By Sandy Gilbert – HCC Volunteer
My family’s customs have always included big holiday dinners and family gatherings with good food, festive decorations, and lots and lots of presents. Over the years I have added to the customs by buying Christmas dishes, fancy platters, and 54 table cloths.
We have sterling silver, crystal goblets, and beautiful festive centerpieces.
I have attended classes to learn how to create festive decorations, bought special ornaments every year, and put up lights.
We sent out over 100 Christmas cards most years.
We bought and wore festive clothing.
We played Christmas carols every day for a month.
We own 43 Christmas CD’s.
We were big consumers of the trappings of Christmas.
Even with all the trappings, however, our celebrations seemed empty.
Then I met two women, Lois Sonstegard and Debby Hedlund, who became dear friends. Lois grew up in Japan to missionary parents. Lois told me her parents always invited strangers, and everyone else who was around, to family meals. Debby’s family in Robbinsdale did the same. They enjoyed fascinating conversation and great fellowship. They said they learned so much from the strangers who visited their families. They recalled sitting and listening to conversations about how God was working through their work. They showed a living faith that transformed those around them.
My family had never invited strangers in for meals. We have a large family that fills the house. It was inconceivable to me that we would invite outsiders to family meals. I wasn’t sure how inviting the stranger would work in our family. I wondered, however, if we had somehow missed the real spirit of religious celebrations by failing to invite others into our home.
Then I got to know the Chinese students who came to our church. I knew they had never experienced an Easter or Christmas celebration. I knew they would be alone at these special times if we didn’t reach out and invite them to our family celebration. So we did. What a hit with the family! We sat together and talked and laughed. What incredible stories! Joy simply filled the home. For several years now, we have invited Chinese friends to celebrate Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter with our family. We love it. We only wish we could invite them all.
As Jesus said, “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in….’” (Matthew 25: 35-35). Our family celebrations have been transformed from just trappings to fellowship. Our adult children and grandchildren consider our Chinese friends to be family. Jesus’ gentle plea to welcome the stranger has blessed our family.
Bruce and I would rather be remembered by our grandchildren for following these words than for giving great Christmas presents and setting a pretty table.