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What does “loving the stranger” mean? And how do we start a friendship with someone who seems so different from us? Today’s guest, Rosaria Butterfield, gives us the first step: practicing “radically ordinary hospitality.” Rosaria is an author, speaker, pastor’s wife, and homeschool mom in Durham, North Carolina. Her newest book The Gospel Comes with a Key tells how Rosaria and her husband Kent use their home as a mission field as they dine with guests every night, and how they’ve opened their not-really-a-spare-bedroom to house guests. Rosaria shares the struggle of becoming a bridge for hospitality, the crippling pain of loneliness, why she kept a man running meth lab in her neighborhood as her house guest, and her recipe for a hearty minestrone soup.
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The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World by Rosaria Butterfield
Narrator: Desperate for a way to slow down and connect, Kristin Schell put an ordinary picnic table in her front yard and painted it turquoise. That first Turquoise Table became a meeting place for friends and neighbors, a place to connect, and a symbol of hospitality. Now, Kristin invites you and her special guests to join her here at The Turquoise Table Podcast. Welcome.
Kristin: Hello, welcome to The Turquoise Table Podcast. I’m your host, Kristin Schell.
We talk a lot about hospitality and what that really means. And we know that, literally, the Greek root of hospitality means “love of stranger.” But what does that look like? How do we love the strangers in our lives?
Well, today’s guest, Rosaria Butterfield, knows what it means to love and be loved by total strangers. She is the author of the new book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in Our Post-Christian World. Y’all, I have dog-eared and highlighted almost every page of this book. It’s that good. One of my favorite quotes is this:
“The truly hospitable aren’t embarrassed to keep friendships with people who are different.” – Rosaria Butterfield
And that’s what we’re gonna dive into today. How do we welcome people who are different than us to our Turquoise Tables?
Rosaria shares stories of how she and her family have opened up their doors and used their kitchen table as a place to love people from all walks of life. Y’all, she’s the real deal. She’s gonna share about Hank, who lives in their neighborhood who’s also a meth dealer. And she’s gonna tell us about the homeless family who is currently living in their spare bedroom.
Now, Rosaria defines what radical ordinary hospitality looks like. And don’t be scared. Don’t be scared about the stories of the meth dealer or the homeless family that they’ve invited in. It’s not as overwhelming or as hard as you might think. And it’s not something we’re all going to be called to do. Rosaria actually ends up giving us really, really wise and practical information to just kind of start where we are. In fact, be sure to listen all the way to the end of our conversation, where Rosaria shares her famous Italian minestrone soup recipe. She says it’s the best way to bring people to the table.
She’s a delight. Our conversation is all over the map, but she is wise and witty, and she’s gonna offer us a treasure trove of wisdom in this conversation today. Rosaria lives in North Carolina with her husband, who is a pastor named Kent, and their children. And here’s a fun tidbit that I did not know: they have a lime green Turquoise Table. How fabulous is that? So without further ado, here’s our guest today.
What Is Radically Ordinary Hospitality?
Kristin: Oh, welcome to The Turquoise Table. Rosaria, I am so excited to have you here today.
Rosaria: Oh, Kristin, I’m so excited to be here today. Thank you.
Kristin: Well, I’ve introduced you before, so the audience knows just a little bit about you and your book. But I would love for you to tell us about your family, where you live, kind of what . . . Just a glimpse into your everyday life.
Rosaria: Oh, okay. It’s very messy. I don’t know . . . You really want to see this?
Kristin: I do.
Kristin: And we’re kindred spirits, obviously.
Rosaria: Okay, okay. Alright. That’s right. I’m not gonna scare you. I might scare others.
Well, my name is Rosaria Butterfield. I live in Durham, North Carolina. And I am a pastor’s wife and a homeschool mom. And that sounds so cleaned up that I don’t even recognize myself in that, so . . . But those are my stats in many ways.
I’m also a writer. And we have four children, all by adoption, and two of our children came to us via foster care at the age of 17. So I tell people that I have adopted people who stand a foot taller than I do when I first met them, and that is true.
So I am short, that is true, too. I’m a short Italian woman. For the last 17 years that I have been married. My husband’s name is Kent Butterfield and, and we both were the only Christians in our extended families. And so we remember what it was like to be lonely. And I would say over the course of the years as I’m living and learning and listening to people, I would say that crushing loneliness is maybe one of the worst things that a person can endure.
“Crushing loneliness is maybe one of the worst things that a person can endure.” Rosaria Butterfield
And as a Christian who loves the Bible and reads it, somewhat compulsively, I have come to learn that there are really only two Biblical examples of loneliness. That’s for a political prisoner or a martyr. And yet often we relegate people to crushing loneliness for every reason or no reason.
But when Kent and I moved here . . . We moved here in 2012 and you know, there’s something about moving to a new place. It’s a fresh start, right? And we very much wanted to continue practicing what we call “radically ordinary hospitality.” But we really wanted to get to know our neighbors. Not just one of our neighbors or two of our neighbors, not just the neighbors who had kids who are the same age as our kids, but we really feel and believe that God doesn’t get the address wrong. So we wanted to know our neighbors.
Now we moved here during the time when the world is becoming more and more polarized, especially around sexual ethics, what that means.
Rosaria: And, you know, I have some history with that. I had lived as a lesbian for over a decade and had advocated for and genuinely believed in LGBTQ rights for many years prior to my living as a lesbian. And so, you know, I can really see this from many sides.
And a polarized world is not a hospitable world. One of the many compelling things to me about Jesus is that Jesus stood with and dined with the sinner and the stranger. Now, when He did that, He didn’t become a sinner, but He did become strange.
“A polarized world is not a hospitable world.” – Rosaria Butterfield
Rosaria: And the same is true for us. You know, if we really want to do that, we know you’re not going to be contaminated by keeping company with your neighbors.
