the space of hospitality

***This post is part of the June synchroblog that invited bloggers to write about hospitality.***

When I think of hospitality, I think of my mother-in-law: or Mom as I call her and know her. Upon arriving to her house, it is clear she has taken the time to lovingly designate space for us to be, comfortably and naturally. Furniture is moved so that our bed is accessible. Sheets and pillows are purchased and placed so that our skin is greeted warmly. Cups and beverages, with the appropriate spoon, are laid out on the counter so that our morning is seamless. Natural soaps and toothbrushes are set out on the bathroom sink so that our grooming routines are not disrupted by forgetfulness. But these, though important, are the mere physical arrangements of her hospitality; invisible yet more powerful are the heart arrangement of hospitality. Entering her home is like entering a sanctuary, where a space has been prepared for us from the inside out.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my best friend Tammy. I remember when my Mom died, sitting in my sister’s backyard draped with trees, finding the time and creating the space to finally call her and grieve in her metaphorical arms. So much of that conversation, between my open mouth sobs and broken heartbeat explosions and implosions, was silence. Beautiful, sacred, anointed, compassionate silence. And in Tammy’s silence on the other end there was so much missing: quaint solutions, awkward utterances, quick fixes, flimsy promises, weak answers, insecure accusations–all the things that so often are projected onto those grieving by those who are clueless and uncomfortable with their own powerlessness over a friend’s sadness. In the space of her silence was hospitality, a heart arrangement of care for the other despite impotence for change.

When I think of hospitality, I think of my best friend Libbi. Walking into her classroom is like walking into a church. Student work and statements line the walls. The soft murmur of a tea kettle always whispers a welcome. Sunshine pours in from the windows, and outward from her her. The space is calm, inviting peace and pause in a frantic day. In the air hangs fresh memories of learning students, conferencing moments, counseling words, and inspiring messages. Her care for the students is beyond a lesson plan; her care is a heart arrangement for their every need: anointing a space for mind, body, heart, soul.

When I think of hospitality, I think of yoga. Entering a studio that is lit from above and within, practicing next to a community of people who are mindful of their breath, swaying to soft music, bending differently under the confident adjustment of the teacher, swelling from the joy of my body’s able movement, the release of Savasana: all of these blessings arise because someone takes the time to create a space for yogis to unite inhales and exhales. It begins with a physical arrangement of postures and cues, but it is the heart arrangement of the teacher that sanctifies a sacred space.

When I think of hospitality, I think of the times Dave and I practice Sabbath. With no phones, no tv, no computers, and no external distractions, it is just the two of us, sharing a space together of play, of laughter, of light…of love. When I talk to him, I know he is there, fully present with me. When I listen to him, I know I am there, fully present with him. And in that sacred space born of our heart arrangement, God is present as well.

Ultimately–sadly–hospitality is a dying art in our culture because our space is cluttered–daily, perpetually, annoyingly, overwhelmingly cluttered. It does not matter if cookies are baking in the oven and sweetening the air if the hostess is scrambling around the kitchen distracted. It does not matter if a room is clean and prepared if the host is self-consumed with his own problems. It does not matter if guests are welcomed into a home if all the children are attached to their video games. It does not matter if two people set apart time to hang out if they are both buried in their phones.

Hospitality is not about the minutia, but about mindfulness.

Hospitality is not about the home, but about the arrangement of the heart.

Hospitality is not about the serving, but about anointing the space.

Hospitality is not about being a Martha, but about being a Mary.

Hospitality is an age-old blessing ceremony: weaving hidden anointing-oil-threads of love and light through every interaction, connection, place, and space.

Here are other voices on hospitality:

A Sacred Rebel – Hospitality

Carol Kuniholme – Violent Unwelcome. Holy Embrace.

Glen Hager – Aunt Berthie

Leah Sophia – welcoming one another

Mary – The Space of Hospitality

Jeremy Myers – Why I Let a “Murderer” Live in My House

Loveday Anyim – Is Christian Hospitality a Dead Way of Life?

Tony Ijeh – Is Hospitality Still a Vital Part of Christianity Today?

Clara Ogwuazor Mbamalu – Have we replaced Hospitality with Hostility?

Liz Dyer – Prayer For The Week – Let us be God’s hospitality in the world

K.W. Leslie – Christian Hospitality

7 Ninja Moves for Increasing Academic Risk-Taking

Such good tips!

AFFECTIVE LIVING

We sometimes find ourselves in a culture of product-based praise. The A’s, the high test scores, the right answers: These are our educational celebrities. But we lose ​sight of the process, the effort, the risk it takes learners to achieve those great scores and grade point averages. In doing so, the message is sent: The product is worth more than the process. If we want more effort from our students, we need to be more intentional about the value of process and risk in our classrooms.

