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The gift of conversation

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The upcoming holidays are a time to celebrate God-with-us by giving special attention to hospitality, to making our homes welcoming places for others so that people—those who know our Savior and those who don’t—will experience Jesus in our midst.

My mom regularly practiced hospitality. She frequently invited people—extended family, friends and guests or newcomers at church—over for meals, especially Sunday dinner. She would serve delicious, plentiful meals, often preparing some of the dishes on Saturday while also supervising my sister and me as we thoroughly cleaned the house and set the dining room table with her best dishes. I enjoyed the meals, but I wasn’t sure the house needed to be quite as spotless as my mom insisted upon. Looking back, I realize that having a house that was both clean and free of the clutter of books and toys was part of her effort to make our home a welcoming place.

Mom also hosted her family well. Her children and grandchildren were treated to tables decked with tablecloths and seasonal centerpieces and abundant meals served on her best dishes. Soon after Mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the days of preparing elaborate holiday meals were over and my sister and I began to help with the meals. Eventually, we prepared the meal and she set the table, something she could do over several days.

My mom died in March 2019, having lived the last two years of her life in nursing care and doing what she could to “host” us in her small room. After her death, one of her grandchildren noted her gift as a conversationalist, something I hadn’t fully appreciated while she was living. It wasn’t just a tidy house and good food that people enjoyed when they came to her home for a meal. It was also my mom’s ability to give guests her full attention, her questions that kept the conversation from lagging and placing a higher value on what others had to say than in her own anecdotes or ideas.

While Parkinson’s eventually made much of daily life a challenge, it didn’t stop my mom from being a conversationalist. She couldn’t always find the right word or remember names and sometimes reality got mixed up with her “dreams,” but my visits with her always involved visiting. She asked questions and listened to my replies. I miss our conversations.

Several of the writers in this issue mention the importance of conversation in nurturing hospitable homes for the holidays. I want to be a better conversationalist at Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings this year, and I wish for all of us the opportunity to affirm and practice the gifts of hospitality and conversation as we celebrate with family, friends and even strangers.

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