Rosaria: But, you will be considered strange by some others. So, you know, that’s sort of the general big picture.
The Key to a Rich Life: Seeking “The Stranger”
Rosaria: So Kent and I practiced hospitality every day. We’ve made a real commitment to our neighbors, in part because of a crisis that happened in our neighborhood shortly after we moved in. But we also really take seriously the Biblical mandate that we find in Hebrews 13 to entertain or pursue care for the stranger.
Rosaria: You know, most of our middle class lives, where do you find a stranger? They just don’t fall from the sky, you know? They don’t. So you have to seek them.
And so that’s one of the things we’ve learned is that a Christian life is a very rich life when you seek out strangers. And you can do that through agencies like, say, family and other things. And those strangers become neighbors, and then your neighbors become part of your family of God. And that is an exciting Christian life to me. That is an exciting life to me. That’s a life that says that Jesus is real and risen. Gritty. Can handle anything, any conversation we need to have, any problem we need to have. He’s always leading from the front. It’s never too late.
“A Christian life is a very rich life when you seek out strangers.” – Rosaria Butterfield
But also that Jesus is not some prop we pull out Sunday mornings because we live here in the South. Or, you know, Wednesday nights for youth group. And, you know, a lot of the problems that we’ve seen as Christians, problems that we I think appropriately categorize as what it means to live in a post-Christian world, a lot of those problems we contributed to. And, you know, now is the time to roll up our sleeves and chop some vegetables.
So Kristin and I had a chance to talk before the audio was on. I’m not on any social media, so I spend zero time on Twitter and a lot of time peeling potatoes.
Kristin: I love that.
Rosaria: I sin less when I do that, I think, you know?
Kristin: It’s just between you and the potatoes and God.
Rosaria: Exactly! Exactly! I’ve never been rebuked by a potato. I mean, it hasn’t happened yet.
Kristin: Oh, I love it.
There are many, many, many things that I want to ask. And so I’m just gonna dive in because I don’t even really know where to start.
Opening Our Homes to Others
Kristin: But let’s actually start with your definition of ‘radical ordinary hospitality’, because I think that’s important for us to understand as we continue our conversation.
Kristin: So tell us about it.
Rosaria: Okay, alright. Well, it basically means that . . . For those of you who are listening and are Bible readers, and you’ve been in the New Testament and you’re there in The Book of Acts, I hope it looks like The Book of Acts. It means that, you know, that the early church, they gathered daily. And they did that because they were persecuted. I’m not saying that we are right now, but they were persecuted and they gathered daily because they needed each other. Because they needed to live like a family. And because they needed the means of grace that God has given us to continue to do the things that Christians are always called to do, turn the other cheek. Love your neighbors as yourself.
“They needed the means of grace that God has given us to continue to do the things that Christians are always called to do, turn the other cheek. Love your neighbors as yourself. “ – Rosaria Butterfield
And so by gathering daily they were able to strengthen themselves in the Lord, and also develop deep relationships with one another that are organic and true. And also by gathering daily, they never scapegoated single people. They didn’t make people who were just like them, if that’s the case. And they didn’t relegate people to crushing loneliness because God had called them to singleness. Or disability. Or any number of other things, not that singleness is a disability, but anything that might make you slightly, you know, just potentially more isolated.
So the first thing we do is our home is open to our church family and our Christian neighbors in a daily way, because every day—we probably do the same thing that you do—you eat every day. People do that, unless you’re fasting. You eat every day. And so we have decided that it would be really fun to just set apart our evening meal as that time when people could enter without much of an invitation. And so we gather with those members of our church family, often those members who are single or who work fairly close to where we live. But then we also invite our neighbors. And sometimes we do this in a pretty open way. Other times we do this in a slightly more moderate way. But it basically has meant that for years now, every night at our table, it’s been more than just us.
And also, every night at our table, I have not just been host. I’ve been host and guest. So I homeschool children, some with some learning issues that make for a certain amount of headbanging against the table—that would be mine. Again, not a picture I necessarily want you to remember of me, but basically what it means is that at five o’clock when, you know, I’m just at the end of my rope, and so are my children.
Kristin: The witching hour.
Rosaria: Yeah, exactly! It means that folks from the church and the neighborhood start to wander in. And, you know, they just tap me on the shoulder and move me along. Often at that point, you will easily find—which is what I’m looking at right now—a pile of unfolded laundry on my dining room table. And, you know, these are sensible, single women. So they do a very sensible thing with that laundry, they stuff it back in the dryer.
Kristin: How many times have we re-dried the clean clothes?
Rosaria: Just shove it somewhere. And then we, you know, we set the table. And I usually do my meal prep in the morning. My meal prep is extremely simple. I don’t say, “Ooh, we’re having six people over for dinner. I’m going to make a meal for six.” I’m, you know, I’m named after the rosary, I’m Italian, I put everything in a pot and I add more seasonings and water if a lot more people walk through the door.
Kristin: I love that, ’cause that’s the first thing I was gonna say, you know?
How to Become Front Yard People
Kristin: Take us back to like one of the very first times you and Kent, you know, opened up? Because people now know that they are welcome in the Butterfield home and it’s a thing. But let’s say someone is thinking—
Rosaria: How do we start?
Kristin: Yeah. How do you start? And maybe they’ve got a Turquoise Table and they want to bring people inside now.
Rosaria: That’s right. That’s right.
Kristin: You know? So, like, what does that look like the first few times?
Rosaria: Right. That’s a great question. So I didn’t know that turquoise was the table color. My table is neon green. So—
Kristin: I love that.
Rosaria: What we did was when we moved here, we read that book The Art of Neighboring.
