Overcoming the Obstacles
About the Guest
When was the last time you invited someone over for dinner? If you’re like most of us, it’s been awhile. Today author and blogger Sandy Coughlin and her husband, Paul, tell how they overcame their reluctance to open their home to others and why they enjoy it so much now.
When was the last time you invited someone over for dinner?
Overcoming the Obstacles
Bob: I’m just looking at it and thinking, “Let’s just stop the broadcast and why don’t you whip up a little bit of that for us?”
Sandy: I should have brought some in.
Bob: A cup of dark brown sugar, a half-cup of butter, some water. . .
Dennis: All of this assumes, Bob, that you cook! That’s the real challenge today, isn’t it Sandy? Because women are not entertaining nearly as much at home because eating out has become kind of standard fare.
Sandy: That’s right, Dennis. That’s one of the reasons I came up with my blog about four and a half years ago. Paul and I had been talking, because we had always entertained – well, entertained quite a bit – in our almost 20 years of marriage. But we realized that we invite a lot of people in, but we don’t get many invites to other people’s homes.
So we realized that people really (women, in general) are reluctant to entertain. I started exploring that on my blog, putting questions out there and writing about it. I heard cries from women all over, stating that their house wasn’t clean enough, they didn’t know how to cook, it cost too much, they didn’t want to do it with their kids around.
It was every excuse possible, and I call them “joy busters” in my book. That’s when I came up with the blog, “Reluctant Entertainer,” and then a book came from it.
Bob: So, you’re not a reluctant entertainer.
Sandy: I’m not a reluctant entertainer. I actually grew up with parents who knew how to entertain very well. My mom did it beautifully; she didn’t do it perfectly, but she did a beautiful job. My dad was alongside her and they knew how to create conversation. They would always have music playing in the background. This was 40-50 years ago, so I learned from my parents. That was one of my expectations when I married Paul, that we would have some dinner parties together.
Paul: Little did she know! She thought she was marrying kind of a quiet guy, when in reality she was marrying a fearful guy. I just did not want to have people in the home as much as she did.
Dennis: You were afraid of the conversations you would have to create?
Paul: I thought I would have to carry this conversation up Mount Olympus. That’s how it felt to me. I wasn’t very good at it. But what I saw was that when we did entertain, Sandy would glow. It was just her bliss!
I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I thought to myself, “Well, if she enjoys this, I should at least try to enjoy it.” So, I did – I tried.
Dennis: And how many years did it take you to come to that conclusion.
Paul: Well, I came to that conclusion pretty early, but I bet it took me two to three years to be able to be comfortable doing it. I got a book about how to keep a conversation going, and one of the things was knowing how to ask good questions. I would memorize questions, and even write them on my hand when people came over.
Sandy: It’s true.
Paul: Then I got better!
Sandy: He would have three questions.
Dennis: Hold on, there’s something written on your hand. What is it?
Paul: There is. It’s Luke 18, about the widow that Bob was talking about before. . .
Bob: We were talking about that before the program! Sandy, you’ve got three teenagers.
Sandy: We do.
Bob: And there was a time when they weren’t teenagers; when they were toddlers.
Sandy: That’s right.
Bob: Is there a season of life when entertaining needs to be set on the shelf because kids are primary, or is this something that’s an ongoing discipline for a wife and for a family, even when the kids are toddlers.
Sandy: I think both of your answers are correct. There is a season, and the season in our lives when it was difficult was when we lost three parents in a five year period, and we were young with three little babies (Abby was nine months old). That was definitely a season when, to be honest, we didn’t feel like having people into our home. And I have often written to people on my blog, or emailed people, to encourage them, “It’s OK. It’s a season. You don’t have to do it.”
But, on the other hand, having children – it is difficult, because you never know what’s going to happen – but you just go with the flow. We would find that you feed the kids and send them on their way, and we would have that great connection with our friends. We would lean in as we would talk. We were so craving adult conversation.
