Tag: hostess

A Preview of A Laboring Hand

November is halfway over. My Reflections series has been introduced, and I’m thankful for those of you who have purchased, read and reviewed the book. But it is only the first in a series, and I’m going to give you a peek inside the second book in the series today.

Today’s excerpt comes from A Laboring Hand, Reflections Book Two, which releases to the public in January 2020.

If you’re familiar with Mary and Martha of Bethany, you’ll recognize this scene. It’s based on Luke 10:38-42. I’m intentionally starting in the middle of the scene so you can’t see what leads up to Martha’s frustration.

I hope you glimpse the overwhelmed, responsible big sister whose trying to make sure her guests are content and satisfied. Not only is she serious about being the “hostess with the mostest,” Martha wants her siblings to help.

How often have you been frustrated with the lack of help from your family during a hosted event? Or maybe I’m the only person who can imagine this actually happening.

Excerpted from A Laboring Hand, chapter four:

Soon enough, the laughter and banter of a crowd of dusty men filled the room. I welcomed them with a small bowl of water and a clean linen cloth. Well, it was clean for the first man or two who dried their hands.

Yeshua reclined at the head of the table on the largest cushion which my parents had often shared. John bar Zebedee, one of the Boanerges, sat on it with the Master. He was only a couple years older than Mary and the youngest of all the Master’s followers.

The crowd of dirty disciples filled the room, folded onto other cushions. Some chose to lean against the wall on rugs Laz had pulled from his room and ours. The dirt floor could hardly be seen with so many men sprawled around the room.

Mary and I circulated with pitchers, filling every cup we owned and still two men shared each one of the battered pottery pieces. Once we finished, I began to distribute bowls of spiced beans and cloth-wrapped packages of bread, still warm from their place on the hearth. I turned to ask Mary to assist me, but she’d seated herself cross-legged at Yeshua’s feet, staring up as he started to teach.

I blinked hard. What on earth was she thinking? Was this her rebellion since I hadn’t let her get water for foot washing? She was certainly positioned in a way that she could wash his feet if she had the supplies.

I continued bustling around taking care of our guests, but my frustration grew. Yeshua’s authoritative voice, usually so soothing, fueled the ire inside me. He could make her help me. I glanced at Laz, but my brother was watching the Master and scribbling on a piece of parchment. Mary never once looked my way, even when I nudged her with my ankle as I passed to refill the cup John shared with Yeshua.

They had promised to help. When I’d first mentioned inviting the group to stay over for more than a day, both Laz and Mary agreed to help with the work. Now they sat there, enjoying Yeshua’s teaching while I served everyone.

With a careful eye, I glanced at every cup and bowl. Levi raised his cup in my direction, and I sidled through the sprawled bodies to fill it, nearly tripping on another man’s filthy feet.

The mud-caked toes never even flinched, and my bubble of anger swelled. I swallowed it, and turned to top off his cup. He stared through me, as if I were invisible, but I was used to that from working in the Pharisee’s home. In the past, Yeshua’s friends were more gracious.

Unrest stirred inside me as I shuffled around, refilling cups and then fetching more bread to replenish the diminishing stacks. After refilling my pitcher from the jar stored beneath the eaves, I counted the loaves in the linen clothes on the counter. Only three dozen were left. Soon, I would need to bake more.

And that’s when it became too much. I strode toward Yeshua holding the jug of watered wine aloft and jabbed my sister with a meaningful kick. She blinked, staring at me for a moment as if I’d woken her from a deep sleep.

As I filled the Lord’s cup, I said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

A hush descended in the room. I heard the wine trickle against what was in his cup. Our eyes met.

“Bid her to help me.” Couldn’t he see how much work needed to be done? And Mary was just sitting there like a useless lump.

“Martha.” His voice was quieter than it had been, almost gentle.

At the sound of my name from his lips, the turmoil loosened inside me. Why had I waited so long to ask for his assistance? His dark eyes filled with understanding and concern. I knew he would help me because he cared about me.

“Martha, you’re anxious and worried about many things.”

The comfort oozing through me turned sharp and became a prickle of conviction. Worry was sin. My father had told me so.

“But one thing is needful.”

One thing? I wanted to jerk my hand around at the crowd of hungry men who needed food, drink, and places to sleep. There were many things that needed to be taken care of. I knew he could see that.

Yeshua sighed. His fingers rested on the handle of the pitcher beside mine. They were square and scuffed—working man’s hands.

“And Mary hath chosen that good part.” His voice rose slightly, but not with anger or impatience, and his hand dropped to his lap. “And that won’t be taken away from her.”

Everything warred within me as I struggled to comprehend his words. Mary was sitting there while our guests needed food and drink. How was that better than helping me meet their needs?

With one long glance, he turned to scan the room. “A certain man…”

I recognized the beginning of a parable. Usually I loved his stories—they always carried so much spiritual significance. Tonight, I couldn’t listen because the words he’d spoken to me stung my heart.

Mary hath chosen that good part.

I filled cups with lowered eyes. Tears burned at the back of my eyelids whenever I blinked, but I widened my eyes and jerked my shawl up to cover most of my face.