Rosaria: And you know, it’s such a good book, right? It’s so like . . . Okay. So we put the grill in the front yard, and my neighbor Ryan and my husband Kent built a picnic table, and all the kids painted it . . . Mostly painted it and themselves and the dog a neon lime green. And then we went to our Nextdoor app and we said, “Hi, we’re the Butterfields. We’re new in town. There’s a lot going on in our neighborhood.” That was, again, during the time when the marriage decision was raw and everybody had a placard in their front yard but us.
Rosaria: So we said, “Please meet us in our front yard Thursday night, seven o’clock. Meet at the neon green table. We are going to prayer walk.”
Rosaria: And, you know, sometimes one person showed up, sometimes 30. We had moms with strollers, dogs on leashes, kids on bicycles. Sometimes people gathered with us just because they wanted to know what Christians do when they pray. “What do you people pray for?”
2 Things That Happen When You Send Invitations
Rosaria: But after years of doing that, one thing that started happening was that people would meet us. They’d sit on their front porch and they’d wait until they see us. And then they’d run out and they’d say, “Please pray for this.” Or, “Did you know what was going on there?” So two things happened when you do something like that. And in our neighborhood, we have 300 households. And so we seasonally will invite everyone to something.
And two things happen when you invite everyone to something. First, everybody feels loved.
Rosaria: And everybody has a private life that’s messy. And for your neighbors, who are struggling with abuse, or with addiction, quite frankly if you invite them to your home three Tuesdays, you know, from yesterday, they don’t know if they’re going to be sober or safe that day. They can’t. You’ve invited them to do something they really can’t give you a good answer to.
Rosaria: But if every Thursday night you basically have an open house that is centered around fellowship and food and prayer, one of those Thursday nights they’re going to be available. And they’re going to be sober, or they’re going to be safe. And they’re going to show up.
The other thing that happens when you put something like this on a local app is you get people sending you private messages, saying things like, “Nobody’s invited me to anything since the divorce.”
Kristin: I’ve had that same email.
Rosaria: Yeah, I mean, it’s crazy. And your heart breaks. And you also learn where the shut-ins are. The older people that don’t get out of their home much. And those people are . . . You know, they’re stubborn. They want to stay in their home.
Rosaria: But, you know, it doesn’t help that they have a daughter who’s in Tennessee if you live in Durham. You know, it doesn’t—
Rosaria: You know, it helps a little, but not . . . So you also get to know where the needs are. And, you know, one of the first things that Christians should worry about is, How can I be earthly and spiritually good to my neighbors?
“How can I be earthly and spiritually good to my neighbors?” – Rosaria Butterfield
Love the Ones That Show Up
Rosaria: So, the first thing that happens when you do these open invitations is everybody feels loved. And the second thing that happens is 10 percent of the people show up.
Rosaria: So, you know—
Kristin: That’s a very good point.
Rosaria: You don’t have to worry, you know? Like, you’re not . . . 300 people are not gonna show up. And wouldn’t it be amazing if they did?
Kristin: Wouldn’t it? I mean, that was just be—
Rosaria: Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Kristin: I mean, talk about a parable.
Kristin: Even if only 10 percent show up, it’s a parable.
But I think we live in fear that if I send the invitation, which is just our pride, or our fear, either way, you know? But that’s so important to remember, that, you know, cast a wide net.
Kristin: But love the few that do come.
Rosaria: Oh yes, yes. And I think sometimes it’s fear. Sometimes it’s pride. And sometimes it’s a confusion that when you invite somebody to something, you are only the host. And that’s not the model that Jesus gives us. That’s the model that, you know, the world gives us. That’s the model that Starbucks gives us. That’s the model that, you know, that other things give you. But it’s not the model that Jesus gives you.
So, you know what? If 300 people showed up and you ran out of food, here’s the cool thing that would happen. The last person parked in your driveway would need to go to Food Lion for more hot dogs.
Kristin: And they would.
Rosaria: And they would. And they feel—
Rosaria: Really special and important. And then they’d be the host, and you’d be the guest. And that’s wonderful.
It’s Hard to be a Guest Sometimes
Kristin: Oh, I love that. And I loved it in your book that you do. You weave that through so beautifully in practicing as Jesus did being both guest and host. And that is so hard. I hear over and over again, specifically from women, that it’s harder for them to be the guest than it is to be the host. And that, that’s just a discipline that they’re not comfortable with. And I have . . . I mean, I’ve felt that way. I mean, now I’ve gotten used to it. So I think it takes just some practicing, you know? Just surrender to it, and then it actually feels really good.
Kristin: It’s a welcome relief to know we don’t burden at all.
Kristin: And it is . . . It’s so much more giving. And I think to your point, too, that that does model the difference in entertainment and hospitality. Because hospitality is, you know, is like a circle, you know?
Rosaria: Yes, that’s right.
Kristin: And it’s full circle.
Kristin: And entertainment, you know, is just me on a stage kind of preaching down.
Rosaria: I think that’s exactly right. And I think we have to be careful about how we use our gifts. I mean, I think we’ve often been told, you know, “If you have these gifts, these gifts of hospitality, use them, use them, use them.” But, you know, sometimes the Lord asks us to use our weaknesses. And sometimes our gifts are the things that really trip us up.
“Sometimes the Lord asks us to use our weaknesses. And sometimes our gifts are the things that really trip us up.” – Rosaria Butterfield
Kristin: Oh, talk to me about that a little bit. That’s important.
Why We Should Practice Regular Hospitality
Rosaria: You know, because they start to become things unto themselves instead of bridges to walk on. So if you consider yourself someone who is especially good at setting a table, if people either don’t appreciate it, or if there all of a sudden not so many plates on the table, you can’t see the table, you start to get focused on the wrong things.
But, you know, just again, in the Bible when the great heroes of the faith, when they fall, they don’t fall on their weaknesses. They tend to fall on their strengths.
