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There is laughter and hugging at the door as I am invited in. I am pointed towards the bedroom to drop off my bag and offered homemade soup, but I ate in the car. So instead there is tea and coffee cake and – later – ice cream bars as we curl up on the sofas and talk and giggle and grow serious.

Crowded around the restaurant table, their two kids talk over each other to ask questions about life in a faraway country and share their own prized stories. The parents get a few words in edgewise and we bounce around between ministry updates and school sporting events. The warm Italian food makes us drowsy, ready for the little girl’s bedroom that’s mine for tonight. I step over a few toys still strewn on the floor and sink into sleep.

In the bathroom attached to the guest bedroom, there is a basket with extra toiletries and even an extra toothbrush. I sit in bed with my Bible and a cup of tea made with supplies left out on the kitchen counter. It feels like the closest to home I’ve come in quite a while. My hostess won’t poke her head into my room for another hour and the morning silence is just what my soul needs at the moment.

Nearly every month in 2012 has involved some travel and in just the last four months I’ve stayed in at least twenty-five different homes. It’s been a great opportunity to learn about hospitality by experiencing it.

While a recent article equated hospitality with home cooked meals, I don’t think hospitality necessarily means an elaborate meal. In fact, some of the times I have felt most welcomed and loved by a host was not accompanied by a food at all

Here are my top three observations about hospitality:

1)      Good hospitality means a posture of listening.
This comes first on my list because it is possibly the simplest act of hospitality. In a coffee shop, a car, or the living room couch – simply settling in, asking a few good questions, and listening is the best welcome possible.

2)      Good hospitality means sharing life.
A story about the grandkids, a window on life at work, or a glimpse of the journey of grieving after losing a spouse are all pieces of conversations that stand out it my mind as especially hospitable. In the past four months, I have heard hundreds of personal stories. Sometimes I think it’s a little crazy how much people will share with a traveling stranger, but it’s those little pieces of honesty that ultimately communicated warmth and welcome.

3)      Good hospitality means generously looking after your guests.
In fact, “generosity” is one of the key words in the dictionary’s definition of hospitality. Generosity is shown in a number of ways – everything from the sweet hostess who slipped me some cash “for emergencies” to the pastor and his wife who sat me down for a serious talk which involved their pastoral skills and concern for me bringing some much-needed advice. Taking your guest out for lunch is an act of generosity, as is making sure there’s a little extra shampoo around in case they forgot to pack it. (woops!)

It doesn’t have to be extravagant or lavish or money (which we usually equate with “generous”) – generosity simply means welcoming someone into your space with the attitude of “whatever I can do for you, my hand is open”.

Those are my top three observations about hospitality that stand whatever the personal style of the host and hostess. What are yours? Can you think of a time you felt especially welcomed by someone? What made you feel that way?