We would ask, “Well, what’s working for you? How are your kids?” You talk about life when the kids are running around. This happened because I overcame things having to be perfect in my home.
If things had to be perfect, I probably never would have entertained with children. You really have to put expectations aside with children, but I think it’s essential.
It’s essential for marriages. I just read a study about how couples are more inclined to be romantic with each other or have better marriages when they actually have couple friends that they entertain and dine with – some good, healthy friendships.
For us, that was essential in our home.
Paul: I think every male listener just really heard that last part.
Bob: I was watching you smile as your wife said that, and watching you think, “When can we have some more folks over to the house?”
Paul: There you go.
Paul: Line it up!
Dennis: I’ve been looking forward to asking you this question. I’m going to illustrate it before I ask you the question.
There is something extremely powerful today, maybe as never before in our culture – I’m not saying it wasn’t powerful 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, but I think it was commonplace to entertain. I think today inviting people into your home to be a part of the preparation of the meal, to be engaged in conversation, to enjoy the meal, and push back and enjoy dessert when it’s time. There’s something about it that is so unique; it sets everything a cut above going out to even the finest restaurant.
I’ll illustrate it with this – Chuck Colson was on our broadcast a few months ago with his daughter Emily. We had worked it out when they came into town that they were going to have dinner with us in our home. We had them out to our house, and I fed them my blackened salmon.
We had all kinds of kidding.
Bob: Your famous blackened salmon - your legendary blackened salmon.
Dennis: You like it; admit it.
Bob: It’s good. It’s good.
Dennis: OK, that’s good. Well, so does Chuck Colson now.
But the point is that we could have gone out to a very nice restaurant and he would never have remembered the dinner. I’m not saying that we were duds, but there’s something about going to someone’s home and being where they live, seeing what they value, seeing how they live and where they live, and interacting around that which makes entertaining today seem to me to be a cut above other times in the past.
Do you agree with that?
Sandy: I do agree. And I think if I had to give one answer, the conversation would be my answer. The difference would be that when you go to a restaurant with somebody, everybody is just talking and mingling. You talk about some meaningful things. But, when people come into our home, we have designated questions in mind, not always but most of the time, of what we’re going to talk about around the table.
It doesn’t mean we can’t get on another subject, but the night really becomes about the conversation. It becomes about connecting and getting to know these people more, going deep about different subjects, whereas in a restaurant I don’t think it happens.
You’re interrupted by the server, there are distractions around. In our home, we have music playing and it’s just more soothing than a restaurant.
Bob: I thought it was interesting, because I’d never considered this – you talked about having people over for dinner, but having them over while you’re in the midst of the preparation of the dinner. We tend to think that when folks show up it’s five minutes before we’re going to eat. But you have people over half an hour or forty-five minutes before, while you’re still grilling the salmon or cooking the vegetables.
Dennis: Yes, I’ll tell you what. I didn’t know it either, Bob, until I went to a couple’s home in Alta, Utah. They lived in a ski area. They invited me to dinner, and the preparation for the meal was as much as part of the meal (including conversation). The entire experience was about five or six hours. We didn’t just go and eat.
We went and watched them prepare. We sampled and talked about the samples. We interacted. This couple lived in a home that they had built. I’ve never forgotten that experience of not only eating in their home, but having them invite me in. Not feeling uptight about seeing the kitchen messy in preparation of the meal. It was the whole experience.
I think they actually tied it back to some European custom. In foreign countries (in Europe), dinner was not just the culinary experience of eating the food, it was the preparation, conversation and the entire experience all the way through.
Bob: So, if you’re going to have people come over for a dinner party, I think we tend to focus on what the menu should be – a pretty big item for a dinner party – but you mention being intentional about what questions you’re going to ask. Are there other elements of entertaining that you’re as intentional about as what food you’re going to cook?
Sandy: I’d say definitely music and the ambience. I give very little thought to my table. I grab a tablecloth and see what flowers are in season, and always have candles. But I do not believe in over-the-top centerpieces.