“Great heroes of the faith, when they fall, they don’t fall on their weaknesses. They tend to fall on their strengths.” – Rosaria Butterfield
You know, David’s big failure was not that he failed in his military obedience to God. He was a great military man. He failed in so many ways because his pride really became triggered by all of his gifts. And so, the image of Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus is a beautiful picture of service. And the fact that she’s doing this under the, you know, with the Pharisees complaining in the background about, “Oh, this woman of ill repute is touching the Prophet.”
Rosaria: And you know, I just . . . I think that we need to be . . . But when we have it too planned out, and our gifts are at the center of that planning, there’s no room for spontaneity. And sometimes there’s even a bit of maybe a rejection of it. And yet, the Lord works so powerfully and so organically when we are just living our transparent lives. And that means being messy. Because people want to know where God is in your suffering, not where He is in your perfection or in your cleaned upness. Or even in your happiness.
“The Lord works so powerfully and so organically when we are just living our transparent lives. And that means being messy.” – Rosaria Butterfield
And that’s why that hospitality needs to be not just open, but regular. It’s regular, it’s not like an occasional poem. It’s not like a holiday. It’s not seasonal, it’s regular. And that’s in part so that we can be transparent about how God is helping us in our trials. Because that’s where it really matters, don’t you think?
Practical, Unfussy, Constant
Kristin: Oh, absolutely. And I know that just from living it, as are you. And that profound loneliness that you talked about earlier, you can’t meet . . . Well, I have not been able to meet someone in that their profound loneliness through perfection or through having it all together. I mean, that repels someone who is hurt. It repelled me when I was lonely and hurt.
Rosaria: That’s right. That’s right.
Kristin: And so . . . But doing that in an authentic way . . . ‘Cause you don’t want to lead with, you know, and just sort of toss it all out there so it’s overwhelming, too.
Rosaria: Right. Right.
Kristin: And so I love how you’ve said in your book . . . You define your hospitality. You say,
“My hospitality is practical, unfussy, and constant.” – Rosaria Butterfield
Kristin: And that sounds so simple, and yet it is if we are talking about true Biblical hospitality.
Kristin: But guess what? We live in the world. And so, talk to me just a little bit about what that means. Even in the practical notion, you said a little bit about just having a pot on the table, or on the stove, and you know, you’re Italian so you have that. But talk about the practical side of that, and also the constant side of that. ‘Cause I think that freaks people out a little bit, that, “I’ve constantly got to have people around.”
Rosaria: Right, right. And you know, I don’t think you constantly have to have people around. I think that, you know, we . . . Kent and I have felt for quite some time that part of why we live in a world where Christian faith is an object of sometimes both fear and even opposition is that we don’t have strong relationships with people who think differently than we do. I mean, we live in a world where your words can’t be stronger than your relationships. And yet, you know, in no small part because of social media and news media and other things, just the opposite has been the case. Our words are often much more strong and even strident and brusque than our relationships. And so for us the practice of daily hospitality has been one way that we can meter this, and that we can build those strong relationships.
I also think that it’s easier to do things regularly than to do them occasionally.
Rosaria: You know, I keep a steno pad right by the coffee pot. And it’s open and you see my shopping list. And there are enough people in this house that I have people offer to do that. I have people who tear the page off and say, “I’ve gotta pass by Kroger on my way home from work tomorrow. I’ll pick this up.”
Rosaria: That happens when you’re doing this is that you have stakeholders. You have people who care about this. People who find their sense of community here, you know? Especially, again, for our singles, the world is a hard place. And to come home to a meal and a family of God and a time to process what happened at work, and to have time to pour over a passage of the Bible, and pray together, that can be the difference between faith and to terror for many people.
How to Use What You Have to Serve Others
Rosaria: So I start out, I’m a morning person. I get up early. I like being a morning person, because nobody else is around then and I get . . . You know, like I said, that’s very nice for me. And I start up and I get the meal prep started in the morning. And then I put it aside and I have the privilege of homeschooling my children. And, you know, the homeschool room is right next to the kitchen, and the washer and dryer are in the kitchen also. So really, everything happens there. So throughout the day, I just putter along with whatever meal I’m making. And again, the meals are unfussy, they can easily be stretched.
And I talk in the book a little bit about what I like to make. I like to make minestrone soup. I like to put a chicken in a pot. I like . . . You know, we serve rice with every meal. I occasionally bake bread. Black beans and rice is a favorite. So they’re very simple meals, and quite frankly, if people don’t like that, they can add to it. Nobody says you can’t bring something!
Kristin: For sure. I love that, the freedom of it, too.
Rosaria: Yeah. So I just have things ready to go. And then . . . You know, I pray a lot about hospitality. I pray pretty consistently that the Lord would use our home to draw others to Himself. And that the Lord would use our home as a refuge. That we would be alert to the stranger in our midst.
“I pray a lot about hospitality. I pray pretty consistently that the Lord would use our home to draw others to Himself. And that the Lord would use our home as a refuge.” – Rosaria Butterfield
And to that end, we have been home studied and have worked with different agencies where we would be more likely to meet strangers. So we have been, in the past, licensed foster parents. We’ve been part of a program I absolutely love called Safe Family, which is a Christian response to foster care, trying to keep the family together. We’ve been involved with prison ministry. So, you know, all those things contribute to a home that is a little bit more like an embassy than a castle.
And what I mean by that is we do have private sections of our home. But we also have public sections of our home. And our children have been taught to know the difference between the two. Because we often have men who are incarcerated and on a five-hour pass on both the Lord’s Day and on holidays. Our home does not have alcohol in it. There’s nothing wrong with alcohol, you know? It’s not a Biblical mandate. It’s simply that we have wanted to make sure that we could have access to “stranger.” And in order to do that, basically, we live a little differently.
