Hospitality Series: “Practicing” hospitality

With events from Super Bowl parties to holiday celebrations right around the corner, all this week we will be bringing you a variety of insights, tips, stories, resources and, of course, recipes in our Hospitality Series. Enjoy!

Karen Ehman of Proverbs 31 Ministries remembers a kitchen so small, she had to fold down the leaves in the dining table to walk through it.

She remembers the banana cream pie she, as a ninth-grader, had baked for her mom. She also remembers how her mom burst into laughter when she saw it and took a Polaroid. The bananas may have been a bit mushy to start, she said.

She remembers the first-ever dinner she, as a newlywed, had made for company—and not just any company, but her husband’s boss, who also was their pastor, and his wife. It was lemon herbed chicken, and, in retrospect, it was supposed to be covered while in the oven. It came out looking like “dried, burnt rubber with charcoal-crusted squiggles and circles on top,” she said.

Luckily, Ehman said, “The Bible calls us to practice hospitality. We practice things we are not good at.”

That call comes in Romans 12:13:

Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Ehman didn’t know what she was doing when she and her husband, Todd, first were married 26 years ago and began opening their home and offering hospitality to others, she said. But she kept practicing. And while practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect, she said, “it sure helps you do a little better.”

Case in point: Ehman recently shared on her blog a recipe for raspberry-mint tea that had won a blue ribbon at a mint festival in her Michigan hometown. And she wrote the book on hospitality:  “A Life That Says Welcome.” (Most of her books have been based on her struggles, she said. “Let. It. Go.” is scheduled for release this fall. It’s subtitled “How To Stop Running The Show And Start Walking In Faith.”)

But even now, she said, perfection isn’t the point:

“We lived in a really tiny apartment when we first were married, and our furniture was all hand-me-downs. We had end tables made out of old crates and stuff. If I had waited to have a nice house and enough space to offer hospitality, I wouldn’t have done anything for about 15 years. I really felt like God just said, ‘Work with what I’ve given you. And be thankful. And people are going to notice your heart more than they notice your home.’ So I decided to work more on having that welcome heart.”

Here are a few ideas Ehman graciously shared with Start Marriage Right to cultivate a welcome heart and practice hospitality as a newlywed in perhaps less-than-perfect homes and with less-than-perfect skills:

  • Pack a picnic. That way you don’t have to worry about “everybody crammed into a tiny little kitchen,” she said.
  • Make dinner together. She suggested homemade stuffed crust pizza with string cheese tucked around the perimeter of the pie. Visiting with guests over dinner preparations breaks the ice, she said. And it’s better than “let’s all sit on the couch and stare at each other” while dinner is in the oven, she said.
  • Think of themes. Usually, Ehman said, if you can think of a theme, you can think of a menu. Like Mexican night — go!
  • Have questions in mind. Worried about conversation? She encourages people to have in mind three or four questions in case there’s a lull.
  • Practice “hospitality on the road.” She suggested asking yourself, “Who does our life intersect with, and what can we do to bless them?” That can be the dentist, the doctor or the mailman, and blessing them can be as simple as bringing them a homemade treat. That’s something you can do, even if your home is small or your spouse, not as excited about this whole hospitality thing.

Most importantly, Ehman said, unplug the TV—and the computer. Channels like HGTV and websites like Pinterest and Facebook mean “the Joneses parade in front of your eyes 24-7 these days,” she said. And they subtly reinforce the idea if you can’t prepare a meal or decorate a home perfectly, why bother?

Don’t let that stop you from practicing now, she said.

Yeah, I tried to make good food, but I realized that really wasn’t most important. And when I thought back on the people in my life that really felt like hospitable people to me, that really had nothing to do with how nice their house was or how good their food was. It was how I felt when I was with them.”

For more practical ways to practice hospitality, check out these posts from the hospitality series this spring on Karen Ehman’s blog.

For more some of Start Marriage Right contributors’ favorite recipes, check out our Pinterest board, “The Empty Fridge.”

RECIPE: Spinach Balls

This always was one of my favorite family recipes—now it’s a favorite of my husband and friends, too. It makes a lot, so it’s great as a side or hors d’oeuvres for company.

4 (9-ounce) packages of frozen chopped spinach

4 cups dry herb stuffing (the kind you get in a box or bag)

2 onions, peeled and diced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 cup butter, melted

8 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Thaw and drain the spinach. No, really. Drain the spinach really well. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl and chill in the refrigerator for two hours. Then roll into doughnut hole-sized balls and refrigerate again until needed. Bake in the oven at 300 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve to your own family and friends, and enjoy.



Emily McFarlan Miller is an awards-winning education reporter and adventurer, a social media-er, a Christian, a Chicagoan and, as of May 2011, the unlikeliest of newlyweds. Mostly, she writes. Connect with her at


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