Bob: You’ve just given more thought to your table than I would give because you have flowers and candles on it.
Sandy: OK, our two candles are fine.
Dennis: That brings me to my question, which is, “Who do you entertain?”
I think sometimes we’ve lost a little bit of our vision about how we can use hospitality as a way to connect with people.
Sandy: For the reluctant entertainer, that’s a good question.
My answer is always to invite one, two, or three people. Just start small. So think of somebody in your circle of friends or people that you would like to get to know in a greater way.
For Paul and me, when we entertain, we’ll think of a couple or another person or two, and who goes together. Who has something in common? Or who would benefit from knowing this person? It’s almost a way of introducing people to one another with entertaining.
Yes, you want to have your old time friends and family, but you want to think about, “Who could use connection?”
Bob: You know, you’re really talking about being purposeful when it comes to relationships. Saying this needs to be important, and it needs to be a priority. That we’re not going to live a sequestered, cut-off life, but are going to be involved in the lives of other people because ultimately there’s joy there and because God has commanded us to be connected to the lives of others, right?
Sandy: Totally. I think we need to take that a step further and say that because of the media and blogs and magazines and cooking shows, many women are reluctant today to have people in. They think about their home, and perfectionism actually isolates people, and they end up being lonely people.
Bob: Yes, and I’ll just add a little story here, because the first time we ever came to Arkansas, we were coming in to find out more about the ministry of FamilyLife. Dennis said, “Why don’t you guys come over for dinner while you’re in town?”
I’d seen a picture of Dennis and Barbara on the back of one of their books. It’s a picture where he’s got on a coat and tie, and she’s got on a dress with pearls, and there’s a library setting.
Dennis: A lot of airbrushing taking place.
Bob: So you expect to go to their home and find Dennis in a smoking jacket with a pipe in front of his. . .
Dennis: A smoking jacket?
Dennis: What are you talking about?!
Bob: You know. . .
But we walked in for dinner, and it was half an hour before the meal was ready. Dennis was cooking and Barbara was cooking, and they were just being normal around a normal kitchen with normal clutter in the house and normal teenagers.
Bob: I remember walking out with Mary Ann and saying, “They’re normal! The picture isn’t normal, but they’re normal.”
Dennis: And we could have gone out to a restaurant and still perpetuated the false image that you had.
Bob: We would have had a fine time at the restaurant, but there was something that was more disclosing, more personal, more revealing, more intimate, really, in inviting somebody into your home. It does drive a relationship to a deeper place, I think.
Dennis: It does. You really enjoyed trying on my smoking jacket!
That picture in my mind just really. . . .
Sandy: Bob will never think of you the same again.
Dennis: I think back in terms of the seasons that Barbara and I have been through in our marriage and our family; like you talked about Sandy, when you said you’d had a loss of parents and young children making a lot going on in your life. There were seasons in our life when we didn’t do much entertaining at all.
I remember living next door to a neighbor, for a decade, before we ever asked them over for a meal. Now, honestly, that feels almost irresponsible in a way. To be a follower of Jesus Christ and not try to get to know somebody who may not be of the same faith persuasion as you, but reach out to them around a meal to get to know them and hear their story.
We did this – we reached out. This family had helped us in innumerable ways around our house (things I wasn’t good at, and they were), but we’d never had them into our home to hear their story. I mean, the “Gone with the Wind” version.
It was a fascinating story of the lives they had lived and been through. It helped us to relate to them in a more personal, understanding way. Everybody’s got a context out of which they’re coming at life. Once you understand where somebody’s come from, maybe you’ll understand a little bit about why they behave the way they do.
Entertaining can be a way we can truly get to know them.
Sandy: Yes. I love that story. It’s beautiful. I would say some of our most wonderful dinner parties we have had have been with people of different faiths. I remember asking a question on my blog once: “Do you entertain with people just from your circle of church friends and of family?”
It was interesting. The answers were mostly, “Well, we just have family.” This tells me they’re not interested in opening their homes more. The other answer was, “Church people.”