We also budget differently. Our food budget easily doubles, sometimes triples. We set that aside. We intentionally live below our means. And again, you know, I’m not trying to make this a works righteousness issue. It’s not. This is how Kent and I like to live. I mean, we have children who will never be star soccer players. But from the beginning of their days, they have seen the Gospel lived out in word and deed.
It also means that we have a guest room that we set aside as a guest room. It technically is not a bedroom, but it’s amazing how when you put a bed in a big room and a dresser, and you have a couple of hall trees that you use as closets, it becomes a bedroom, you know?
Kristin: There you go. It is.
Rosaria: But we have this room that we call a bedroom and that we’ve been able to fake out other people who think it’s a bedroom. And, you know, we don’t rent it out, because then we couldn’t give it away. And we’re not set up to be a . . . I don’t know. Some kind of institutional hospitality management program. But we’re definitely set up for people in crisis who need a one-to-three month place where they can safely land. And they can be taken care of and they can take stock of their life and take stock of what landed them here, and put that all before the Lord. And so we are . . . We don’t advertise, we don’t, you know, we don’t have a business. But we pray about it, and we have a guest room that’s pretty much always filled with somebody.
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Kristin: Then the Holy Spirit just sends them.
Rosaria: He does
The Meth Cooker in the Guest Room
Kristin: Well, and in the book—and I’d love for you to share a story or two if you want—but you talk about Hank, and Zion, and Lisa, and maybe there’s something more current. And people can read those stories in the book. But give us an example of what that looks like when a stranger has moved into that guest room, or just walk us through that.
Rosaria: Right. Well, you know, sometimes strangers move into the guest room because they just don’t have a place to live. Sometimes strangers move into the guest room because their life is in crisis, and you’ve heard about it maybe through another person in the neighborhood. Sometimes it’s not a stranger at all. Sometimes it’s a friend from church whose secret addiction has just taken over and needs help. And sometimes there’s no moving into the guest room, there’s more of a using your home as an incubator and a hospital because of a crisis. And so in the book I do share anecdotes and stories from people I love, and I hope who love me, too, and how our lives have intersected.
So our neighbor Hank was a neighbor that was a quiet recluse. He didn’t like people and didn’t like people in his business. And we really pursued him, and I’m sure he was very annoyed by that. And I talk a little bit about that in the book, too. But after years and years, we became Hank’s only friends. And he first would stop at the picnic table, the green picnic table, and have some iced tea and talk with us. And we helped each other find lost dogs and various things. We would walk dogs together. And then after a while, he started actually walking through the front door and joining us for Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving. And, you know, we were his people.
And then one day, we woke up, and the Drug Enforcement Agency was knocking on our door. And that’s where you answer the door, and the first think you’re really thankful for is that you bought your pajamas at L.L. Bean, you know? You are just like, wow, you know? Modest, covered pajamas.
Kristin: I’m covered, exactly.
Rosaria: They’re key to this situation right now, because it turns out that Hank was running a meth lab in his home. And it was a very serious issue. And we were his people, and so we were able to be useful. And that’s one of the things you pray as a Christian:
“Lord, make me faithful, make me useful.” – Rosaria Butterfield
Well, we woke up with an opportunity to be useful. The Drug Enforcement Agency needed to use our home. They needed access to . . . They needed to know who else lived in the home. Hank had a hundred-pound pit bull who lived with us for six months until . . . Actually another family in the church came along and wanted him more than we did. That’s a big dog. I love dogs, but when you have a hundred-pound pitbull, that’s like living with a couch that moves, you know, right?
Kristin: And you have an 18-pound cat, so that’s—
Rosaria: Let me just tell you that they were not the best of friends. Because cats are not given to hospitality. I don’t care, even if you write a book about it, cats are not given to hospitality.
Kristin: That’s not gonna happen. Just not gonna happen.
Rosaria: You know, our neighbors were upset. Very upset. And, you know, that’s the moment when we realized that you dine with the sinner and people think . . . You know, they wonder, What’s up with you? And so that’s when we started practicing a daily kind of hospitality for our neighbors. Because there is a lot to process. Neighbors were mad, they were mad at Hank, they were mad at us.
You know, one of my favorite neighbors stomped into my kitchen, finished off my coffee, and said, “You know the problem with you Christians?”
And I thought, Well, no, Bill, but you’re probably going to tell me.
And he said, “The problem with you Christians is you are so open-minded it’s like your brains are falling out your ears.”
Rosaria : And I thought, You know, that’s kind of cool, actually.
Kristin: It is kind of cool.
Rosaria: But it did. It meant that the neighbors had to process this. And meanwhile, we had Hank in jail and then prison. And so throughout the many years we have remained friends. And Kent was able to visit him many times in jail. And it was just a long, hard story, you know?
Here’s the thing about being an older man with a prison sentence that is long enough that it will outlive you: you may go in an atheist, but at some point, there is no one to turn to but Jesus. And so, we did have the amazing honor of watching Hank commit his life to Jesus and write these faithful letters to the children, you know? Thanking them always for taking care of his beloved dog. And asking for prayer that he would remain faithful.
And, you know, a lot happens to a neighborhood when the local meth addict commits his life to Jesus.
It didn’t happen overnight. And you know what? It didn’t have to happen. We wouldn’t love Hank less or love Hank more depending on his life commitment to Jesus.
“Christians don’t love people more because they’re Christians. Christians love people longer because they’re Christians. But we don’t love them more.” – Rosaria Butterfield
Rosaria: That’s not true. Our lives were intertwined the minute his moving van pulled up to that house. And, you know, that did affect the way we lived, but it also affected our neighborhood. Our neighborhood . . . We needed to work through all of those things. And it’s a long story. But, you know, the crime scene tape was up and running for about seven months. The cleaning out of a meth lab does not happen overnight. Literally everything in the house, including the floorboards, has to be put into a Dumpster. Even when the grownups and the older people are hardened and angry about property values going down, the kids would come and just sit at the picnic table and watch Hank’s life disappear in seven Dumpsters.