Unfortunately, many of us think​, ​”Oh great, another set of lessons and plans I have to use in order to focus on effort. ​…” Au contraire. Fostering a culture of academic risk-taking doesn’t have to be a major classroom shift. We can cultivate risk-taking and effort like ninjas, focusing on process subtly with a few sweet, simple teacher moves.

Here are seven implicit moves…

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to run all 50 states

Since I started my running journey 7 or so years ago, I’ve come to learn that running is like climbing a 14er: it’s easier when the peak is within sight and clearly identifiable–well ok, maybe not easier…better. For most of my running career, those peaks have been races: 5k’s, 10k’s, 10 milers, and 1/2 marathons. But somewhere along the way, my husband and I glanced a better peak: to run in all 50 states. Such a goal is the perfect motivator for us: runners who sometimes lose their motivation but never lose their wanderlust.
Here’s the update on our peak in progress:
Alabama
Alaska
Arizona (only Dave, not me yet)
Arkansas
California: LA runs; 2011 Rock and Roll 1/2 Marathon in San Diego
260012_10150273504627813_7922005_nColorado: Home(state) runs
Connecticut
Delaware
Florida
Georgia
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois: Home(town) runs
Indiana (only Dave, not me yet)
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky (only Dave, not me yet)
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan: Visiting best friends run
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska: A layover on a drive run
IMG_5708
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma (only Dave, not me yet)
Oregon: Portland runs
Pennsylvania
Rhode Island
South Carolina: Columbia runs
South Dakota: Wall run
Tennessee
Texas
Utah: Moab 1/2 Marathon
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia: Beckley run
Wisconsin
Wyoming
Progress: 20% complete, 80% to go. How very exciting!
(Plus, this isn’t even counting my runs in Puebla, Mexico or London, UK.)

from saddle to school: what riding reveals about teaching

I have had the soul-joy lately of reconnecting with my heart’s deepest passion: horses. For as long as I could remember, the mere glimpse of a horse brought my soul to its knees…a kind of divine whisper. Thanks to a God-placed friend, I have been partially leasing a tall and regal Saddlebred named Bruno. After I spend some time brushing the matted dirt out of his pinto coat, I lead him into the arena for some lunging and riding. For the first few times, I also received some training on how to best communicate with him; his owner, Nicole, would give me feedback as to how I was using my voice, my legs, my hands, and my seat. Every time I feel his nose at the end of the lunge line or his muscular back beneath me, or hear Nicole’s suggestions, I cannot help but think of teaching since the echoes resonate loudly between riding horses and teaching students. Here are those echoes.

  • Build the relationship. 

With Bruno, there was much time in the beginning of our riding dedicated to getting to know one another. How does he respond to the bit? How will I move in my seat? How will he tell me he’s confused? How will I ask for more, or less? What are the cues that work? What’s his favorite treat? How much do I like horse-snuggles? These questions and their answers are the foundation to how our time together will go. There can be no riding without relationship.

And so it goes with students. The foundation of my classroom must be asking and answering questions that build relationship. What are the students’ learning styles? What is my teaching approach? How will they tell me they’re confused? How will I ask for more, or less? What are the cues that work? There can be no learning without relationship.

  • Always know where you’re going.

With Bruno, what is in my head guides my body, and what guides my body guides the horse. It is subtle and nuanced. If I am planning on going left, I will think left. My hips and shoulders will shift. As will his feet and nose. If I am planning on cantering, I will think speed. My seat will change and my grip on the reins will shorten. And his feet will fly. However, if I am not thinking about where I’m going next, or if I’m not thinking, or if I’m thinking about something else, Bruno will walk right out of the arena towards the hay supply. There can be no riding without mindfulness and intention.

And so it goes with students. What is in my head guides my presence, and my presence guides the learning trajectory. It is subtle and nuanced. If I am planning on rigorous writing tasks that prepare my students for college, I will craft high-level prompts and writing instruction to support that. And the students will rise to meet that challenge. If I am planning on critical and analytical thinking, I will create a classroom filled with questions with no answers, or many answers. And the students will open their minds into greater cognitive capacities. However, if I am not thinking about the end goal, or if I’m not thinking, or if I’m thinking about something else, the students’ minds will walk right out towards the hay of distraction: side conversations, defiance, mere compliance, and/or average work. There can be no learning without a teacher’s mindfulness and intention.

  • Cue with the least amount of force.