Very few said that they venture out into making friends with people of different faiths. Very few people said that. I wanted to encourage people to do that more.
Dennis: I think what you’ve done in your book is put together something that, I believe, exhorts Christian families and couples, regardless of the season of life they’re in, to take a step back and evaluate, “How are you doing with hospitality?,” and “Is your home a welcoming home?,” or “Are you, as you said earlier, Sandy, not obsessed with perfection, but expecting too much out of yourself in terms of having a ‘Better Homes and Gardens’ house every time they walk into the door?”
I don’t remember the meal that we had when Bob and Mary Ann came over to our house, but I can almost promise you that the house was not perfect. We did have three or four teenagers, I believe, at the time. It’s life! It’s real life coming at you.
I think that’s what people are looking for today. They are looking for authentic relationships with real people. Hospitality helps “set the table,” so to speak.
Sandy: That’s right. That’s right.
Bob: I’ll tell you what I’m looking for. I’m looking for Baked Pear Vanilla French Toast – right here. I’m back to this because it looks excellent.
Dennis: I need to share my French toast recipe with you. It’s called “10W30.”
Bob: There’s a little butter in that?
Dennis: A little butter and maple syrup. I don’t really use motor oil; I use peanut oil.
Bob: But just listen: Baked Pear Vanilla French Toast. You’ve got a cup of brown sugar – dark brown sugar, a ½ cup of butter, some water, three fresh pears (or you can use canned pears if you want to), four cups of French bread cut into small pieces (don’t use the crust), some pecans, some eggs, some milk or cream, and a little vanilla and powdered sugar and maple syrup. You mix it all together in a baking pan and you bake it up.
I’m telling you, I’m ready for a serving of that right now. It’s one of the recipes in the book that you’ve written, Reluctant Entertainer: Every Woman’s Guide to Simple and Gracious Hospitality. We’ve got the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
We got the “OK” to put the Baked Pear Vanilla French Toast online as well. So, if you want to go to FamilyLifeToday.com you can get the recipe and find out how to order a copy of the book The Reluctant Entertainer. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got other resources there related to hospitality as well, because we think this is important – for Christian families to be involved in hospitality.
Again, it’s FamilyLifeToday.com or call 1-800-358-6329. 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “today,” Ask how you can get a copy of Sandy Coughlin’s book The Reluctant Entertainer and we’ll get a copy sent to you.
Now we also need to take just a minute here before we’re done, and let our listeners know about something very special that’s happening during the month of May. This time of year is a challenge for ministries like ours because we’re headed into the summer. In the summer, a lot of folks who might normally support the radio program get busy doing other things.
As a result, pretty typically, we see a decline in donations to FamilyLife Today during the summer months. Sometimes that can be a cause for concern, making us call back and figure out how we’re going to pay our bills during the summer.
We had some friends of the ministry who came along recently, and they said, “We want to try to help out and try to encourage your listeners to help out as well.” So they are making available a matching gift during the month of May of $750,000. This is the largest match that has ever been offered to us outside of the month of December.
We’re very encouraged by their generosity, but we’re also wondering if we’re going to be able to make the match – if we’ll hear from enough listeners here in May to be able to take full advantage of that match. If we can, it should really help us out as we go through the summer months.
So, we’re asking you: Can you help with a donation this month of $20 or $30 or $40 or $50, or $100 – whatever you can do. Any donation you can make is going to be matched dollar-for-dollar up to this total amount of $750,000. Can you go online today at FamilyLifeToday.com or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and make a generous donation to help support FamilyLife Today so that we can take full advantage of this matching gift?
We hope you’ll do that and we’ll keep you posted throughout the month. We’ve got a thermometer on the website that will show you how we’re doing as we try to take full advantage of this matching gift. So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information or to keep tabs on how things are going.
Again, if you can help with a donation, we would appreciate it.
Tomorrow we’re going to be back to talk more about hospitality and about what you can do to make your home a place of ministry and to pour into the lives of others. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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