And you know, it’s not lost on children that losing a dog and a drum set and a life is powerful. And so we grieved as a neighborhood. And Kent and I felt like the best and safest place to grieve is your Christian home.
A Stranger Becomes a Neighbor
Rosaria: Look, that’s where you . . . Because you grieve redemptively. Because you grieve with the knowledge that in Christ no suffering is useless. Not one . . . The Bible tells us that not one tear you drop will go to waste. It all goes into a bottle that the Lord Himself carries and cherishes. And so, you know, these are . . . This is the Christian life that must be modeled for unbelieving neighbors. And because this is not the Christian life that says Christianity is a worldview. It . . . Christianity has worldview implications like anything. But ultimately, Christianity is the knowledge that Jesus has risen, that He’s right here with us. That He loves you, and that He’s ready to serve and help. That He has laid down his life for you, and that we all need help. And so we lock arms one unto another. And so that was very powerful.
You know, our guest room currently is being used by a Christian family displaced by homelessness. And to say, “Well, I’m sorry . . .” And this happened after the book, so it’s actually not in the book. But it happened when three weeks ago, a woman walked into church just as we were leaving and asked for nothing but a drink of water. But it became clear very quickly that she needed more than that.
Kristin: Oh wow.
Rosaria: And she had a little boy with her. And about 12 years ago, I had prayed a prayer, and it was such a faithless prayer. And the prayer was this: “Lord, you know, we’re foster parents. We love being foster parents. We love the children you’ve put in our home. But is there any way that we could prevent a child from ever being in foster care?” Because we saw the way . . . Sometimes it’s necessary. But sometimes if it’s not necessary, boy, does it take its toll.
Well, in the course of a couple of conversations . . . You know, just the sitting down at church, everybody had left except for another family. Our family and another family. And we learned about this displacement and what had happened and how they had been displaced. And so very quickly, this other family and our family put together a plan. And so it’s very helpful when two families are helping a displaced family, because there’s a lot of things that need to get fixed all at once. I mean, one of the definitions of a crisis is you have too many things to do all at the same time.
Rosaria: Just to make a long story . . .
Kristin: Shared the burden, yeah.
Rosaria: Yeah, shared the burden. Yeah. So we’ve been able to with this other family house . . . We’ll go back and forth. This family. And we go back and forth depending upon work situations. Because we live at different ends of the city, and they work at different ends of the city. But, you know, there’s a little child who, in fact, never did end up in foster care. And what has happened is that two families . . . We did contact Safe Family, because that’s a great organization, and they were able to give us some advice. But both the mom and the dad in this family have very good life skills. No addictions. And then we found out after they had been here, that they’re Christians.
Kristin: Oh wow.
Rosaria: We did not know that. You know, when we offered help, we really didn’t know that we weren’t just offering help, because we thought, Well, we’re all of the same tribe. But that was very exciting, too. To be able to encourage a brother and a sister in the Lord in a very hard season.
And so it’s been extremely . . . It’s been wonderful. And our Christian neighbors are all pitching in to help. There’s a lot of things that we need to do. There are work schedules that need to be organized with
extra vehicles and school that needs to be . . . You know, drops off and picks up from school and things. You know, and so this is one of those moments where you can count the costs. And I can just tell you, I can absolutely tell you, that when a family moves into your house, your food budget’s going to go up. Your water budget’s going to go up. We have missed a few swim team practices.
Kristin: Right. Your patience level’s gonna go up.
Rosaria: But you know, the benefits are simply unfathomable. Because you got to be right there, first hand, front row seat . . . You got to see a stranger become a neighbor who actually turned out to be a brother and a sister in Christ. You got to see that. Your children got to see that. And, you know, after a while, there you are at the Lord’s table together. There you are making meals together. Very much living like, I don’t know, aunts and uncles.
“You got to see a stranger become a neighbor who actually turned out to be a brother and a sister in Christ.” – Rosaria Butterfield
Put the Hand of the Stranger in the Hand of the Savior
Rosaria: Yeah, but like a family. And so I think, you know . . . And it is hard. I mean, it’s not always easy. And we have been robbed. I talk a little bit about that in the book.
Kristin: Yes. Did you ever figure out who did that?
Rosaria: Never did.
Kristin: You never say that in the book.
Rosaria: You know, that’s . . . The human condition will always swing in that pendulum between human depravity and human dignity. And so if you want to call out the human dignity of people, then you need to treat them with dignity. And protect their dignity. And hospitality gives you many opportunities to do that. It gives you many opportunities to put the hand of the stranger into the hand of the Savior. But it’s all very gritty, and it really does mean that you’re standing close enough to people to get hurt.
“The human condition will always swing in that pendulum between human depravity and human dignity . . . And hospitality gives you many opportunities to put the hand of a stranger into the hand of the Savior” – Rosaria Butterfield
You know, Jesus got hurt, and maybe so will we. But in all the years we’ve been doing this, we almost don’t remember the hurt. We remember the joy. We remember the purpose. We remember the laughter and the life and all the people. All these people who are my brothers and my sisters and my cousins. My children have their little sisters and brothers and big sisters and brothers. All through the simple act of hospitality. And in a world where people are taught to fear each other and judge each other and size up each other before you decide if you can be friends, daily hospitality is a great corrective to that.
And I just think there’s nothing more important that I can be doing with my time right now. I think that I am much better off praying and chopping vegetables than I am doing anything else. You know, as I’m interspersing that with the care of my family and when I think about what my children are seeing and the kinds of ways that they have seen Jesus at work in their life in vibrant and vital ways, I’m thrilled to be a bridge. And you know what? Bridges get walked on. And that’s just part of the business.
