protected, well provided for, and will there be the opportunity for goodness to grow? And I think that’s where– if we can get away just from the notion of hospitality as entertainment, then it opens up that we have been in so many ways the recipients of so much hospitality.

B: We have, yes. When I used to visit you at seminary, the Dean of students befriended you and his wife and their children. And so I would stay with Annie and I just watched her. I watched so much about how she taught her children and cared for her family, the tone of her voice. I learned she was my model for not only being a wife but a mother. And yeah, that was a new way of learning how to be. And I think what I loved about her was her heart. So I think, you know, I’ve been spending time in Psalm 33 and the commentator that I read talked about how to settle in our hearts, that the Lord is our heavenly father and will guide us only into that which will finally result in joy and radiance, even if that means passing through pain. And the more I pondered, settle in my heart, I’m like: that’s hospitality. To settle in your heart to settle as I’m driving to settle. As I’m at the grocery checkout counter with the people helping bag my groceries. That is a settling of my heart that my face brings hospitality. So it’s not just in our own home.

D: Oh again, if there is one thing that I hope you all hear again and again, Yes, this involves your apartment, your condo, your town house, your home, but it’s also how you engage folks within your grocery store and your neighbors. And it is, is there a heart to welcome? And in that welcome, will you know that I hold you with both delight and awe? that I am so grateful you are with us, and even if the “with us” is not in our own home, that I get to be with you and I want goodness, I want honor and blessing to be part of our engagement, that you would depart from us, me, you, in a way in which something of your heart feels more alive, that there is something of goodness that has grown even in a moderately brief interaction.

B: I think each person is an image bearer, we know this from scripture. And when you let that settle in your heart, well then everyone is to be, in a sense, cared for like, so I think people feel that from your heart, emanates that, if you are in an intentional way of seeing each person as an image bearer and I don’t mean like go around and be really weird, like whoa yeah, that’s an amazing person who’s checking my groceries, you know? But I think it’s the settling in that just grows deeper and deeper as we grow in Christ as we age and get closer to heaven. So it’s really changed the hospitality that we have because our bodies are being old, are older and we have less capacity. So even the choices change.

D: And again. To say: it requires some degree of growing in curiosity. that the people who serve you, work for you, people who come into your world, you know, they are bringing stories. You know, one of the heart breaks with regard to the situation with Antonio was that after he was revived, the folks who were doing the ongoing work of CPR, the E. M. T. s, who were here, you know, they said by their calculation, his heart had stopped. So whatever caused the heart attack, he died on our property and was brought back to life. And they had him in an ambulance and they were planning to take him to the hospital. And he refused. And that question of why would this man who went through something far more than he fainted? Why would he refuse that level of care?

B: Well, it was quite obvious. The workers are hispanic and I had to watch. I watched him, it broke my heart, put on the shirt that they had cut off of him to revive him. He put that cut up shirt on and got behind the driver’s wheel of the truck and left. And it’s because, most likely, he’s undocumented– I don’t know, but it was heartbreaking. Just our whole family was just taken. That will never be the same because it was pretty big. We watched–

D: Well and, that sense then of what does care mean. We have interacted with Lupe a number of times and he has been reticent to tell us much more about how (name) is or what might have caused. But the reality of he brings a life, a story, and the simple presence of curiosity. Of being able in this case, to ask of in one sense a family member, or at least someone who hired him, to show up both our concern and a desire to be of help is part of the larger calling of what hospitality requires. Like, I know you bring a story, Whether I know you to the point where you’re my best friend after 50, some years, or whether I’m meeting you for the first time. The bottom line is: I would say I know you fairly well, Becky. But there are always new elements to knowing you and your life and story. So I believe I’m supposed to offer you hospitality, just as you me, which requires that we be even more curious about one another’s stories, and therefore much more than caught with a heart being open or being willing to be disrupted by one another. But again, the point is that we want to be able to welcome one another and to offer the safe ground for each of us to become more of who we are. That’s not how I think most people invite people into their home and maybe it is, but I haven’t thought it through that well to be at a point of going: when you come into my home or I get to be in your presence. I want a goodness to grow where you know more safety, where you know more provision, but that your own story has a chance to grow in the midst of ours.

B: And I think that’s how we’ve been changing too. I think We’ve been married, we can’t always remember how many years. I think it’s near 45, but I think we’re being kinder to each other because we’re understanding love better, we’re understanding hospitality, we’ve got more of an awareness of our frailties and I think when we used to have people into our home, you know, we each had our own roles and I think now that we’re actually more attuned to each other, each other’s stories, we’re actually kinder to one another in the operating of host and hostess. Like there’s a new thing happening with us as far as, maybe Becky gets to talk more, maybe Dan gets to fill the water glasses. And I mean I, we say that jokingly,

D: But it’s so true!

