Exactly one year ago, Andrew and I were doing the following:
This was our first full day in New Zealand–cold, alive, and sunburned on the Routeburn Track. It was the very beginning of a year dedicated to adventure. It turns out, however, that it was equally a year during which we received an abundance of unexpected hospitality.
Andrew and I lived in an Airstream for the past four years–until a month ago when we moved that beloved Cruiser to the mountains of Asheville, NC, and ironically transitioned into a hugeee parsonage. Here she is covered in Appalachian snow: our new Airstream Homestead.
We got all sorts of questions and wide-eyed stares when we lived in 150 square feet and used a compost toilet. I started refining my Airstream-living answers into a Pro/Con list.
Pros: 1) paying off school debt 2) simple, sustainable lifestyle 3) cleaning was a breeze 4) nothing better than the windows open and fresh air circulating 5) freedom to travel
Cons: 1) lack of physical space for hospitality 2) lack of washer/dryer 3) the kitchen is just too small 4) we’re not exactly petite people and I’m on the clumsy side of things –> my limbs were constantly whacking our small space and accumulating bruises
After four years, that first con began to outweigh the strength of all those pros. We longed to have people storm our home with laughter, conversation, grief, stories. In fact, my favorite Shel Silverstein poem was still stuck to our front door:
If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
We had all the figurative space in the world; our problem was that we lacked literal space. And we were beginning to feel the loss of that reality.
The community house I was a part of (and Andrew for a year) in Memphis, TN, deliberately pursues the act of hospitality as the cog to a much larger machine. Making a space for all folks (dreamers, wishers, liars alike) with couches to sit, fires to warm, tables to eat, beds to sleep, is a discipline. It’s a discipline that can be inconvenient, messy, and challenging, but that more often than not will leave both the guest and host filled to an excess. That Memphis community is still doing the hard, beautiful work of hospitality as an act of grace. It is what makes us human, and as people of faith, it is what makes us a part of the kingdom of God.
That longing was growing deep roots over our years of Airstream living and led us into our year of travel. It was then that our inability to offer hospitality led to our opportunity to be filled by it. We were often guests, and we were often filled to that aforementioned excess. Whether it was a meal, friendship, a place to sleep, or a welcoming embrace, we were the recipients of many memories of grace and love.
One year ago we were embraced by a family friend in Wellington, New Zealand. Pat met my great uncle thirty years ago when my Uncle Julian worked for the CIA, and Pat the New Zealand Prime Minister. It had been over 25 years since their last encounter, and yet he still invited Andrew and me into his city and home with familiarity and great charm. Pat remains a policy advisor for the Prime Minister, took us on a tour of their parliament building, and then invited us to meet his family and eat an incredible meal. Our time together gave me a glimpse of the strength and longevity of international friendships–especially those in government. We laughed and shared stories. Pat and his wife, Terri, spoke of my great Uncle with great favor; they explained how welcoming and “at home” he made them feel on their stay in the strange, foreign land of Washington DC. The sweet truth is that decades later, they returned that welcome and “at home-ness” to that man’s niece and nephew.
A few months later, at the end of April, Andrew had finished remodeling our family’s Coleman pop-up camper and we began our US Southwest tour. We made it through Texas with all its Big Bend and Friday Night Lights beauty, conquered a snowy and 24 degree Grand Canyon, and slipped into Lone Rock Beach Campground at Lake Powell.
I know, beautiful. However, our first morning navigating the Jetta off the beach we misjudged one of the sandy pathways and got stuck. Stuckkkk. It was 7am and Andrew gave me the mission to knock on a stranger’s RV to see if they would tow us out. “You’re a more pleasant face to see at 7 in the morning.” Whatever. I hesitantly gave a few knocks and a soft “Hello” before Terry came to the door. She was pleasant, and let me know that Gary would come help us once he got dressed. The people-pleaser in me cringed at my intrusive state, but Gary quickly drove his truck over with a warm smile and successful towing skills. We were thankful for his help and made small talk whenever we passed their RV the next two days. Our next stop was Zion National Park and we were surprised and delighted when Gary rolled up on his bike to our campsite. We sat around our picnic table for the next few hours sharing stories of travels and hiking, gasping at the way the sunlight hit the red rock, and enjoying the spark of friendship that happens so quickly when you travel. Turns out that Gary was retired from the Air Force and he and Terry lived on the Oregon Coast. We made mention that we were hoping to make a Northwest road trip in late summer and he gave us a hearty invitation to come stay with them in Coos Bay.
I joke with folks to not invite us over unless you really want us…because we’re coming. We contacted Gary in August with the news that we were, in fact, making that Pacific NW trip and would love to visit them on the Oregon Coast. And so it was that this couple whom we had spent a total of 2 hours knowing, rolled out the red carpet for our stay in Coos Bay. Since we were tent camping on that road trip, they took their RV out of storage (!!!), stocked the mini-fridge, brewed us coffee in the mornings, and included us in every meal.
In fact, our second night they grilled local oysters on the half shell, invited over their neighbors, and we had a grand Oregonian dinner party. Like butter on those oysters, Gary and Terry lavished hospitality all over us. We left full and connected; accepting an invitation from relative strangers became a highlight of our entire year. We share the stories we accumulated at the hands of their kindness often, and feel that those few days helped shape this next season of our lives.
The Pacific Northwest was overdosing with moments of open arms–perhaps it’s just the engrained nature of California, Oregon and Washington (I’m looking at you, Holly, Sy, Sarah, Mark, Cara, Brian). Britta, my non-stranger, dearest one, life travel partner, and her husband, Ben, also loved us abundantly in Bend, OR. We were at the receiving end of delicious home-made meals and picnicked adventures.
We shared duck and butterfly inner tubes as we baked at the lake. We laughed, reminisced, dreamed, ate pastries, and watched movies together. It reminded us that friends are indeed the family we choose.
Basically, we were spoiled rotten last year, and now we want to spoil others. So come to our new Airstream Homestead in Asheville and we’ll do our best to love you and share some grace. May we hope, pray, buy magic beans, and sit by many fires–together. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.