Kristin: Oh, it’s so beautiful. You know, I feel like I could talk for days and hours. And you’re such a deep well, and I would love for to have you back at another time.
Rosaria: Oh, I would love that.
Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Hands
Kristin: Someone out there right now is probably listening going, Oh my goodness. I’m a little bit afraid, because in my heart I want this. I want to take hospitality and the command to love my neighbors seriously. But I’m also afraid of the meth addict. Or, I don’t really know what that might look like, to bring someone into my makeshift guest room.
Rosaria: Right, right.
Kristin: You are describing, in my ears, radical hospitality. And that ordinary seems a little bit overlooked. I get what you’re saying, but what about that person who’s a little fearful?
Rosaria: You’re not called to be fearful. And I would also say this not a woman’s issue. This is a household issue.
Rosaria: If one person has a notion that this is how you’re gonna do it, and another person doesn’t, you gotta regroup here. You know, we use what we call the Marathon Running Program. You know, when you’re training for a marathon with other people, the slowest runner sets the pace. So this is not a women’s issue, this is a household issue. Actually for single Christians, you have much more liberty to do whatever you want to do than like married people.
Rosaria: You know, prayerfully work it out. There’s been a great deal of prayer that has gone into the building of what we do right now. So it didn’t happen . . . We didn’t start out doing this. We actually started out as Christians, newly-married Christians who wanted our home to look like The Book of Acts. And who wanted our home to be a place where lonely people could meet Jesus and could rest and regroup with a cup of cold water and other things.
“[We] wanted our home to be a place where lonely people could meet Jesus and could rest and regroup with a cup of cold water and other things.” – Rosaria Butterfield
So it was a life value, and it’s worked . . . You know, we’ve worked it slowly over time.
But one thing I would say is this: if this is something that is on your heart to do, but the executing of it just seems ridiculous or scary, partner with somebody else in the church. And spend some time praying about it. See what some open doors are. And you know, part of it might be that . . . Part of the inhibition might be that you know that your home isn’t the best home. And I talk about that in the book, too. Because when my aged mother lived with us, there were seasons when we did not practice hospitality like this. Because we had old sick people living with us, and it would have been cruel and unusual and ridiculous to have 20 people, you know, living here. So pace yourself, think about what your responsibilities are. But work with another person. You know, find out who else in your church desires this.
So quickly, even in our prayer life, not just about hospitality, but about anything, we become pragmatic at the very moment we need to just see what the Lord will do. So if this is something that sounds exciting, pray about it. And see what the Lord will do. We are very grateful that at this point, while our house is the meeting spot, we have a number of people from our church and from our neighborhood who are stakeholders in what we do. So it’s just as important. You can practice hospitality in somebody else’s house just as legitimately as you can in your own house. You can practice hospitality at your local park just as legitimately as you can in your dining room.
So pray with an open mind and an open heart and an open hand. And don’t presume that all of it . . . That the whole terrible burden is on your shoulders. Really, hospitality is just a matter of doing what you do as a Christian, and then opening your arms a little wider and seeing who’s there to bring in. But I would say this: I don’t think every home has to practice radically ordinary hospitality in your church. But if no home is, that says something. And probably what that says . . . It doesn’t say you’re faithless, it doesn’t say that you’re scared, it probably says that you’re so busy with programs that there’s not enough time to build relationships with the people who are outside the walls of the church.
“Hospitality is just a matter of doing what you do as a Christian, and then opening your arms a little wider and seeing who’s there to bring in. “ – Rosaria Butterfield
How Are You Spending Your Time?
Rosaria: And so that’s the other really good thing that comes when God puts a burden on your heart that you can really fulfill right now. It causes you to take stock and look at what’s going on and, you know, where you are spending your time. And how you’re spending your time. And so, I would just say be very prayerful and transparent and ask the council of your elders and your pastor and your close friends and your neighbors. But as you know, it starts with visibility. It starts with that picnic table on that front lawn with a place to sit and a willing ear, and the love and the care that says “You are an image bearer of the Holy God.” And that means something.
Now, in Jesus Christ, image bearing means something in terms of knowledge, righteousness and Holiness. But even apart from our Christian understanding, image bearing entitles you to something great and glorious. And that’s you have a soul that will last forever. You’re different. You matter.
And so making sure that in the smallest ways to whatever you consider the biggest ways that you allow the Lord to use you that way. But it certainly doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it shouldn’t be this way. We should all be doing this out of our own unique calling, our own unique giftings, and our own unique capacities for hospitality. If we all did it one way, it would be stilted and limiting. So we pray about it and then we just go and we support each other in what we’re doing.
Kristin: Oh, thank you. I know people are gonna be so encouraged. And I can’t wait for people to read your book, and that’ll be obviously linked in the show notes.
Rosaria’s Minestrone Soup
Kristin: Can I ask you one thing? Would you share your minestrone soup recipe with us?
Rosaria: Oh, I would love to.
Kristin: If we just start there, like, how awesome would that be?
Rosaria: You want it right now?
Kristin: Why don’t we do this: I’ll put it in the show notes afterwards. But how amazing to know that people all over might be using your minestrone soup recipe to take the Biblical command seriously and just start where they are with a simple bowl of soup.
Rosaria: I love it. It’s so simple, too. That’s why I said do you want it right now, ’cause I, you know, it’s so simple.
Kristin: Well, then tell us! Oh sure, well, if it’s that simple, I mean, I’ll put it in the show notes, too. But tell us.
Rosaria: First of all, I’m so cheap, so I never use chicken broth or vegetable broth or anything like that. So it’s all a water-based soup. And I just add onions and garlic and carrots, and sometimes zucchini if I have it, and celery. And I just put it in there, and I turn the stove on, and I let it boil until it’s soft enough that you would . . . Like a child would be willing to eat it. And then sometimes I put some green beans in there. And I have a can of tomato sauce. And then I add whatever beans of your choice. And I soak my beans the night before, but you can do canned beans, you can do kidney beans, or black beans, or garbanzo beans, or pinto beans, or white beans. And then I add a little more water. I add some oregano. I add some basil. I add some salt. And then sometimes I put a little cooked pasta in. And that is that. And that’s it.
