For several years, I hosted the same boys over and over again. These kids counted my home as their second home and my family as their extended family. They were familiar with my quirky sense of humor and squealed with delight when I chased them from the kitchen or raced them to bed.
They knew to reach for the bagels at breakfast and the Storybook Bible at bedtime and all the household rhythms of each day. I offered hugs without hesitation and redirection in tune with their personalities, never wondering how they’d react. I knew them. They knew me. And trust had long been established.
But recently, we opened our home to a new little girl. And as she set her suitcase down, I realized that it had been a long time since I’d hosted a perfect stranger.
The weight of uncertainty anchored me to square one of this relationship.
She needed introductions to my kids, a tour of the house and a rundown of the routine. She quietly trudged behind my daughter as she was from room to room, taking it all in. She seemed apprehensive of our big family and I sensed that she was terrified. Who wouldn’t be? She’d been dropped in a strange place a full hour away from the hum of the city, her family and all that she knows.
I didn’t know what set her off, what made her smile or what she was thinking. And I worried about her in a way I never worried about the boys.
At bedtime, she was silent and withdrawn as I read the bedtime story. I reminded her that she could come get me if she needed anything or got scared in the middle of the night. But I sensed she wouldn’t. I left the room with an aching heart for this quiet girl sleeping in a strange place.
A few minutes later, my daughter came to find me. She’d overheard our little guest crying.
I could hear the sobbing as I approached the room. Acutely aware that I was still a stranger, I had to resist the urge to scoop her into my arms and squeeze her tight.
Instead, I sat beside her and gently patted her back, praying for wisdom on how to tug the fear from her heart. I asked if she missed home. She shrugged and folded deep into the fetal position, keeping her back to me. She was not willing to let me in.
I thought for a moment, then mused aloud that I would sure miss my family if I had to be away. I told her I’d be pretty scared to be in a strange house with a strange family. And I whispered that I’d be really scared if that family was loud and had a big ole crazy dog who thought he was a puppy. Her body stilled and the tears slowed.
Barely audible, she mumbled that she missed her cat.
I enlisted my daughter to hunt down every stuffed cat in the house. We tucked them all around her, much to her delight. A little smiled played on her lips as I announced that I’d talk to my barn cats and tell them to shape up because they were going to have to stand in for the week. She started giggling through her tears as she clutched the stuffed animals.
I quietly asked if she wanted a hug. She hesitated, then nodded. I sat with her a few more minutes and she relaxed, sighed and drifted off to sleep.
Throughout the week, she gradually settled in. She grew more comfortable every day as she learned the routine and developed friendships with my kids.
She played endlessly with our barn cats, giggled with my daughter and requested endless Bible stories. She grinned with resignation when I winked and asked her to help with the dishes – reminding her that she was now an honorary member of our family. And on the last day, she jumped up and down with excitement as her grandmother and I discussed plans for another visit over the summer.
Though I’ve hosted kids for over seven years, I felt like a total rookie when this little one first stepped across my threshold. It was awkward and unsettling to realize she was truly a stranger. But the beauty of Biblical hospitality – welcoming the stranger – is that the strangeness quickly fades. Suddenly you are simply welcoming a dear friend. And I suspect that’s what God had in mind all along.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2