Farmstyle rustic table setting

I finished leading the last worship song and it just kind of came out, “I know it is last minute, but after the service today, I’d love to invite you all over for lunch. I have some chili on the stove, but if you can pick up something to share on the way, that would be great.”

Newly married, bright eyed and filled with a passion to impact my little corner of the world, I issued an invitation from the front of our congregation. Knee deep in the throes of full time ministry, these were my people and I wanted them to come, to break bread, to share life with me.

I chuckle now at my innocence. My simple hospitality wasn’t equated with stress, hours of house cleaning or budget breaking buffets. I just wanted them to come. I didn’t second guess myself.

Did I mention that we lived in an 800 square foot apartment and that pot of chili might have fed fifteen? I wasn’t ready for a crowd, but it didn’t matter. They came anyhow and seventy five people spilled out of our little place onto the grass. Blankets were spread; lawn chairs pulled close and lingering conversations echoed. 

Spontaneous hospitality

That occurred over twenty years ago, but the power of this one experience shaped me. Thousands of people have since crossed our threshold. Our home’s square footage may now be a tad bigger, but the sentiment is still the same.

Our home is a place where everyone is welcome, yet I don’t wait until I’m ready to swing those doors wide open because otherwise, it would never happen.

On a daily basis, our family celebrates both the beauty and bedlam of everyday life, and a large majority of those celebrations center around the kitchen and some great food.

It’s in the kitchen and around the table where the warmth of shared memories, laughter and life create a recipe that spans generations.

When you take the risk to open your heart and home, don’t you want to actually enjoy the time with your guests? We are all at different life stages, with varying schedules and budgets, so if a beautifully presented atmosphere is your love language, then use those gifts and go all out, but for the rest of you, know that simplicity with one’s decor and menu are always welcome friends.

Remember, small is the new big and stress-free, practical hospitality is our new mantra.

Here are a few suggestions for actually carrying out that sentiment.

Why not enjoy an evening of spontaneous hospitality?

So often it’s difficult to plan gatherings well in advance, so I’ve found extending a last minute invitation to a group often works incredibly well.

Why not invite your “cul-de-sac” to a root beer float party? Or send out a group text invitation for a last minute Baked Potato, Burrito or Build Your Own Pizza Bar? Yes, setting up creative “Bars” is a wonderful way to not just feed a crowd on a budget, but do it creatively.

Never underestimate the power of the grill. One of our most memorable nights came from an email blast I sent out with just 24 hours notice. I didn’t think many would attend since it was July 3rd, but most were available. We threw chicken and hot dogs on the grill and everyone brought a side or dessert to share.

When we are open to a flexible schedule, wonderful spontaneity occurs.

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Having an open home mentality doesn’t mean that you have to break your budget.

During my husband’s extended employment, it meant I needed to just be a bit more creative with décor and food. I love a beautifully set table and always enjoy finding mismatched glassware and serving pieces from the thrift store. I spray paint decorative accent pieces and candle sticks to match my color theme and then implement one of my best 15-minute party planning tip. Did you notice my colorful “table runner?” It’s wrapping paper. It sure is! No one would ever know and it’s been my go to trick for dozens of events both large and small. I got it at the Dollar Store for the win.

If you are planning a sit down meal, I always suggest hosts get comfortable with one to two easy guest menus. Know those recipes inside and out. That way, the stress level decreases as you excel at those dishes. For me, it’s often my homemade lasagna (with some short cuts), easy French bread with a salad or Easy Sour Cream Chicken Enciladas.

Normally, my biggest source of stress comes with my downstairs clean up. Again, it’s never ever going to be perfect, but I want it comfortable. I definitely err on the side of the lived in look. As our children have gotten older, they are huge helpers when it comes to getting ready; I created a 15 Minute kitchen Clean up check list.That way, it’s easy to see what still needs to be done.

Even when they were little, they put toys away, wiped cabinets and they loved to spot clean with the spray bottle.

I could go on and on since I just love simplifying the stress of opening our homes. These are just a few ways that I continue to practice hospitality, even when life’s schedules get more chaotic, but I’d love to hear your suggestions.

(I shared this at Grace Table: a beautiful, new blog sharing a love of all things hospitality.)

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