And so my daughter when we were little, my daughter and I came up with a poem about this. She’s 12, but when I’m making minestrone soup, she comes in and she says, “Let’s see. What’s the poem? Snap the—” Oh, you know what? Now I can’t remember the poem. I’ll have to put the poem in, too. But it’s a really fun poem.
Kristin: Yeah, send me with poem with the recipe ’cause that’s not in your book, is it?
Rosaria: No, it’s not. But it’s just more of a funny piece. When I’m making minestrone soup, the kids come in and they do their minestrone poem.
Kristin: I love that. Like their little minestrone song poem.
Rosaria: And they’re . . . You know, they’re teenagers, right?
Rosaria: They’re kind of at that age where we must shower every night and like out of necessity. It’s a public health matter, you know?
Kristin: Right. Right. I’ve got a house full of ’em, too.
Rosaria: They’ve lost the cute cuddliness, but they still do it. They still sing the minestrone song that we made up.
Kristin: Well, that’s the full circle of this, you know? It can start with a pot of soup, and prayer, and being available. And then we just have to allow them space to God the Holy Spirit to do what He’s going to do. And whether He brings Hank or whoever he brings, He will bring. He will bring somebody.
Rosaria: That’s true.
Kristin: And so I love that you so openly modeled what this can look like for us. Because we do confuse it in our world, the entertainment and the hospitality. And you and Kent, y’all are a beautiful example of the richness and the realness of what a home can look like if we so choose to take the joy of the Lord and move in that direction with it. So, thank you.
Rosaria: Well, thank you. We have been more blessed than I think we have been a blessing. But thank you. It’s been our joy.
Kristin: That’s just Jesus’ economy, isn’t it? Yep. I love Jesus math. Well. Thank you for joining us today, very, very much.
Rosaria: Thank you, Kristin.
The Perfect Dish to Welcome Others to the Table
Narrator: Welcome to Kristin’s Kitchen, sponsored by Shipt.
Kristin: Hey, y’all, and welcome to the kitchen for our kitchen segment. I am excited to make Rosaria’s minestrone soup.
In the old days, it feels like every kitchen had a soup pot simmering on the stove. I remember my grandmother did, and it just feels nostalgic to think about having soup ready for any meal. But that’s not really commonplace anymore. But it’s no wonder that a good bowl of soup epitomizes comfort food.
So I am delighted to share Rosaria’s minestrone soup recipe today. And while it’s served warm usually, it is chock full of healthy summer produce straight from the garden. Or from your farmer’s market. Or let’s be honest, if you’re like me, straight from your grocery store, delivered by your Shipt shopper.
Minestrone soup, I found out, is probably the most famous of all Italian soups. And every family has a recipe or version. And there’s really no rhyme or reason. There’s a few standard things that go into each one, but add what you want. Add what you have, as Rosaria said. And this is one of those soups that you can doctor up and keep around, and it will serve the masses.
So here’s a tidbit of information I found out. And hold on, I’m getting my onions and celery sauteed in the background. So once again, I’m really cooking in my kitchen while I try to podcast.
So here’s a little bit of information. Minestrone comes from the Italian word minestra, which means “to dish or to serve.” I love that, to dish up or to serve. What a perfect dish to serve, literally, to welcome friends or strangers to our table. So y’all know I’m a word person. I love finding out what words mean. And I love that this one has sort of a double entendre, although that’s French.
So here’s what I’m gonna do. I am going to use a little bit of Rosaria’s recipe, but I’m also going to use one of my favorite minestrone soup recipes. And this will be in the show notes, so you can click on over to theturquoisetable.com/podcast and we will have this link for this recipe there.
But I am right now sauteing onions and celery in a little bit of olive oil. And I’m gonna add some vegetable broth. Rosaria just used water, which is absolutely fine, too. But I have vegetable broth on hand, and so I’m gonna use that.
And then I’m gonna add some carrots and some red pepper. In fact, I’m gonna start dicing up the red pepper as we speak. And then I have lots of zucchini on hand, too. So I’m going to add some zucchini. And I may top it at the end with just a little bit of some olives, because I love and my family loves the saltiness of olives and some Parmesan cheese. I’m also gonna add just a little bit of some cannoli beans into the mix here. I’m gonna use canned, just because I have them. But you can also soak the white beans overnight, and then add them to your soup.
So here’s what I want to know. What did you learn from our conversation with Rosaria? What are you challenged by? What are you encouraged to step out in faith and do this week? And then, do you have neighbors that you haven’t reached out to yet, because it’s outside your comfort zone? Is there someone you could make minestrone soup for this week?
So I want you to tell me. Find me on Instagram or my email is in the show notes as well. But reach out and let me know, because we’re all in this together. And it would be fun to encourage one another this week.
So one more last thing. Will you pretty please leave a review of this podcast on iTunes? If you are enjoying it and if you are learning something each and every other week that we come into your earbuds, it would help out so much. It just helps with algorithms and it helps with all this technical stuff that I don’t even know about. So, if you wouldn’t mind reaching out and leaving a review on iTunes, I would be forever, forever grateful.
So, I’m back to the minestrone soup. Thank you for joining us, and we’ll see you at The Turquoise Table soon. Until then, gather small and love deep, friends.
Narrator: That’s it for today’s show. Thanks for listening. You’ll find a complete transcript of this episode at theturquoisetable.com/podcast. Also, be sure to subscribe to The Turquoise Table Podcast on iTunes and leave us a review. Until next time, gather small and love deep.