B: It’s him– and then he’s honoring me and he’s realizing, oh, I don’t know, it’s just a new way. And I think as believers and as followers of Christ, there’s always a new way. He’s always going to show you a deeper path. Maybe a harder path, Maybe a more suffering path, Maybe a more joyful path. But I mean, we don’t always know, but if we settle in our hearts that he is sovereign, there’s just a newness that’s always happening in the presence of others or even alone, how I feel towards living.

D: But– you have said and implied, but I want you to just say a few more words about hospitality has changed for us in the experience of engaging our own lives and story, but also as our bodies age and what we were able and did, do you know, in our twenties and thirties, it’s certainly changed as we rise quickly into our 70s.

B: Well, given that you’ve been a teacher the whole time we’ve been married and you’ve taught of the heart and you’ve taught the Bible, you’ve been a trainer of counselors, we took this very seriously and, and we were in Indiana for seven years and moved to Colorado and we had 250 nights of overnight, what should I say? Not strangers- guests. Graduates, and, you know, a lot of more families of six and so like we just went overboard because everyone from Indiana wanted to go to Colorado. And so we, we had a robust idea of hospitality without a maid or laundress or cook or, wow, you know, it took a lot of trips to the airport picking people up when I had a lot of other things I was doing, but—

D: I’m sorry, but it’s irreverent of me to say this. But I do remember one time you calling me saying I’ll be a little late for dinner. You had picked,

B: Neighbors, our next door neighbors from Indiana.

D: — and you said, I took a wrong turn. So it’s going to take me a little longer to get back. And I said, well where are you? You said, I’m just outside of Wyoming.

B: I had four, I had six teenagers in the car. Oh man. So yeah, I just turned left instead of right. Oh no, that’s this, that’s a — in trauma. I don’t know where you want to go.

D: Do you want to do a bit of breathing but bring yourself back?

B: Yeah, yeah [laughs]

D: Well, let’s just say that there were a lot of wild, wonderful, crazy people and stories of that season and that being. But one of many of us was extended in ways that as I look back, I don’t blame that young couple. But on the other hand, we needed more dessert mint as to who would come into our home. Tremper and I talked about this last week and that is, there should be an assessment. Everyone who wishes to be in your home. Can’t be in one sense, you’ve got to be able to have honor and boundaries and clarity.

B: We had strangers. They come for a week because they were tired musicians. I mean this was just like an ongoing open door.

D: Yeah, it was crazy. And yet I still look back and go there was so much what sweet goodness in that while we came, let’s say a year later from that experience of having almost the whole year with guests in our home, we we came to this new rule and that is if you didn’t visit us when we lived in Indiana, not to fault Indiana, but just saying that not a lot of people wanted to come to Indiana to go to the pumpkin festival, but a lot of people wanted to come to Colorado to be able to ski or to have the benefits of, of summer escapades. If you didn’t visit us in Indiana, not likely we’re going to let you now visit in Colorado. So we did grow a little bit in discernment, but in that process I still would say we had some fascinating people but back to that framework of are you taken, are you curious? Is there a sense of awe and delight in the stranger? And do you define the stranger as every human being, even the ones you’ve known for 40 or 50 years? Again back to that image of: we are meant to be deeply hospitable to one another. You’re meant to know more safety and more provision in my presence, In our 45th or whatever year it is, then you did in our 40th year. And if that’s not the case then we’re not growing in one another’s hospitality but we’re also not growing in being able to offer the stranger. Who is everyone, a place to be able to come to be known and to know. And that to me is the essence of what we want to engage. We want to be able to provide the next (name) who has a heart attack good care, and that won’t happen without our being trained in CPR. Which I think will likely happen this summer. And obviously we’ve got to learn a little bit more how to use our new A. E. D. To be able to provide for the next event. And then to ask what else we need? We don’t need a hospital here, but we need to be able to provide good care. And how do we do that? Thoughts before we come to an end?

B: No, but, as you said that I did think of different people who were staying with us sometimes when you were out of town and who actually almost needed to have me take them to the hospital. So it’s no small thing when you have an overnight guest or people, life is so precious and we do not know what can happen.

D: Indeed. What we’re going to move toward is the larger category of hospitality. And that is: what does it mean to be hospitable to ideas? and not just to ideas, but to experiences? and experiences sometimes that as you just said, Becky, involves suffering, suffering our own or others. And there needs to be a larger sense of hospitality is how we hold views and and and differences, how we engage strangeness, and and how we do so in a way in which we participate not only in knowing and being known, but in the redemptive process that true hospitality holds.