Mary sat at his feet doing nothing, but Yeshua said she’d chosen the good part. Mary hath chosen that good part. The words kept echoing all evening, drowning out the Master’s stories and the disciples’ questions.

Even now, as I’m writing about it, his gentle admonition stings somewhere deep in my soul. Was there something wrong with my desire to make the men comfortable? Did Yeshua not want a meal and refreshment while he was talking?

One thing is needful. What one thing?

Mary stirred on our shared bed. Her forehead wrinkled and then smoothed. As I’d helped her prepare for bed, I’d wanted to ask about the lessons, but I felt foolish. If I asked, she would know that I hadn’t paid attention while Yeshua taught.

Why did that make me feel guilty? Yeshua wasn’t angry with me. He even thanked me for the food and drink as I passed him to go to bed.

Yahweh help me understand what this means. What is the one needful thing for me to do? Sit and listen like my sister?

I sighed and my heart weighed more heavily in my chest. But if I do that, who will do the work?

**This is copyrighted material.

Are you ready to read MORE of Martha’s story? If you will commit to posting a review of the book on Amazon (and perhaps Goodreads and Book Bub), you can sign up for an advance copy. They will be going out to my Advance Review Team in December. Sign up here.

The Art of being a Hostess

Like with most things in life, exceptional hostessing is an art of fine degrees. Some women have the gift of creating a warm welcoming atmosphere and fine food, all at the same time. Others are willing to get the book and do the work to make it appear they have that touch.

I am neither of those women. In fact, the idea of hosting a large quantity of people, even family, in my home and being responsible for their every comfort sends me into a semi-comatose state. You can find me huddling beneath my covers babbling nonsense.

Over the years, I’ve gotten better at hiding that reaction. Still, it circles like a vulture over the corpse of my first failed attempt at being a hostess.

I was a young wife and younger mother. My husband and I had three other couples over to our 1200 square foot home. I was preparing a fine dinner (and I didn’t even know what that meant).

For weeks, I had combed through recipes in the volumes I owned. (Yes, before the days of Google searches, we thumbed through books). I found an exceptional recipe for an appetizer and a savory sounding meat glaze.

I decided to keep the side dishes simple: baked potatoes and green beans. I needed to focus on these new recipes. I didn’t want to press my luck by overreaching my culinary skills. (I asked the ladies to bring salad or dessert.)

The sweet and sour chicken wings were labor intensive. There was double dipping in egg and flour and basting during the extended oven time. I made them in advance, and was pleased by their appearance. My husband gave the thumbs up after tasting one.

The glaze for the pork chops took some time and effort, but I could taste test it along the way. It seemed appropriately tangy with a little sweetness.

I set the oven to 400 degrees and scrubbed the potatoes. I opened cans of green beans (don’t frown; I sprinkled them with freshly crisped bacon bits and minced onion). All seemed in order.

People arrived. Laughter mingled with the succulent smell of roasting pork. Everyone snacked on the wings, licking their fingers. It boggled my mind: finger-licking good chicken – that I made from scratch.

Dinner time arrived. I set everything on the table. Guests gathered round, passed the dishes and served up their plates.

I picked up my fork and knife to slice open my baked potato. I had all the necessary toppings lined out in pretty crystal bowls: sour cream, butter, chives, bacon bits.

Rather than a rush of steam, resistance and a decided crunch greeted my utensils. I pushed open the clamshell halves and noticed the middle of the potato had a wet sheen. I poked it with my fork without satisfactory results.

Perhaps I was the only one whose potato wasn’t cooked completely. *Shakes head* Such an innocent, still prone to wishful thinking.

The obligatory compliments began as everyone sampled their food. The pork might have been slightly dry, but the flavor was exceptional. Green beans are so much better with bacon. And on and on.

“I like my potatoes crunchy,” one of the men said. To demonstrate his honesty, he sliced off a chunk and popped it in his mouth. What was that sound? Was he eating potato chips?

My appetite fled along with any desire to ever cook for a group of people again. At that moment the idea of eating anything plagued me worse than morning sickness.

Needless to say, I have cooked for people from my husband’s office (nerve-racking to the ultimate), visiting evangelists (you expect preachers to be polite) and large family gatherings.

Every time I experience the same panic beforehand. At least for Thanksgiving dinner this year, I knew what food was on the menu. Of course, my turkey baking skills are mostly limited to turkey breasts, since that is what my husband prefers.

Fortunately with a few keystrokes, I can Google “easy turkey roasting” and find a bevy of step-by-step instructions, complete with photographs. Some of them even have videos.

Being a great hostess is a mite easier these days. I have yet to master the art, however.

I can’t imagine Martha Stewart looking to Google for help. I know my mother in law, hostess extraordinaire of the authentic kind, uses the Internet from time to time, but mostly to add something new to her tried and true.

What I enjoy about Mrs. Hughson is that she can sit and visit with her guests or work them in the kitchen with the confidence of a professional. If something is done early, she never panics. She makes plenty of food (enough for the entire county) so there’s no worry folks will go hungry.

What do you think makes an excellent hostess? Is it the food or the atmosphere that you believe takes the most skill to master?