Getting to know people during the pandemic was not easy for anyone. Loneliness was on the rise as isolation lingered.
Sue Donaldson wouldn’t let a pandemic stop her from connecting with the people in her neighborhood, though. Living in Central California where lemon trees are common, she printed her father’s favorite lemon cake recipe, enclosed it in a bag of lemons, and delivered them to her neighbors.
It was her way of letting people know they weren’t as alone as they felt.
Donaldson made a career of speaking, writing, and podcasting about the fading art of hospitality. She believes the people one shares life with are the most important legacy one can leave.
She began thinking about hospitality and legacy when a friend shared that her parents were losing cognitive function in their 80s. The conversation showed her that you never know how long life will last or what the quality of your life will be. “You live a little bit more intentionally when you realize there’s a time limit on how straight you can think,” she reflected.
Yet making time for others can be difficult.
“We live by the tyranny of the urgent, where we have to do sixteen things a day. So, we don’t even think about something as grand as our legacy… not realizing that what we’re doing step by step that day is our legacy,” Donaldson reflected.
Instead, Donaldson encourages simple practices that take a little courage but pay off big relationally. “We need to live our legacy now and not have people be surprised when they open our will,” she said.
For instance, Donaldson regularly hosts wine nights at her home and invites women she meets around town or in her neighborhood. She sets up the conversation with two questions: a general ice breaker and a deeper one that encourages more meaningful relationships.
A devout Christian, Donaldson’s goal isn’t what some might think. “When we have mutual vulnerability, that’s where real conversation comes from,” she said. Then she added, “Hospitality is a way of issuing an invitation to your table while passing on God’s invitation to His table.”
Not everyone is comfortable bringing strangers into their home. They may feel self-conscious about their space and afraid of judgment, which Donaldson understands. She once hired a housekeeper to clean before having guests, because she had been to their immaculate home.
But this misses the point. “The purpose of hospitality is to serve, not to show off. True hospitality is about the other person,” Donaldson opined. Rather than thinking about what the other person thinks of you as the host, try to make him or her feel at home.
On Christmas Eve, Donaldson hosts a bread and soup night for friends without family in the area. “I have women who come who always want to do the dishes, and I invite them every time,” she said with a chuckle.
The women doing the dishes are also talking and catching up on the year. Being too proud to let them take on that chore would deprive them of relational opportunities. “Giving someone a job can be a gift,” she mused.
What if you are not sure how to get started with hosting and starting conversations?
Donaldson has three pieces of advice.
First, keep it simple. “Hospitality is as simple as a plate of cookies and coffee,” she said, although she admits she often tries new recipes. Is that a risk? “No, there’s always strawberries and back-up toast,” she quickly responded.
“Hospitality doesn’t have to be elaborate to be effective.”
Second, don’t obsess over who accepts your invitation. You never know why someone responds the way they do. Trust the intuition to ask and move on. “My job is not to see who is coming. My job is to invite,” she said.
Finally, have an open mind. “Be genuinely curious,” Donaldson said with a smile. She never comes with canned questions, because she prefers to start with questions about the person in front of her and let what they share lead into the conversation.
“Real hospitality is showing off God’s welcome. He welcomed us to His table so that our hospitality reflects His welcome heart,” she reflected.
When she wanted to start a podcast, she named it Welcome Heart: Living a Legacy Life to reflect her desire to show God’s welcome to others and the difference it can make in the world.
One does not have to make a huge splash with fame or fortune. One only needs a plate of cookies, a couple of well-chosen questions, and an open door.
“Having an open heart should translate to having an open door, and that’s a legacy,” Donaldson said.
May 2022 Issue