I have learned with Bruno to ask with the least amount of force as possible. First voice. Then seat. Then legs. Then reins. Then crop. If I rely heavily on the reins, he will eventually ignore the reins (not to mention the seat and my voice). The more aggressive I am, the less sensitive he becomes. This goes back to the relationship. If he knows my voice, and he knows my seat, he is more likely to respond to those cues consistently–and willingly. Of course, this gentle cuing would not be possible were it not for the hours and hours of training Nicole has given Bruno: teaching him what she wanted, how to meet those expectations, and what the cues are for those intended outcomes.

And so it goes with students. Students must be given opportunities to respond with the least amount of “force” as possible. In the classroom, I cannot rely more on consequences than clear expectations and strong relationship. The more aggressive I am, the less sensitive the students become. The more I say “no,” the less weight that “no” carries. In the classroom, I cannot spend more time correcting a student on their misbehavior than I do training them on correct behavior. I need to invest time early on and consistently throughout the year explicitly teaching students what I want, how to meet those expectations, and what my cues are to remind them of those desired outcomes.

  • The horse’s choices are in direct correlation to my choices.

Bruno wants to please me. He wants to do his best. He wants to shine. Often, when he is not, it is not because of anything he is doing wrong, but rather because of my poor communication. The direction he turns, the speed he goes, the way he holds his head ultimately is not about him…it is about me and how I am riding.

And so it goes with students. Students want to please their teachers. They want to do their best. They want to shine. And when they are not, it reflects on what I’m doing as a teacher…or not doing. How students engage, or disengage, with the learning is correlated to how I craft the teaching.

As I sit in the saddle, I am overwhelmed by the responsibilities riding on my shoulders (pun intended). But, ultimately, I am also overwhelmed by the joy the relationship with him brings me. There is no greater feeling than being in sync with a glorious horse beneath me.

And so it goes with students. As I stand in my classroom, I am overwhelmed by the responsibilities riding on my shoulders. But, ultimately, I am also overwhelmed by the joy the relationships with students brings me. There is no greater feeling that being in sync with glorious students learning because of me.

compliments: a gift received is a gift given

The last weeks of school, a colleague and I helped some stellar seniors develop, finesse, and practice their graduation speeches. And they rocked it! As I sat and listened to them, a river of emotions swelled within the banks of my heart: joy, honor, pride, sadness, closure, gratitude, humility.

Naturally after those speeches, as is the blessing of being surrounded by good-hearted people, I was showered with compliments for my coaching. And my responses to those compliments vacillated throughout this range:

“It wasn’t just me.”

Change the subject.

“They worked their asses off.”

<Insert minimizing joke here.>

“So how are you?”

Pretend like I didn’t hear.

Since then, I’ve been reflecting on how I receive compliments. Or rather, sadly, how I reject them: how I catch them, wad them up, pop them in my mouth, chew them, and launch them, with a trail of dangling drool, back at the person. And in my reflection, I reverse the roles, feeling the sting of my own saliva-drenched compliment smacking me in the face. I hate when people reject, minimize, or divert my compliments. I am known to emphatically say when people do so: “Thank you Mary,” as a way to model for them how to respond to my compliment. But to model is not just about creating a sentence frame… to model is to live a certain way, to not just carve a path but to walk first on it…to embrace the receipt of compliments as much as I embrace the gift of compliments.

In my reflection, I’ve wondered: what does a compliment signify? It is a present, bow-tied and delivered with an anticipatory, heavy-lidded bow of the eyes. It is a kiss, echoed in the thundering hooves of a heartbeat. It is a party, decorated with polk-a-dot banners and balloons of joy. It is a standing ovation, a thousand feet rooted into the earth lifting the honored into the sky. It is a rumor of the Divine, sacred glimpses into something beyond the wall-papered halls of humans.

How dare I reject that.

Part of my reflection has been thinking about how I have received other gifts that blossomed from someone’s garden of love. When Dave asked me to marry him–with a ring tucked into a plastic egg from a quarter-operated toy dispenser from CVS, in the red F-150 outside Chili’s during a rain storm, not on his knee physically but only in his heart (and perhaps in his version of the story)–I squealed; I cried; I said “yes;” I leaned in for a kiss; I celebrated; I basked in the moment, elongating it into an eternal ribbon in my heart.

I did not play humble.

I did not change the subject.

I did not pretend like I didn’t hear.

I did not minimize the moment by making a joke.

And in my surrender to the compliment, not only did I receive a gift, but I gave one as well.

When I think of that story, and when I think of my own moments of complimenting others, I realize that giving a compliment is giving a gift. A compliment comes from a place of love, a place of dignity, a place of light.

When I am the recipient, I need to honor–with authenticity and vulnerability and joy and grace–this sacred passing of love, dignity, and light.

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